What To Know Before You Whistleblow

Posted on February 13, 2015. Filed under: Data, employee misconduct, employee protection | Tags: , , , , |

A whistleblower is any worker, former worker, or member of an organization who reports misconduct to persons or entities that have the power to take corrective action in response to a violation of law, rule, regulation or a direct threat to public interest. Whistle-blowing  includes allegations fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption. Whistleblowers are essential in helping to expose waste, abuse, mismanagement and threats to public health and safety. Their disclosures save billions of dollars, and often, human lives. While whistle-blowing is frequently done on the way out the door, those who remain within their organizations should be prepared to face hostility and resentment from peers and superiors.

Whistleblowers face the dilemma of protecting their employer (and themselves), or stepping forward when something inappropriate is taking or has taken place. Approximately one-third of the individuals who felt they had been identified as a source of a report of wrong-doing perceived either threats or acts of reprisal, according to “Blowing the Whistle: Barriers to Federal Employees Making Disclosures,“ Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) , 2010. A whistleblower may be terminated, moved, demoted, or otherwise harassed. Those who are the victims of workplace retaliation may discover that the laws that protect them are limited.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, enacted in response to several high-profile corporate and accounting scandals (most famously Enron), established new or enhanced standards for all U.S. public company boards, management, and public accounting firms. Similarly, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA) increased the scope of protection for federal employees. Still, every employee should know that self-protection against retaliation is warranted. With some variation, most whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws place the burden of proof on the employee, requiring that victims have evidence that:

  • They engaged in a protected activity (reporting, testifying, enforcing a law or regulation, etc.).
  • The employer knew or believed that they engaged in the activity.
  • They suffered an adverse action.
  • Their protected activity caused the adverse action taken by the employer.

Short of any smoking gun, this means that an employee will need to collect any circumstantial evidence of discriminatory motive in order to prove his/her case. The following data may be used to establish a reasonable inference that a retaliation claim is valid:


  • high work performance ratings prior to engaging in protected activity, and low ratings or “problems” thereafter;
  • previous expressions of satisfaction with work record;
  • absence of previous complaints against employee;
  • charges of “disloyalty” against an employee for engaging in protected activity.


  • manner in which the employee was informed of his or her transfer or termination;
  • inadequate investigation of the charge against the employee;
  • the magnitude of the alleged offense;
  • determination that the employee was not guilty of violating work rule charged under;
  • differences in the way complainant and other employees were treated;
  • disparate treatment of similarly situated employees or threats or retaliation against other employees for similar conduct.


  • disparate treatment of discharged employee prior to protected conduct;
  • discipline, transfer, or termination shortly after employee engaged in protected activity.

It is important to note that this information (in no way) is intended to prevent whistle-blowing. Again, violations, abuse, fraud, and unlawful activity should be exposed, especially when public health and safety are jeopardized. However, there are many considerations to note in being an informed and proactive advocate for change.

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Show Me the Money: What Every Non-Profit Leader Should Know Before Asking

Posted on December 15, 2014. Filed under: Data, SWOT | Tags: , , , |

It’s time for fundraising and you’ve perfected your elevator speech. Once-upon-a-time this may have meant that you’d do most of the talking, and you would have all the answers to the same set of highly anticipated questions. But as funding sources have dried up, and dollars flow less freely, those who have typically given to your organization along with first-timers may be asking more (and tougher) questions before investing in your non-profit. Here are some suggested things to include as you make your pitch and as donors critically evaluate the causes they will support this year:

  • Be clear on your mission, goals and objectives. Know what progress you’ve made toward achieving them.
  • Know your numbers. Donors will want to quantify your worthiness. How much, how many, how long, how far, averages, medians, percent increases, percentile ranks, ROI, etc. You get the point.
  • Be prepared to talk about threats, challenges, and even failures. More importantly, provide clarity on how you have (or are) addressing them.
  • Distinguish how you are different from other organizations doing similar work. Be knowledgeable about how you compare to them.
  • Mention any synergy, collaboration, or partnership with other organizations that is favorable, for example, talk about your public/private initiative with a local area school.
  • Mention what is new. If you have new initiatives, new employees that bring a special skill, or new board members, this may be of interest.
  • Talk about how your organization is managed. Focus on how you have utilized funding, improved effectiveness, expanded outreach, formed a sub-committee to address a particular concern, etc.

