Effective compliance within a well-established framework of rules and regulations is pivotal to ensuring a well-functioning society. Compliance holds direct correlation with citizen trust in government, while inefficient regulation can impede productivity, investment and innovation.
Effective regulation is critical from social perspectives, including safeguarding health and safety and protecting the environment, it is also the foundation for economic growth and securing stable state revenue.
As evinced by OECD’s Public Consultation on Best Practice Principles for Improving Regulatory Enforcement and Inspections, best practice regulation is achieved through the combination of broad compliance-promotion efforts, well-targeted controls and the availability of deterrent sanctions for serious violations.
Chris Wheeler, Deputy NSW Ombudsman, in his public address at the PID Practitioner Forum highlights findings from Whistling While They Work 2 that “there is no clear, direct relationship between the official policies that organisations claim to have, and the organisational support that individuals who report wrongdoing actually experience.”
Despite the existence of organisational policy, there is no guarantee of them being implemented or the reporter being given due support.
“The mere presence of particular formal policies and procedures may not, in itself, have a direct effect on whistleblower outcomes, since policies and procedures that exist on paper may not be implemented in practice.”
Not only are there issues of non-compliance, but report filing can even be to the detriment of the reporter. Wheeler describes one instance in which a senior executive alleged another senior office engaged in corrupt conduct. The result was the reporter’s role being downgraded alongside department structural changes to remove the reporter’s direct reports.
This case is not an anomaly and the NSW Ombudsman has received many similar claims of retribution in the context of restructures.
Wheeler attributes this predominantly to ‘blind spots’ wherein managers fail to identify or action issues appropriately despite understanding the threshold. The reactions of managers to reports of wrongdoing range from annoyance or resentment, to offence, embarrassment and humiliation.
Policies and procedures are enacted under the assumption that senior staff will be willing to comply and take appropriate action to both manage the report and the person who made it.
Though we all fall guilty to irrational behaviour and decisions at times, the appearance and consequences of human error are much more conspicuous in instances of governmental compliance and regulation- or failure thereof.
The Whistling While They Work 2 research project notes our range of mental shortcuts (heuristics) which we rely on to make decisions.
Our personal biases have an impact on how we respond to different scenarios – including how managers respond to internal reports of misconduct. Often unconsciously we are motivated to strive for a particular outcome as a matter of self-interest.
These can be instances of confirmation bias (when people seek information that confirms, rather than disaffirms their pre-existing belief), disconfirmation bias (in which people are more likely to question evidence which poses a threat to their belief), or fundamental attribution error (in which people ‘shoot the messenger’, or blame the reporter who delivers unpleasant news).
Combat behavioural challenges like unconscious bias at the 2nd Annual Enhancing Investigations & Enforcement Outcomes conference. Learn from a panel of expert speakers including Chris Wheeler on themes including behavioural insights to improve regulation, driving collaboration and choosing the right enforcement action for favourable outcomes.
Running at Canberra Rex Hotel from 24 – 26 September 2019, the event is a must attend for public sector regulation, compliance and enforcement professionals.