6 Keys to Creating a Best Practice Code of Conduct

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“Too legalistic.” “Boring.” “Hard to understand.” “Just a CYA for the company.” These are all real comments my Advisory Services team members and I have heard from employees at hundreds of organizations with relation to their codes of conduct. 

If any or all of these comments apply to your code, it’s time for an update.

(Learn more: Is it Time to Update Your Code of Conduct?)

Your Code of Conduct is the Foundation of Your Organization’s Ethics & Compliance Program

It’s hard to overstate the importance of an effective code of ethics for employees. The foundation for your compliance program, the code needs to clearly communicate expected behaviors for employees, and point the way to additional resources when situations are complex, difficult or sensitive.

The code also helps reduce legal liability by addressing your organization’s key ethics and compliance risks. (The Federal Sentencing Guidelines explicitly reference standards of conduct as one of the key elements to an effective program.) And external constituents also look to your code to evaluate your organization’s commitment to integrity.

(See NAVEX Global’s newly-launched Code of Conduct)

Keeping Up With Your Code

Organizations are increasingly recognizing that times have changed and their code has to keep pace.  Drafting and implementing a code cannot be a one-and-done event.

The code must keep up with the way employees communicate. Compliance leaders are seeking ways to really engage their readers in their code, and leverage some of the electronic capabilities we have all become accustomed to. In addition, your code must keep up with the regulatory environment, which continues to change at the speed of light.

In short, a code can no longer serve as a thesaurus-sized bookend on an employee’s bookshelf: it has to be a living, reference-able resource.

Creating an Engaging, Best-Practice Code of Conduct

Leading organizations’ codes share common best-practice traits, including: 

  1. Alignment With An Organization’s Risk Profile: Leading organizations understand their risk profile and benchmark their code of ethics for employees against industry best practices to ensure relevancy. 
  2. Regularly Updated: Leading organizations update their code every two years—or whenever an event such as a change in leadership, geographic footprint, merger or acquisition prompts the need for an update.
  3. Appropriate Tone and Language: Good codes of conduct use tone and language that reflects the organization’s culture.  Know your audience. Your code represents your compliance program.
  4. Leverages Links to Other Resources and Policies: The purpose of the code of conduct is to outline the risks and steps stakeholders should take if they have additional questions or need direction. Avoid embedding an entire policy within a code. Best practice codes provide links to additional resources or supporting policies.
  5. Promotes the Organization’s Brand and Values: The code of conduct should clearly outline your organization’s driving principles, a great way to reinforce your values. Use the Code to promote your organization’s brand and reputation.
  6. Serves as an Engaging, User-Friendly Reference Tool with Key Design Elements: Use style elements like colors, callout boxes, branding and video vignettes. Video is essential in breaking up the monotony of text and truly engaging your readers.

Remember, your code of ethics for employees not only helps you manage your organizational risks, it is critical to the overall health and success of your compliance program.  Keep your code of conduct relevant so that is seen as viable resource employees are proud to pick up and use!


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