How to supercharge your whistleblower hotline with an intelligent mobile app

Whether you manage Ethics, HR, Compliance or Internal Audit, you rely on the proactive efforts of people throughout your organization to keep you informed of potential incidents. Employees, contractors and vendors alike are counted on to communicate concerns to their compliance line directly and promptly. But what happens when someone makes the often difficult decision to speak up and they don't want to speak directly to their manager, make a phone call or sit in front of a computer filling out a long form?

Regrettably, most managers of whistleblower hotlines have not paid sufficient attention to how people actually communicate in their everyday life. In my experience, the organizations that manage their hotline(s) internally believe they are ahead of the game because they offer (an often confusing, redundant and outdated) mix of paper forms, email addresses/phone extensions for every department. For those that outsource to a third party, telephone hotlines and generic webforms remain the dominant offering.

While these methods work for some, their shared flaw is increasingly apparent. Today's workforce is making less and less calls. Walk down any workplace hallway today and you have to dodge at least one coworker engrossed in a text or tweet. In fact, a 2015 Pew Research Study "The Smartphone Difference" showed that Americans 55 and under use their phone for email and texting at least as much as making calls. My point? We are not just talking Gen X and Millenials here folks. It's as plain as day - your entire workforce is looking for something instead of a phone number to call if they have a concern that they don't want to take direct to management.

What is the outcome of allowing reporting channels to stagnate? Overconfidence. Increased Risk. Increased Costs. Bottom line, if you don't put the hotline user's preferences first, managers of risk and investigators will not get the information they need in a timely fashion, leaving their firm exposed to safety incidents, cyber and physical security breaches, fraud or fines related to SOX, HIPAA or OSHA regulations. This is both an urgent and solvable problem. If you are a forward-thinking Compliance Officer or an Internal Auditor, you should be thinking twice about wether your hotline solution is really doing what you expect.

My proposal: Reduce time to discovery and aid the investigator with better information up front by augmenting or replacing various outdated communication methods with a single scalable solution that utilizes devices already in the hands of most all employees. Enterprise mobile apps for both mobile and desktop, backed up by a telephone hotline will enable an increasing majority of employees to communicate in the way they prefer. Empowering staff to more easily and effectively adhere to "speak up culture" based on both leadership actions and a strong code of ethics (or code of conduct) is a clear (and overdue) mandate in today's workplace.

To properly achieve the task of replacing outdated reporting methods, however, the mobile app needs to be more than just a bunch of text boxes with good graphics. It needs to provide an intelligent interaction that elicits effective responses in much the same way as a professional investigator. (That said, it still needs to maintain a strong focus on an intuitive, engaging interaction for even the most basic users.) Beyond the benefit of improving staff reporting from a increasingly preferred incident reporting channel, a June 2015 study by The New School for Social Research, "Precision and Disclosure in Text and Voice Interviews on Smartphones," showed increased precision, disclosure AND satisfaction for interviews conducted on mobile devices. As an investigator myself, this is music to my ears. It is all to rare in my 20+ years of security risk management experience that I have been able kick off an investigation early in a fraud campaign, with solid context from someone who has not been soured by a poor initial reporting experience.

So, let's bottom line this. The workforce is changing (has changed) the way they prefer to communicate. If you are not willing to embrace change and move your organization to a mobile-first ethics hotline solution, might as well start figuring out how to explain to your board why you found out too late that three people had information that could have mitigated or prevented a massive breach, lawsuit or fraud. Instead, why not show leadership (and improved ROI) by introducing to the increasingly expected (and effective) approach of a mobile app-led employee hotline?