How to Structure Your Whistleblowing Investigations Team
Apr 2024
6 minutes

How to Structure Your Whistleblowing Investigations Team

Building an effective whistleblowing program requires a well-structured team. 

Who you choose to manage a whistleblowing program — as well as who this manager reports to — can significantly impact how effectively the program performs. With whistleblower anonymity as a top priority, you must consider the benefits of independence when devising your whistleblowing team structure.

Third-party whistleblowing program management for example offers many key advantages that help modern organisations achieve an efficient and successful strategy.

Let’s dive into the specifics of structuring your team, including who to choose as your program manager and why reporting to an external authority is so essential.  

Delegating reporting responsibility within a whistleblowing program

Ahead of any whistleblowing program implementation, the first key step is to identify who will be responsible for the program and who they should report to. 

A whistleblowing program should take proactive measures to facilitate clear communication between the program manager and the relevant governing function, such as a board or a board risk audit committee. As for the program manager themselves, who an organisation chooses to oversee their whistleblowing program depends on the organisation size and the budget/resources available to them.

We discuss the different whistleblowing program models more momentarily, but let’s first consider why reporting to an external source, such as a company board, is the crucial first step:

  • Independent Objectivity: External oversight ensures independence and objectivity in the evaluation and handling of whistleblower reports. Reporting directly to the Board or an external oversight body i.e Board, Audit, Risk Committee minimises the risk of conflicts of interest, retaliation, or bias that may arise if investigations are conducted internally by individuals with vested interests and reported back to a management committee.
  • Enhanced Credibility: External reporting lends credibility to a whistleblowing program. Stakeholders are more likely to trust the integrity of the process when oversight comes from an independent entity. This credibility is essential for maintaining trust in an organisation’s commitment to ethics and accountability.
  • Fairness & Due Process: External oversight helps ensure fairness and due process in the treatment of whistleblowers and the investigation of reported concerns. Independent bodies can provide assurance that whistleblowers are treated impartially and that investigations are conducted rigorously, without undue influence or bias.
  • Strategic Decision-Making: Boards of directors and external oversight bodies can make strategic decisions regarding the organisation’s response to reported concerns. These entities can assess the severity of the issues, evaluate potential risks, and determine appropriate actions to address underlying problems and prevent future misconduct.

Three models to consider for structuring an ideal whistleblowing program 

How you structure your whistleblowing program ultimately depends on the needs and requirements of your organisation. For larger companies, outsourcing the management of a whistleblowing program to a third-party i.e independent law firm is a consideration, while for smaller companies, a hybrid or internal approach is most likely required due to the cost constraints. 

Here’s an overview of the three main models for structuring a whistleblowing program:

1. Third-party program management

In this model, a reliable third party — such as a law or consulting firm — holds accountability for managing your whistleblowing program and conducting the investigations. The third party must be completely external to your organisation, acting independently and reporting directly to the company board or oversight committee.

By outsourcing an entire whistleblowing program to an external entity, tasks like receiving and processing reports, conducting investigations, and providing ongoing support to whistleblowers become the responsibilities of the third-party service provider. 

Third-party management offers several business benefits:

  • External providers bring impartiality to the process, reducing the risk of bias or conflicts of interest that may arise with internal management.
  • Third-party providers often have extensive experience and resources dedicated to whistleblowing program management, including legal, investigative, and technological expertise.
  • Whistleblowers may feel more comfortable reporting concerns to an external entity, knowing that their identity will be protected and that investigations will be conducted independently.
  • Outsourcing the program allows organisations to scale resources up or down based on demand and adapt to changing needs or regulatory requirements.

2. Hybrid program management

A hybrid program management model often involves a sub-set to a formal board, such as a board audit or risk committee. Such a sub-committee could be comprised partially of board members and partially of employees, creating a hybrid model that leverages both third-party oversight and internal expertise. 

The beauty of this structure is that organisations can maintain a more balanced approach that combines the efforts of both independent people and members of the organisation; without contextual awareness of the organisations operations being lost.  

The structure of this program would typically look like:

  • The Chief/Head of Risk or Compliance
  • The Chief/Head of Legal
  • Two independent members of the Board or Board, Audit and Risk Committee

3. Internal program management 

For companies without the size or resources to implement independent programs, it's necessary to look internally to determine how to structure the program effectively. Smaller companies, which likely receive only a few periodic reports, may struggle to allocate resources for a dedicated individual to manage the program without additional responsibilities. In this situation, it's generally best to select a role that is most independent and has a background in corporate governance, as well as a stake in ensuring organizational compliance. This could be a Chief Risk, Legal, or Compliance Officer. Ideally, they should report directly to the Board.

For larger organizations with resources, but prefer to structure internally, it is advisable to have an independent Corporate Investigations team that reports directly to the Board or the Board's Audit and Risk Committee. This independent structure reduces the risk of conflicts of interest, ensuring that individuals can safely raise reports without fear of retaliation, knowing that the team will conduct the investigation impartially.

In either case, the organisation assumes full responsibility for operating and managing the whistleblowing program without relying on external assistance. 

Internal management offers certain advantages:

  • The organization maintains direct oversight and control over the operation and management of the program, allowing for greater alignment with internal policies, culture, and priorities. 
  • Internal teams have a deep understanding of the organisation’s structure, culture, and operations, which can facilitate more contextually relevant investigations and interventions.

No matter who takes on the task of whistleblowing program management, reporting directly to a board or another external entity is critically important for ensuring reports are taken seriously and addressed. 

Examining the role of independence in whistleblowing programs

In a well-structured whistleblowing program, independence serves a significant role in ensuring effectiveness, fairness, and accountability across an organisation. 

Here’s how third-party whistleblowing program management can benefit modern organisations:

  • Impartial Investigation: Whether it’s a third party, hybrid or internal structure having independence from the organisation ensures an unbiased examination of the allegations, free from biases or conflicts of interest. This objectivity lends credibility to the investigative process and the outcomes, fostering trust among whistleblowers and stakeholders, and ensuring any concerns are adequately addressed.
  • Enhanced Transparency: By having an independent structure, organisations demonstrate commitment to transparency and accountability in addressing internal concerns. Independent oversight promotes a culture of integrity and ethical behavior within the organisation, signaling that misconduct will not be tolerated and will be thoroughly investigated and addressed.

Structuring your whistleblowing team for success

As internal organisational risks only become more complex, building a trustworthy whistleblowing program can be a reputational lifesaver should misconduct occur. 

At Confide, our secure platform provides businesses with the tools, resources, and expertise necessary to address corporate misconduct head-on.

Book a demo today to learn firsthand the powers of Confide’s platform.

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