Too long. Too complicated. Too dense.
Sound familiar? If your code of conduct isn’t a document you’re proud to share with your employees, customers, board and C-suite—or if your organization has recently had a big change (merger or acquisition, a change in leadership or other significant shift) that requires a code of conduct refresh—you have an opportunity to take your code of conduct from good to great.
Before diving into a code of conduct refresh project, it’s good to revisit the core functions of a code of ethics.
Core functions of a code of conduct
- Sets the tone for your corporate culture and provides a platform for virtually every other policy you implement.
- Communicates expected behavior for employees and points the way to additional resources when situations are complex, difficult or sensitive.
- Reduces legal liability by addressing your organization’s key ethics and compliance risks.
- Represents your organization’s commitment to integrity to external constituents including business partners and regulators.
With those goals in mind, below are five questions to ask as you’re working toward taking your code of conduct from good to great.
5 questions to improve your code of conduct
1) What’s worth keeping?
Many organizations’ existing codes of conduct have provisions and perspectives that are worth retaining. Going from a good code of conduct to an excellent code of conduct might be more about tone, design and style—which should reflect your organizational culture and priorities—than overall message or policy.
2) Is it readable?
Employees who want a quick answer may feel confused and frustrated if they can’t understand what it says—a common problem when a committee of lawyers does most or all of the writing. It’s especially important to clearly describe how employees can ask questions or flag problems, usually is through the hotline or helpline. Consider how design impacts readability as well. Short paragraphs are much easier to read than long blocks of copy.
3) Is it aligned with your organization’s risk profile?
A best practice for any code of conduct includes making it relevant and complete given a company’s industry and global risk profile. Risk profiles are not static. Collaborate with other departments in your organization to ensure that the code of conduct touches on those issues that are most important.
4) Does it incorporate emerging issues?
The world is changing quickly, and codes need to change with it. For example, it might be hard to remember, but just a few years ago, social media risk wasn’t a concern at most companies and likely wasn’t addressed in their codes of conduct. Money laundering used to be something only financial organizations had to worry about. But these issues are now commonly covered in the codes of conduct at many diverse organizations. What are emerging issues that impact your organization? Consider covering them in your code.
5) Does it emphasize protections for employees who report misconduct?
Your code of conduct cannot cover everything, so it’s essential that it point employees to additional resources they can turn to for help (calling the ethics hotline, talking to their managers, or members of the HR or E&C teams, etc.). Best practice codes of conduct clearly communicate that employees who report possible misconduct or ask questions will be protected—and underscore the fact that acts of retaliation are acts of misconduct that could result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.
Regularly assessing your code of conduct helps you ensure that you’re consistently underscoring your values—and keeping them top-of-mind with employees. Taking a code from good to great can mean a world of difference for all those who rely on it.
By Ed Petry
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