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GQ Awards: An Award for Compliance?

I am back on the subject of whistleblowers, because we discussed it quite a bit in a recent seminar. And then I read this article and connecting the two is a bit daring, but bear with me:

“Whistleblowers, – should there be increased legislation for their protection?” That’s a question one can safely ask at any Compliance event, it is ‘mainstream’ you could say.

“Whistleblowers, – how likely is it that someone embedded in a department or company for many years actually blows the whistle on discovery of what they might call ‘malpractice’?”

That’s not such a standard question and we tried to explore it a bit further, looking at Luhmann’s concept of “social systems”.

What’s the background?, you might say. The idea of avoiding unnecessary rubbish, I guess, unnecessary compliance-hotline-cards rolled out to employees worldwide, just to have something to show, when, really, no one would dare to say that the source of some amazing turnover might have to be looked at more closely.

It doesn’t HAVE to happen, I am just saying that it is possible.

So I am asking the very general ‘how-likely-are-they-to-whistleblow’ question very tentatively, because I am generally not very confident in posing ‘fringe questions’.

Cocktails: photo by mountainhiker on flickr. "Hugo": A "Hugo"-drink (not pictured) is quite in fashion at the moment. Something being "for Hugo" in Vienna means being useless.

And thus my questions are getting even more tentative, if I am wondering whether Russel Brand’s appearance at the GQ awards can teach us something about this ‘how likely’ question.

‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ is, I guess, the rule that he is accused of having broken  by criticising Huge Boss, a sponsor of the award.

I have a huge amount of respect for what he did, as well as a tiny bit of criticism, which admittedly looks a bit lame.

Get the criticism out of the way: If he had said in the speech that he was only there to get publicity for his tour, then he would have been open about his own financial interest, before dishing the dirt on others. Pointing the finger elsewhere is always easier than looking at intransparencies closer to home, something that I see as a huge challenge, for myself too, hence the ‘i am easily influenced’-theme here.

What I admire is the ability to deliver criticism through wit. If some event threw me in with  someone I did not want to be associated with, I would probably only develop an awkwardness inside me as spicy as my late granny’s goulash. And while I would dream of sprinting away like Mo Farah, the awkwardness would slow my every move down, making me look like the best ever fan of those I was trying to avoid. Only afterwards would the brilliant responses that could have replaced my awkward smiles come to mind and I would kick myself for days on end.

Hence my admiration for someone who can fire back there and then and thus probably does not have to beat himself up afterwards. But then I thought everyone around me would equally have that admiration for ‘schmoozing with open cards’, that this ‘skill’ would be treasured like others treasure fish and chips. Because: if we all had more of it, the world would be a less covered-up and better place.

So if a celeb in an award ceremony is criticised for having this ‘skill’, isn’t it then likely that what company bosses relate to their employees beyond the Compliance-hotline-card will equally be along the line: ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!”

If you put a (freelancing) celebrity and an employee side by side, you could argue that the celebrity is more likely to feel free to criticise: If he/she is doing well, he/she might have many hands reaching toward him/her, creating a trampoline of hands around him/her, so that, if one hand is pulled away due to criticism, lots of other hands remain and can be fallen into backwards for a feeling of financial bliss.

This might not be true and maybe all hands start to withdraw as soon as one is criticised, landing the person on hard grounds. But if the employee standing next to the celeb only has that one hand of his/her boss reaching out, then the possible if long-long-long-winded conclusion from the GQ award is: Unless we start valuing the skill to speak up (‘culture of comfortable questioning’, ccq), we don’t stand a chance that Compliance issues in companies likely to hurt bosses will get reported.

So, Marianne, how much did you think of how handy it would be to have Russel Brand as a popular search term in your blog, when you decided linking the GC award story to a Compliance topic? – Well, I didn’t, promise. – Are you sure? – Sure, sure, …., hm, but obviously I don’t mind, … – Ahhh. -

See the Rita article here for more information on the topic of ‘how likely’:


Marianne Klausberger is an English lawyer specialising in Compliance topics within German-speaking regions. During her career in private practice in London she focused on dispute resolution and company investigations in, as memories of snow storm, broken air con and varying passport offices tell her, drastically different locations, and gathered experience presenting evidence to the authorities in Washington. After moving in-house, she spent almost three years leading the development of Compliance methodologies in a global chemicals and pharmaceuticals company. She continues to work with companies on such topics on a freelance basis. Approaches to designing the company’s Compliance ‘foundation’ differ widely, yet the hurdles encountered in the implementation show similar patterns. Looking at such obstacles soon becomes the focus of a project. The know-how on FCPA, UK Bribery Act, etc might be there, but it needs to be carried into the organisation; or, wants to be grasped in German, when authorities in the UK or the US may seem far away. A realistic approach remains important to her, – as her t-shirt says: “[I am] easily influenced”, and – probably – so are most of us.

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