Creating an Effective Code of Conduct

Best practices for creating the right code and integrating it into your compliance program 

Imagine a conductor, standing in front of an orchestra with a baton in hand. The ensemble is assembled to produce a successful performance of a single piece of music. Every instrument has their unique part to play, their lines interwoven into the larger work, interacting with the other individual parts to form the whole. The conductor carefully studies the score beforehand, studying every instrument’s unique line, to successfully direct the entire group through the rehearsal process and ultimately at the final performance. Without that master guiding document, in this case a musical score, the group and its leader will be out of synch, chaos will erupt, and the performance will suffer. Just like an actor needs a script, or a conductor needs a score, a successful value-minded organization needs a strong code of conduct.

Today, Maestro, we’re looking at your organization’s code of conduct and getting it ready for its debut. Whether your code of conduct is in the final dress rehearsal stage, perfectly polished and ready for the world to see, or if you’re preparing for your first rehearsal and are unsure how it will measure up, today we will run through the six steps to an effective code of conduct. Are you ready to take your bow?

Six Key Steps to an Effective Code of Conduct

Build Off Your Mission and Values

Just like with music, there are rules and best practices dictating how an ethical business should run. In order to rise above the basics, you need to have a solid understanding of both the mandatory laws and regulations that govern your industry and how your organization wants to rise even higher. Start with your mission statement and look at the elements that could underpin your code of conduct. Beyond making sure you are profitable, how is your organization going to make an impact? What sets you apart from the competition? What problems are you setting out to solve for your employees, your customers, and the world at large?

Next, review your company values and make sure that they are in synch with your mission. Any friction between the two will make upholding either one impossible. Carving out clear goals will help you define standards for behavior, from the broadest non-business goals such as environmental sustainability or social responsibility, to the most granular operational guidelines. If your code of conduct is to drive higher standards at your organization, it needs to be crystal clear about what you believe and where  your company is going. Looking for more inspiration? Check out this list of common code of conduct provisions from the Ethics and Compliance Initiative.

Consider Your Audience

Some of the largest companies on earth (Coca Cola, Google, Starbucks, and Comcast, for example) showcase their code of conduct online, so spend some time considering if a public-facing code of conduct will serve your goals. Because your code of conduct can be both an internal and external document, it must be able to tell employees how to behave while communicating to the public how your company upholds its values. Keeping this dual function top of mind will help make determining your ethical responsibilities easier. Consider all stakeholders and anyone who will interact with your business. Just like with the orchestral score, multiple parties will draw their direction from this document, so remember to include employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders—maybe even the larger community or the entire planet if your company values sustainability.

Define Key Issues

Draw from the experience of other subject matter experts at your organization and reach out to them to identify the ethical and operational issues they come across every day. For example, your marketing department may have thoughts on your social media guidelines, your suppliers might be impacted by your commitment to fair wages and human rights, and your community team may feel passionately about your customer service standards. Asking your employees for input will help maintain a healthy company culture by meeting them where they’re at and not senselessly prescribing standards upon them. Use any information gleaned in this process as an opportunity to inventory hot spots or other potential risks. You may need to reverse engineer elements of your code of conduct to make sure that the input you sourced from your internal sources matches up with the laws and regulations that govern your business.

Write an Easy-to-Follow (and Understand) Code of Conduct

There is no perfect “one size fits all” code of conduct template out there, and how you decide to write your code will depend on your industry regulations, your companies’ unique needs, and your personalized branding guidelines. Focus on writing a code that clearly communicates your values, inspires your employees to exemplify those values, and directly connects everything back to your mission. Remember to use straightforward language, because any ambiguity or misunderstanding in this text might result in unintended consequences. If more granular detail is needed, use your company’s policies and procedures to further clarify any complicated regulatory guidance.

Stay as positive as possible and choose language that celebrates the benefits of ethical behavior at your organization. Reframe issues such as workplace discrimination in a way that communicates the benefits of ethical behavior, rather than simply writing that something is against the law. For example, instead of writing “It is against the law to discriminate against any employee on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age…,” you can frame diversity as an important business advantage: “We believe a diverse workforce is essential to a thriving, creative business. We strive to attract employees from a wide range of backgrounds and will not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age…”

Put the Code of Conduct into Practice

Once you’ve written your code, develop a plan for driving greater awareness and engagement. Think like a marketer and consider how different types of employees will best engage with the code. Develop personas based on roles and responsibilities and examine how to tailor training to adapt to different schedules, locations, timing, tone, and relatability. C-suite executives will undoubtedly interact with your code of conduct differently than a warehouse worker or an intern. An integrated compliance solution can help ensure that everyone at the company receives their copy of the code and completes their individualized training.

It doesn’t stop with training, and your organization will need to regularly highlight the importance of ethical behavior throughout the year. Start by making sure that your code of conduct is easy for employees to access regularly. If you do business in other countries, consider making translations of your code available in order to increase accessibility. Find creative ways to draw strong connections between previous training, through internal communications such as newsletters or blog posts. Don’t let your code of conduct stagnate, and make sure to keep the conversation going. You never know what information could come up and help further refine your code as a living document.

Looking for more ways to generate some buzz and brand your code of conduct? Check out our Code of Conduct workshop, Think Like a Marketer: Create a Buzz About Your Code of Conduct, over in our CONVERGE Community.

Measure Performance

Now that you’ve written your code of conduct, you have to actually live up to your own standards. To accomplish this, you’ll need to regularly assess company performance against its code. It may feel tedious at first, but by regularly measuring success and areas for improvement, you’ll identify potential problem areas before they lead to unethical behavior. Start by setting related goals that are directly tied to the content of your code of conduct. Committed to human rights? Monitor and measure your suppliers’ compliance with fair labor standards. Setting high standards for customer service? Set goals to reduce the overall annual number of incoming customer complaints. Your code of conduct is just the beginning!

Your code of conduct is also a powerful tool for evaluating current employees and potential new hires. Gauge a good culture fit in a new hire by asking questions tailored around your values and then noting their response. In annual reviews for current employees, ask about the frequency and effectiveness of code of conduct training or examples of how they put those same values into practice with their team. Don’t forget to look beyond the surface and make sure that incidents trigger closer review or refinement of your code. Look for patterns and hot spots by aggregating your data about incidents, investigations and subsequent disciplinary actions. Areas of high incident might trigger review and amendment of your code of conduct in order to eliminate any ambiguity or unclear language.

Showcase Your Code of Conduct on a User-friendly,
Interactive Portal

After all the work you’ve done to create and refine an effective code of conduct, showcase your work in a combination of different formats—videos, quizzes, flipcards, and more—to connect across learning styles. Check out Convercent’s Ethics and Compliance Portal and see how an interactive portal can make relevant information easier to find and encourage employees to return when they want to find a specific policy or learn more. If you’d like to see how an interactive Ethics and Compliance Portal works, request a demo and a member of the Convercent by OneTrust team will walk you through the possibilities.

Request a Demo of the Ethics and Compliance Portal