“A robust reporting system that is promoted and highlighted as an important component of the company’s management system can be an invaluable resource to a company, senior management, and the compliance function” (Volkov, 2016).
The phrase “promoted and highlighted” is key to this statement about hotline systems.
A robust, effective ethics hotline system is built and evaluated in line with industry best practices. It is guided by formal policies and procedures, it functions as part of a broader ethics and compliance program and process, it offers easy access and multiple routes of access, and it provides robust reporting features, among other attributes. It also exists in an environment of trust—employees and other intended users trust the company and its leaders, and are therefore willing to use the hotline to report concerns when needed.
However, even the most robust system must be “promoted and highlighted”—regularly and often—to ensure it is used. Doing so helps to keep awareness about the hotline fresh and “top of mind.” Employees who don’t remember that an ethics hotline is available or who have lost track of how to access it may never get around to reporting concerns, which could deprive the company of invaluable information.
Promotion occurs in multiple ways—formal and informal; serious and light-hearted. All approaches have value and it is best to use more than one approach throughout the year, as part of an ongoing communications campaign.
Attorney Michael Volkoff, in his Corruption, Crime & Compliance blog (cited above), touches on the value of direct appeal. When a CEO stands in front of a group of employees and urges them to report concerns, he says, the number of reports will increase dramatically. This effect needs to be reinforced, but certainly a direct appeal from the chief executive is a powerful way to promote the ethics hotline.
Other methods have been highlighted before in the Ethical Advocate blog. See, for example, “Promoting Your Ethics Hotline” and “Celebrate Hotlines Anytime.” (See the references below).
Companies use such mechanisms as adding language about hotline use to ethics policies, placing a highly visible link to hotline information on the internal website, distributing email messages from company leaders, and delivering related training programs.
These more formal methods should be supplemented by frequent use of other activities designed to keep hotline awareness high. For example, many companies use posters, cards, brochures, and badges effectively. Some also incorporate online infographics, hotline-related interactive surveys, and hotline events (mini-fairs, ethics office open houses, etc.)
Companies often offer awards and prizes such as pencils, key chains, refrigerator magnets, and other small giveaways embossed with hotline and webline contact information. Such items serve a dual purpose; they are a way to thank employees for taking part in ethics awareness activities and they can remind employees how to contact the hotline or webline when necessary.
Those companies that promote hotline awareness in multiple ways throughout the year will likely see sustained use of this invaluable resource, which in turn will increase the likelihood of learning about and fixing problems quickly.
Ethical Advocate. “Celebrate Hotlines Anytime.” Ethical Advocate Blog, May 14, 2015. https://www.ethicaladvocate.com/celebrate-hotlines-anytime/
Ethical Advocate. “Promoting Your Ethics Hotline.” Ethical Advocate Blog, August 20, 2014. https://www.ethicaladvocate.com/promoting-your-ethics-hotline/
Volkov, Michael. “Never Underestimate –Your Company’s Hotlines(s).” Corruption, Crime & Compliance (blog), February 17, 2016. http://blog.volkovlaw.com/2016/02/never-underestimate-companys-hotlines/