Credit Matters Blog

Keeping Secrets From Paid Whistleblowers

Kim Radok 26 November 2015


Secrets and indiscretions are being exposed almost on a daily basis these days. Never has it been so difficult for organisations and individuals to hide their indiscretions from prying eyes. The reasons why it is so difficult to keep secrets has been presented previously in the media and via Credit Matters and its associates in their newsletters and blogs over the years.

Briefly, the main exposures of secrets and indiscretions have come from:

(i)  accidental exposure

(ii)  a change of personnel,

(iii) a change of operational procedures;

(iv) dissatisfied employees seeking revenge;

(v)  disgruntled business partners;

(vi)  dissatisfied customers and suppliers;

(vii) unpaid whistleblowers who see an issue which they believe needs to exposed for the good of the community.

It appears now there is a push to endorse the payment of whistleblowers, as is currently the practice in the US. A number of US whistleblowers have been rewarded very well financially from exposing secrets. In some ways, whistleblowing has almost become a new profession.

If there is one thing we do know about people, many are unduly influenced by money these days. Perhaps this is a sad reflection of society itself today, where it appears increasingly, some people will do almost anything for an extra dollar. Hence when people see a chance to earn money by whistleblowing, they are likely to take up that opportunity.

Having outlined the problems, what can an organisation or individual do if their indiscretions and secrets are exposed?

My suggestions start with the premise that honesty is always the best policy. I qualify this point of view, by suggesting there is no need to rush out and expose the business or yourself unnecessarily. There are plenty of people ready to do that for you. It would seem nevertheless, if you have any skeletons in your closet, preparation for any adverse event is paramount. At times, it may also be a wise strategic decision to go on the front foot and admit to an indiscretion before it becomes public knowledge.

A typical beneficial situation for pre-exposure in an organisational setting would be on the appointment of a new CEO, CFO or senior manager. The fact is, they have nothing to lose from making the decision to free the organisation from the anchor of a hidden liability that may be exposed, and everything to gain. By keeping known liabilities discovered secret, these new appointments have everything to lose professionally.

In the case of an individual, career changes, new job applications or before making a controversial statement, clearing personal secrets which may be exposed or anything that indicates a change of professional opinion, is another good occasion "to come clean".

For the individual, prior mental preparation is extremely important and should include learning how to manage the fear of any negative consequences. Except in extreme cases, the negative consequences are sometimes over exaggerated and many not be as severe as imagined.

Irrespective of whether you are an individual or an organisation, consideration should also include the provision of an honest mea culpa apology. Nothing is worse than a mea culpa which is considered to be insincere. When the recipients perceive a mea culpa is put forward honestly, they are usually prepared to view the mea culpa more favourably. It certainly is an advantage if the mea culpa is presented with a self-induced penalty.

If paid whistleblowers become the norm, it will become even more difficult to hide your secrets. Preparing for the eventual exposure of your secrets, should you have any, would seem to be a practical solution to minimise any fallout. As in all case of disaster planning to mitigate and negative consequences, preparation is the key. If you have not yet prepared for the worst case scenario, now would be an ideal time to start, especially with the commencement of the new year in the near future.