A whistleblowing case study

A whistleblowing case study from Kier Group plc: a leading property, residential, construction and service group which invests in, builds, maintains and renews the places where we work, live and play.

David Foster is the Group Compliance Director and Data Protection Officer. Here David talks through Kier’s journey to find an external whistleblowing hotline provider that was the right fit for its people/business.

What we had in place before Safecall

In many ways Kier has been ahead of the curve in having a robust whistleblowing policy and providing access to an independent hotline. Senior management’s recognition of the importance of this resource has been held for some time. The in-house corporate compliance team, which I head, is heavily involved in the programme.

However when I joined over three years ago I couldn’t avoid the fact that, with over 20,000 staff and up to 30,000 sub-contractors and other stakeholders working on any given day, receiving just 3-5 reports per year wasn’t right; something wasn’t working.

I worked closely with the incumbent external provider to better promote the service. However there were a couple of ways in which the solution we had just didn’t work for Kier.

First, callers had to dial in and use an Access Code to make a report. In times of stress, which is often when these calls are most vital, this can be an unnecessary barrier. They needed an easier access service that doesn’t place barriers in their way. Secondly, finding the number to call in the first place was challenging. The external provider’s marketing collateral was very wordy, not eye-catching nor memorable. Often people don’t want to be seen by others to be looking at the posters. It is vital that the number stands out so that it can be easily memorised/noted. On the busy sites we occupy, people don’t read longwinded wordy posters where the telephone number is not easily discernible.

We realised we needed to freshen up our approach to whistleblowing – we decided it was best to make a fresh start with a new provider.

What lead us to appointing Safecall?

Given that we already understood what we wanted from our external provider, I decided against a long drawn-out tender process. We engaged directly with potential providers. This gave me a much better understanding of their fit with Kier, our values and vision and, most importantly, their ability to engage with stakeholders at all levels. We were able to narrow down two contenders, Safecall and one other.

The other contender was a very technology focused operation, which appealed on a number of levels. However, only half of Kier’s staff have access to the internet through a corporate connection. This runs the risk that the focus is too biased toward those with electronic access. Those without a work terminal would have limited access;

Whilst the technology driven approach was innovative, the downside was that their hotline was staffed by call centre operatives. I was unclear on the depth of detail they would obtain on the call. I wasn’t sure if they would get under the skin of the issue to understand the important details a caller knew but may not reveal. People who take the time and the courage to voice their concerns need to feel they are being listened to. They are individuals whose message matters. It was this that ultimately steered us towards Safecall.

Safecall also provide an online platform, but it was their approach to the hotline which really set them apart.

With all of its call handlers being directly employed and based in the UK, as is 90% of Kier’s staff, and with each call handler having at least 25 years of investigatory experience, the quality of the engagement during the call was significant. They had a conversational approach, asking questions that are applicable to the information they are hearing. This combined with their ability to record details accurately, and present the information in a way that makes it easily understandable, is a skill gained over many years of professional training and life-experience.

How did things go during the transition?

The transition to Safecall ran smoothly, but to ensure everyone had been made aware of Safecall’s telephone number we actually ran the two services in tandem for a period of time. We didn’t want to take the risk of someone calling the old number and not being able to make or follow up on a report.

The direction we received from Safecall regarding our awareness campaign was excellent. A common sense approach combined with their in-depth knowledge of reaching employees and other stakeholders across all job roles, cultures, countries and communication mechanisms was invaluable in getting the Kier and Safecall message across in a very positive way.

How do things look now?

Since the switch to Safecall in 2017 we have seen a significant increase in reports. The quality of reports is much improved and Safecall has been very receptive to the feedback we have given them. It is very much a reciprocal relationship.

Some employees have indicated that they made their call to Safecall because of a recommendation from a colleague which we take to be a sign of success. It speaks to the way in which the call was handled by Safecall and the way in which we have been able to address the situation. This is possible thanks to the level of detail reported, which enables us to take the appropriate course of action in a timely manner.

Where we can we share actions and outcomes of reports with our people. This is really important to ensure people see that by talking to us changes can be made. We have also produced some feedback notes that talk more generally about certain behaviours. If a call has focused on bullying, we will communicate on that topic to help prevent future instances.

Due to the increased number of reports our team is busier than ever. However the quality and depth of the reports saves us time compared to the previous provider.

Our workforce is large, widespread and varied in terms of roles. We needed a provider that recognised this and could provide a service to meet those needs. With Safecall we have found that partner.

And the future?

Safecall have upgraded their technology platform to deliver the functionality we saw from the other provider. We know that no matter how advanced they become, their approach to the hotline service will not be compromised. Safecall’s management of all calls, no matter the issue, is professional, non-judgemental and makes the conversation relevant to the caller.

As people become more confident in Safecall, we feel the number of reports will continue to rise.

More generally I think on-going training is hugely important as implementing an external service is not a one-off event. We have a new set of managers coming through the ranks who have not been bitten by scandals and fast-paced regulatory changes. This may mean they are less aware of the importance of doing the right thing, and what that looks like in practice. Safecall’s input into our training programme will be valued.

The direction we received from Safecall regarding our awareness campaign was excellent. A common sense approach combined with their in-depth knowledge of reaching employees across all roles, cultures, countries and communication mechanisms was invaluable. We are getting the Kier and Safecall message across in a very positive way.