No leader will be able to accurately predict every question, but the guidelines above will better ensure that you are prepared to compete for dollars in a tougher economy. Good Luck!

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Free-agency in the Workplace: Using Employee Data to Assess Flight Risk

Posted on December 8, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Data, employee retention | Tags: , , |

We all know them – the colleague who’s slowly circling the drain, but won’t budge despite repeated signs that s(he) might need to move on, and the highly-valued top performer who blindsides us with a resignation when “we thought they were happy.” Truth be known, there are many reasons why employees choose to stay, and perhaps even more reasons for switching jobs. With respect to the latter, understanding the cost of free-agency (the impact on an organization of losing an employee) is imperative. While everyone who exits won’t represent a huge loss, the departure of a key “player” should raise some important questions:

  • How much will it cost to replace them?
  • How long will it take to replace them?
  • How much training will be involved in finding a replacement?
  • Will other employees be expected to take on additional responsibilities?
  • Will morale decrease among remaining staff?
  • Will other employees begin to look for work too?

To avoid surprises, a whole science of algorithmic or predictive modeling, complete with software to assess an employee’s flight risk has emerged. Aside from using an array of variables and weights, and some fairly complex computations, there are many readily available sources of data that can help determine if you’ll be receiving more resignation letters.

One of the best ways to find out if employees will leave is to analyze why others have left.  You can begin this process at the end, ironically, with a well-designed exit interview or survey. While employees are sometimes fearful that they can’t speak candidly while still on the job, when they leave a company it presents one of the best opportunities to solicit unfiltered feedback. It’s important to put comments into context, but there is likely to be value in what is disclosed. A simple checklist can point out some major “pain points” such as non-competitive pay, benefits, commute time, or lack of opportunity for advancement and promotion. By developing a short list of the most frequent reasons why employees leave, an organization can then develop a plan of action to address concerns. Digging a little deeper may also disclose some interesting trends and patterns. For example:

  • Are there differences across departments, divisions, etc. in the organization?
  • Are there positions with exceptionally high turnover?
  • Do employees leave at about the same point in their time with the company?

There is also value in analyzing some internal employee demographics. For instance, identifying long-time employees who have consistently received high performance appraisals, but who have not been promoted, received bonuses, or received recognition for their accomplishments should signal a red flag.  If similar employees have cited a failure to acknowledge their contributions on the way out, this may be an opportunity to be more proactive. And, although there may be limited monetary resources, an opportunity to work-from-home on Mondays, for example, could be a tangible and inexpensive reward for work well-done.

A company should also be proactive in its approach with under-achievers. Why not focus on improving the ROI for those who received poor performance appraisals by offering training, placing them with a mentor, or by reassigning workload? In the long-run, savvy use of consistently collected measures can help to quantify issues. This, combined with other employee data, can better ensure talent managers develop their workforce and keep stars out of free-agency.


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The Tale of the Tape: What Gets Measured, Gets Done

Posted on December 1, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Data, Evaluation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Imagine for a moment that you set a goal to lose some weight. Assuming that you even needed to shed a few pounds (more on this in a moment), you’d probably weigh yourself to determine a starting point, and choose a weight-loss goal for yourself to reach within a certain period of time. For the sake of example, let’s say that you plan to loose 20 pounds in 12 months. Now suppose that you had no plan in place for achieving your weight-loss target (such as a change in diet or more exercise). Then imagine that after the initial weigh-in, you went the entire year without getting on the scale to gage your progress.  Sounds impractical, right? But that’s exactly what takes place in many organizations from year to year, with no real movement toward achieving goals.

