Putting people at the heart of the speak up process

27 July 2022

Tags: Speak Up, Supportive Environment

IBE Associate, Corinne Fenech outlines a speak up scenario and focuses on the people who are impacted by the speak up process.

Diego is an organic cocoa farmer in the Dominican Republic. For several years he has known that the intermediary who is transporting his cocoa to the international chocolate manufacturer in Europe, has been tampering with the product. They are adding non-organic cocoa to it, which is much cheaper but obviously not of the same quality. He wants to speak up because it is neither fair to him, his family, nor the customer buying ‘organic’ ‘fair trade’ chocolate. On the company’s beautifully designed website there is a speak up process. But how exactly does he go about speaking up? What will happen to him, his family, and his livelihood? Will he willingly trust a person in an office halfway around the world to help?

Speak up processes are vital for organisations’ well-being as they enable stakeholders to raise their concerns and find someone who guides and helps. They are processes through which the organisation provides support to the person speaking up and justice to the ones being investigated. Despite all good intentions, many speak up processes are very focused on ensuring foolproof procedures, fair investigations, and impactful resolutions, but may miss the user experience perspective. User experience refers to understanding and including the view of stakeholders when designing or re-designing new processes, products, and services. Take, for example, how user experience is being engaged to re-define a hospital experience from setting up of appointments to the ambience in wards and waiting areas, to MRI machines designed explicitly for children. Coming from a customer experience background and specialising in business ethics, I believe that the opportunity exists to build on the strengths of the two fields because both customer experience and business ethics focus on the well-being of the person we are here to support. 

User centricity means focusing on the people who are impacted by the process, both those speaking up and those being investigated. To make this idea more concrete we can adopt the design thinking methodology’s five steps; empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test:

1.    Empathise: Understand your user. We can do this by creating user ‘personas’ or user categories which are based on the users of the speak up process. These are individuals or teams who would like to speak up, including employees across different geographic locations and the organisational hierarchy, suppliers, customers as well as general society members who might need to bring an issue to your attention. Understand what their worries, frustrations, and barriers for speaking up are. Consider also the individuals being investigated as well as any witnesses who may be involved. For those being investigated, question what they go through, their concerns like ‘will the organisation be fair?’ or ‘will my side of the story be heard’? For witnesses, observe what it means to speak about a colleague and a friend whom they have a valued relationship with and will want to maintain afterwards. This step provides a clear understanding of the user’s side of the story.

2.    Define: Based on your understanding of the user, create a problem statement. The task at this point is to define the problem as clearly as possible whilst keeping away from suggesting solutions. An example of a problem statement in a speak up process may be: “How can we create a speak up process which is accessible to all, free from retaliation, fair to those being investigated and protecting witnesses?”

3.    Ideate: This is the problem-solving step. Bring together a diverse group of people to solve the challenge. The best results in this phase come by capturing as many ideas as possible from as diverse a group as possible. It is important to make it safe for everyone to share their ideas because unfortunately, it is human nature that in groups we tend to conform to the opinion of that group. Techniques such as ‘individual rapid ideation’ tend to reduce groupthink and encourage diverse opinions.  Individual rapid ideation means asking each individual to come up with as many ideas as possible within a short timeframe (for example, five ideas within two minutes). At this point, quantity beats quality and the reason for speed is to reduce the filtering of ideas. Once you have as many ideas as possible, ask the group to drill them down to the very best ones.

4.    Prototype: Create a rough sketch of what the idea looks like. This can take the form of a process flow, a journey map (a visual description of the steps that are needed for the experience to happen) or a test online process for example. This prototype enables the team to discuss concrete steps on how to make the idea a reality.

5.    Test: Keep the user at the centre of the process by reaching out to the stakeholders, possibly involving the users from whom you got the initial information in step one. Demonstrate the prototype and ask them whether the proposed process meets their needs and what can be done better. This feedback gathering stage can be done by, for example, speaking to representatives of your personas individually, involving them in a focus group or sending them documentation that they go through at their convenience and providing feedback. Once the feedback has been obtained and filtered, tweak the original process and plan implementation. 

Participating in a speak up process may not be pleasant, but it can still be a meaningful human experience. Whilst it may be a run-of-the-mill process for administrators, it may be one which induces anxiety, stress, and a host of other emotions in those being impacted. It reaches its potential once it is able to keep unethical practices at bay, operates fairly and with justice towards those being investigated, and encourages genuine speak up cases. User centricity ensures that the process is humane and fair in a way that enables people like Diego to feel comfortable in speaking up, actions like those of the intermediary are dealt with justly, and the organisation benefits from more ethical practices. Ultimately, in our example, it ensures that customers finance truly organic and fair-trade chocolate, which may not be always great for the hips but good for the people and the planet. 


Corinne Fenech
Corinne Fenech


Corinne is an Associate with the IBE and brings with her over 20 years of industry experience. She is a corporate consultant and trainer with experience in operations and strategic management. With pride, she says that the fact that she has moved up the ranks step by step made her appreciate all types of work and the efforts of all team members at whichever rank. She is also a Design Thinking facilitator and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt practitioner. 

A firm believer in life-long development and passionate about people development as well as ethical business practices. Corinne holds an Executive MBA and MA in Business Ethics from the University of Malta. She is also researching for her PhD in Management with the University of Glasgow and her area of focus is Ethical Blindness in Organisations. Corinne is definitely not all work! In her free time, she loves trekking, travelling, learning about cultures and photography..

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