Codes of Conduct: More Than a Defensive Shield

September 23, 2019 LRN Corporation

Nearly all major companies have some form of a code of conduct to set the tone for what is expected of employees, executives, the board, and third-party partners, and to reinforce their ethics and compliance programs and policies. 

A number of companies use their codes as a defensive tactic, namely to prove to regulators they’ve addressed compliance topics. This effectively means codes of conduct tend to be disconnected from a company’s mission, and probably are full of legalese, and overly granular rules. 

With such a narrow focus, and such dry, uninspiring content, it’s no wonder codes often wither in desk drawers and on rarely-read intranet pages. 

In reality a code should connect the company’s employees to a sense of higher organizational purpose. This ties what happens in the company with larger societal issues, while reflecting and reinforcing the essential elements of the company’s culture. 

The code should embody leadership priorities, mutual expectations, and frame behaviors in terms of principles and the spirit behind corporate values.

Reviewing, updating and revising the code should be part of any ongoing program monitoring. How can ethics and compliance leaders bring the code to life, and remodel it from a rule book to a values-based guide to business behavior? 

There are two key areas on which to focus: the development process, and leading practices.

The method and approach to developing a “living code” is as important as the final production. To truly cultivate a mission-oriented, values-based code that’s unique to the organization’s culture and business needs, it’s important to assemble a broad coalition of operational and functional leaders and subject-matter experts from across the company. 

It’s as vital to stitch together a diverse group of reviewers--executives, managers and front-line employees--to provide honest feedback on structure, content, and design. 

A few leading practices that contribute to a living code include:

  • Use of multiple channels to communicate the code. Codes of conduct become dead on arrival if they are only static written documents. It’s important to communicate the content of a company’s code through multiple avenues, including executive messages, mobile platforms, interactive training sessions, and online quizzes.
  • Make learning the code of conduct a social experience. Developing a dialogue between frontline employees and middle managers is an important part of conveying the values of an organization. Make training around a company’s code an interactive session between managers and employees to set the “tone in the middle” that’s necessary for an effective, values-driven E&C program.
  • Utilize learning aids and storytelling to improve retention. Tools such as scenario-based Q&As increase engagement with the code and help to ensure the deeper messages that underpin it stick. Seeing the values that inform a company’s code of conduct in action through real-world scenarios gives moral weight to its content that reading words on a page simply can’t.

An added bonus: Since the best way for ethics and compliance to be truly effective is to focus on deeper ethical values–and a company’s code of conduct is often the main expression of a company’s larger E&C program–an effective code of conduct can often serve as the foundation of an effective, values-based program. 

For more information on code of conduct best practices, check LRN’s white paper:  Bring Your Code To Life: Best Practices for an Effective Code of Conduct.

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