How to create a speak-up culture

by Jun 6, 2023

Create a speak-up culture in your organisation


Creating a speak-up culture requires a sustained commitment from leadership, and continuous efforts to empower employees.


Most of us have worked in organisations where there are “open secrets.” What we are talking about is the person who behaves inappropriately, unethically, or even illegally.  We all know who they are. We talk about it behind closed doors, but rarely does anyone do anything.

Research from Amy Edmundson tells us that 75% of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace is not reported.  One of the key reasons for that is the workplace culture doesn’t support speaking up and individuals feel they will be penalised. Or perhaps they are apathetic because there is a poor record within the organisation of reports being successfully followed up.

This is endorsed by Timothy R Clark (4 Stages of Psychological Safety) who suggests that one of the critical components to successfully increase psychological safety, is leadership advocacy and leader-led dialogues. Leadership intention is at the root of inclusive workplaces.

speak-up culture


There are three ways organisations can create a speak-up culture:

1. Increase leadership advocacy

The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate”  Gruenert and Whitaker

  • Lead by example: Leaders should demonstrate their commitment to a speak-up culture by openly endorsing it, discussing the importance of reporting concerns, and actively encouraging employees to speak up without fear of negative consequences. Leaders should set an example by being approachable and promptly addressing reported issues that come to their attention.
  • Personal bystander interventions If a senior person witnesses inappropriate behaviour they should be willing to call it our and deal with it personallyDon’t report it to HR and pass the buck. I have seen many senior leaders who struggle with difficult conversations.
  • Foster open communication: Leaders can encourage open communication by regularly checking in with employees and creating opportunities for feedback.
  • Take all reports seriously: Employers must take all reports of discrimination or harassment seriously, regardless of who is reporting it. This includes promptly investigating all reports, ensuring that the employee making the report is protected from retaliation, and taking appropriate action to address any violations of company policies or laws.

2. Introduce clear policies

  • Zero tolerance policy to bullying and discrimination: this policy should be publicly stated and widely shared within the organisation. There should also be a clear anti-retaliation policy that ensures employees feel safe when reporting concerns. This policy should explicitly state that any form of retaliation against whistle blowers or individuals who speak up will not be tolerated.
  • Commit to raising awareness  Conduct regular training sessions to educate employees about their rights, the importance of reporting concerns, and the available reporting channels. Raise awareness about the benefits of a speak-up culture and the potential consequences of not speaking up.
  • Investigation and Resolution Processes: Develop clear protocols for investigating reported concerns promptly, fairly, and transparently. Ensure there are established procedures for documenting and tracking reported issues, as well as mechanisms for appropriate action and resolution.
  • Change Non-Disclosure Agreements policies (NDAs): Review and revise NDAs to ensure they do not restrict employees from reporting illegal or unethical behavior. Clarify that NDAs should not prevent employees from disclosing information related to harassment, discrimination, or other misconduct.
  • Make ethical behaviour a KPI: Evaluate employees based on their adherence to ethical conduct and their support for a speak-up culture. Consider including ethical behaviour and fostering a safe work environment as criteria for promotions, rewards, and recognition.

There are many cultural aspects that are embedded in our behaviour yet detrimentally affect the inclusivity of the workplace. 3Plus can help you manage these with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.

3. Build effective systems

  • Set up anonymous and confidential reporting systems: companies should offer all employees the opportunity to raise concerns in complete confidence.  This can be via confidential apps, third-party counsellors, or hotlines either online or phone.
  • Feedback and Follow-up: Provide feedback to employees who report concerns, acknowledging their contributions and assuring them that their voices are heard. Regularly update employees on the progress and outcomes of investigations or actions taken as a result of their reports. This can be done via surveys, pulses or even talking to people.
  • Scheduled evaluation: Regularly assess the effectiveness of policies and protocols related to the speak-up culture. Solicit feedback from employees and make necessary adjustments to ensure that the reporting process is efficient, transparent, and supportive.


Creating a speak-up culture requires a sustained commitment from leadership, ongoing communication, and continuous efforts to build trust and empower employees to voice their concerns.

Learn how to step-up, speak up and self-advocate – 3 Plus International

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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