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Blog - Creating a Speak Up Culture - Why Your Managers are the Key

Creating a Speak Up Culture - Why Your Managers are the Key

Posted by Tracy Powley 03/01/19

UnhappyThe incident just before Christmas where a Walmart employee quit his job with a rant over the PA system shows just how much reputational damage can be done if employees feel they don’t have a voice. In this instance he felt dismissive comments from his manager were starkly at odds with the organisations professed values and feeling unsupported by senior managers he took to airing his frustration very publicly.

And this was hot on the heels of employees at Ted Baker feeling their only recourse to address the inappropriate behaviour of their CEO was to sign a petition.

What was it about these workplace cultures that led these employees to taking such public steps to voice their concerns?

The Institute of Business Ethics “Ethics at Work” survey 2018 shows most people don’t “speak up” because they don’t feel corrective action would be taken and that doing so may jeopardise their job. Concerns then often do not get raised at all, creating a culture where inappropriate behaviour is tolerated until something really damaging happens... and leading to people ultimately “speaking up”, but in a very public way.

The talk of creating speak up cultures is a laudable aim – if people feel genuinely able to raise concerns at an early stage, they can be addressed in a sensitive, constructive way before frustrations escalate and become more challenging to resolve. But we have to equip our managers to actually create such a culture. It won’t happen just by labelling it.

So what can you do?

  • Empower managers to discuss the culture of their teams with their team members… what do they want it to be like? How will they all play a part in making it happen? What is OK and what isn’t?
  • This may mean supporting managers to hold those discussions with confidence... help them with facilitations skills, encourage them to agree tangible outcomes from the discussions.
  • Ensure this happens at every level in the organisation. Line mangers will soon let this fizzle out if they feel they are not getting same level of interest and support from their own managers. It should start with the Board and be role modelled right through.
  • Help your managers to be genuinely seen as open and approachable. Believing they are approachable is the not the same thing as people actually experiencing them as approachable. Encourage them to be proactive in talking to their people, to hold regular one to ones, to give time to talk about non-operational stuff, to simply ask people how they are.
  • Ensure people know the channels they can use if they have a concern. Creating “champions” such as inclusion champions or mental health first aiders, can be a good way of offering initial support outside the line management relationship for example.

Managers are pivotal to how employees experience their time at work. Let’s give them skills and confidence to make that experience a positive supportive one – and ensure the organisation doesn’t hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  


For more information on how we can help you and your managers create the right culture and manage inappropriate behaviour at work please call us on 01903 732 782 or email us or have a look at how we have helped other organisations in a similar way. 

Tracy Powley
Tracy Powley

The way we behave towards each other in the workplace has a direct impact on individual wellbeing, team performance and organisational results. This belief has underpinned our work at Focal Point for over 20 years and has never been more relevant. We are privileged to work with a huge variety of organisations wanting to get workplace behaviour and culture right - and to tackle the inappropriate behaviour that may get in the way of this. Supported by our fantastic team of facilitators and coaches, we are able to make a real difference to peoples’ lives as well as organisational performance. Having worked in both large businesses at management level and in 2 start ups at director level, I am able to combine hands on experience of growing and managing teams - and the associated challenges in creating the right culture - with over 20 years in learning and development. I hold the Certificate in Training Practice and am a member of CIPD. When I am not supporting clients or developing the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...

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