An effective Code of Conduct serves as a central guide and reference for users in their of day-to-day decision making. It clarifies an organization’s mission, values and principles, tying them directly to standards and expectations of professional conduct. Think of it as a table of contents used to easily find relevant policies, training and other resources related to ethics topics within your organization.
A Code of Conduct is also a tool to encourage discussions of ethics and to improve how members of the workforce deal with the ethical dilemmas and gray areas that they encounter every day. Your Code of Conduct is meant to complement relevant standards, policies and rules, not to substitute for them.
Why Do Organizations Need a Code of Conduct?
Every organization regardless of size and industry needs a Code of Conduct. And it should be a living document that is easy to update, not a piece of paper that is tucked into the new hire packet, and never referred to again. The best Codes are based on a risk assessment of a company and are tailored to reflect the company. If you’re selling cars domestically, for example, your Code of Conduct will look quite different than if you’re selling military equipment to foreign governments. Your Code helps institutionalize the practices that cement ethics firmly into your company culture.
A Code of Conduct offers a great opportunity for organizations to publicly demonstrate they’re both responsible and ethical. This can have side benefits as well, fostering a more supportive political and regulatory environment, while increasing public confidence and trust among important constituencies and stakeholders.
A Code of Conduct:
- Demonstrates to employees, customers and investors that your organization values integrity and responsibility
- Sets expectations for employees and third parties as to how they’re expected to interact within your organization
- Help prevents ‘innocent’ violations of ethics
- Gives clear guidance for enforcing corrective action
And it Can Help Mitigate Risk by:
- Ranking and categorizing the risk areas that affect a your business
- Defining reporting mechanisms – how employees report incidents or violations of policy and disciplinary procedures for breaches of the Code.
- Adapting to changing regulations and organizational policies.
Having a well-written Code of Conduct gets you to the launch pad but not to blast off. You also need an easy and repeatable way to share your Code of Conduct with your workforce. This becomes even more challenging if your organization has employees or third parties that are dispersed broadly, or even globally. Statistics show overseas employees or third parties present as much, and in some cases more, risk and legal exposure as a US-based workforce.
Ethical violations frequently occur in several areas.
To protect yourself, your Code of Conduct should cover these critical topics:
Ensuring your workforce acts with the upmost integrity in their business dealings is one of the most important areas your Code of Conduct covers. How do your employees conduct themselves when dealing with customers or third parties? When presented with an ethical gray area how do they react? What is your policy for giving and receiving gifts or providing entertainment to visiting customers? How do you deal with overseas partners who may employ business practices that straddle the line of legality?
Unfortunately, workplace harassment and discrimination continue to be ongoing issues in the workplace. As a leader in your organization, how do you communicate expectations for fair treatment and responsible behavior among your workforce? How do you ensure your staff can raise concerns without fear of retaliation? Your Code of Conduct should embody your organization’s set of values. And ensuring your workforce understands and demonstrates those values will help create a healthy and productive workplace.
Data breaches. Exposure of confidential information. These topics seem to make headlines almost every day. What is your organization doing to ensure your data is secure and your confidential information does not get in the wrong hands? Your data security guidelines and practices should be built into your Code of Conduct so your employees can safeguard against costly and potentially ruinous breaches of security or theft of confidential information.