Understanding What Your Code Of Conduct Can And Should Be – By Joel A. Rogers

At the simplest level, a Code of Conduct should be a user-friendly guide for employees, written in plain language, that helps them navigate ethical issues in their everyday business activities. When they function at their best, good Codes of Conduct deliver a powerful message to readers both inside and outside of the company. They communicate to employees and other stakeholders: This is who we are.

Your company’s Code of Conduct is extremely important, so measures should be taken to ensure it is explained in small segments, easily understood and retained by your employees as part of an ongoing compliance program. Your compliance communication is made much more effective by presenting a Code of Conduct that is clearly written and helps navigate through seemingly unclear ethical issues. But, how exactly does one write such a useful Code of Conduct?

Building A Bridge Through A Clear Code Of Conduct

Compliance professionals often ask questions regarding exactly what their Code of Conduct should accomplish for their company and how it can be written in such a way that it succeeds in doing so. A big part of creating a Code entails using descriptive and concrete words to ensure that any and all ethical issues are not left up to the interpretation of the employee.

While this much may seem obvious, far too many compliance programs do not include Codes written this way. A confusing, superfluous Code is risky to your company because it leaves you open to the possibility of having it be misunderstood or ignored.

Among other things, your clearly written and expressed Code should and can create a bridge between your company’s values and the policies and laws your employees are subject to, generally comprising prohibited behaviors. While values highlight those things that your company believes in and aspires to (ethical values like Integrity, Trust, Diversity), and policies and laws often identify prohibited actions, a good Code exists to help employees understand how your company’s values inform those policies and how your workers should conduct themselves when operating within the boundaries of your company’s policies and all applicable laws.

If your Code of Conduct is merely a wordy restatement of certain policies, it cannot play this crucial, bridge-building role.

Defining The Difference Between The Policies And The Code

Some stakeholders will worry, of course, that anything other than a document about what we may or may not do will create ambiguity for employees. But, this fear is misplaced. That is actually the role of the company’s policies, not the Code of Conduct itself. While a good Code covers many important “do’s and don’ts,” the most important role for the Code is to convey to the employees, as well as the broader public, a shared vision of the distinct ethical culture of the company.

Again, this is not to say that a company’s policies should not figure prominently within the Code. But, the Code should be less concerned about every last detail of the policy – which should be articulated elsewhere – and more concerned about why such a policy is in place and how it is in keeping with your company’s values.

Let’s use the topic of discrimination as a simple example, as most Codes will cover this topic. While your company may have a lengthy policy document describing this topic in detail, the language of the Code of Conduct may only focus on describing the broad strokes of the policy and on explaining how such policies and laws resonate with the company’s stated value of Diversity. Readers of this section of the Code should come away from it with an understanding of the value of diversity in a business context, and how their company views any actions, like discrimination, that are antithetical to diversity.

In other words, not only is it the law and your company’s policy that prohibit discrimination, but it is also an aspect of the company’s culture not to discriminate. Bridging this gap for your staff members should be the goal of your Code.

Recognizing The Value Of Your Code

U.S. Sentencing Guidelines require the promotion of a “culture of compliance and ethics,” and it is generally understood that the Code of Conduct is the cornerstone of such a program. Nonetheless, a surprising number of companies have yet to apply even the most basic practices in the implementation of their Codes. Don’t let your company be one.

This post was written by Joel A. Rogers, and was originally published on Apr 26, 2016 on http://www.compliancewave.com



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