You’ll remember that in our scenario, we set out to loose 20 pounds over the course of a year. At face value, this seems very reasonable. As a personal goal, it may have resulted from a physician’s recommendation, or we may be looking to improve our health, lifestyle, or appearance. It would be very unlikely, however, that our doctor would recommend that every patient lose 20 pounds. And, it would be equally unlikely for every patient to want (or need) to lose that amount. This is true in business as well, where annual goals should emerge from clearly defined directives or organizational-specific needs, rather than from perceived trends or guess-work. Not every workplace will need to set yearly goals for diversity, engagement, or client satisfaction. However, a few key questions prior to goal-setting should include:

  • Is the goal consistent with an organizational vision or mission?
  • Has a Board directive identified the goal as a priority?
  • Is there data to support the scope and nature of the goal?
  • How will success be defined?

Assuming the goal is a step in the right direction, a plan should then include periodic checkpoints to measure progress. This is an opportunity to conduct a formative assessment in order to determine if adjustments to the strategies for achieving a goal need to be made. At this point, it may be time to refine the plan, but not the goal.

At the end of the time allotted to achieve the goal, a summative assessment is conducted. This will measure the extent to which the goal was achieved. Returning to the weight-loss plan, we can claim success if 20 or more pounds were lost, and we can set a new goal to lose more next year, or to maintain last year’s target weight. However, we can still find value in the process if we fell short of the goal. This value exists in knowing where we want to be, how we plan to get there (following some adjustments), and how we’ll eventually know when we’re “done.”

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To Thy Own Selfie Be True

Posted on October 31, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Data, Evaluation, SWOT | Tags: , , , |

Among this year’s ABC fall line-up of shows is Selfie. In short, it’s an “opposites attract” romantic comedy about a bullied teenager who revamps herself for adulthood through excessive use of social media. When this affects her career path, she turns to a fellow marketing firm colleague to help repair her workplace image. She’s always inappropriate – from office attire to her pre-occupation with her smart-phone, in full view of the boss during team meetings. But in her defense, she’s done one thing right. OK, two. She has recognized that change needs to occur, and she’s consulted with an objective change agent.

In our lives, we too are inundated with the selfie. In fact, an estimated 350 million images, mostly of us, are uploaded to facebook every day. And that only includes those that survive our personal scrutiny. When we post pics, we wait patiently for friends and family to “like” them too. If they’re unflattering, out of focus, or don’t depict what we intend to show, we simply delete them. But isn’t it often the same in our professional lives? It’s far easier to ignore or downplay a recognized challenge or business concern than it is to confront it directly. We bury the truth in the board report, artfully skirt questions about it, or minimize the importance it. We press our imaginary delete key and hope it will go away. It won’t. And often, it will require some form of outside intervention to promote change. Does your business selfie show:

  • a pattern of revenue loss?
  • a decrease in customer or client base?
  • a low level of employee or customer satisfaction?
  • a loss in productivity?
  • a need for improved effectiveness or efficiency?
  • a need for improved policies or procedures?
  • a need for employee training?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may see in your selfie an opportunity for change rather than an insurmountable threat. You are to be congratulated! We invite you to explore our website to learn how we can assist your organization in taking the next step.

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Knowledge Is Power

Posted on October 15, 2014. Filed under: Data, Information Age, Trending | Tags: , , , |

In his 1982 bestseller Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, author John Naisbitt famously wrote “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and studying at Cornell and Harvard, Naisbitt worked as a corporate executive, and served as Assistant Secretary of Education in the Kennedy administration at age 34. He studied and wrote extensively about China and about America’s transition into the 21st century. He forecasted the technology boom, and the global economy, but also envisioned that information would replace money as the emergent source of power in the New Age.

More than 30 years later, organizations both large and small, still struggle with how to translate information (or data) into knowledge that will improve business practices. Does the expression “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” come to mind? Even where very formal data collection efforts are in place (annual appraisals, quarterly reports, fiscal-year audits) they are often viewed as procedural rather than informative. Knowing how to process a wealth of qualitative or non-numerical data, and quantitative data (driven by numbers) is key in empowering your business to survive and thrive. How does your organization translate data into knowledge in order to:

  • Lead strategically?
  • Inform decision-making?
  • Manage change?
  • Improve processes and productivity?
  • Lower costs or reduce waste?
  • Increase effectiveness or efficiency?
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