The process of developing the Code very often determines its success. Many codes today are simply PR statements. Authentic codes begin with an appreciation of the specific contexts, ethical challenges, stakeholders and employee engagement needed to win support. Consultation and collaboration in its design will ensure its relevance and therefore its user engagement. Key steps include:
- Consultation with organisational members and critical stakeholders lays the foundation for engagement with the final content. Workshop the draft content to enable stakeholders to feel it speaks to the issues they are concerned about, and they are happy to commit to the final version of the Code.
- Relevance: Effective codes speak to the day to day different ethical challenges managers and employees face depending on their roles within the organisation. Inviting staff to identify such challenges or conducting “an ethics audit” to pinpoint issues to be incorporated into the Code will ensure its authenticity and relevance for the different groups within the organisation.
- Content: A typical Code might include:
- An inspirational message from the CEO about the benefits of ethical behaviour
- A clear definition of business ethics and the reasons why ethics are critical to business success
- An explanation of the organisation’s core principles and values and the specific workplace behaviours that will demonstrate these
- Examples of typical ethical challenges and how the Code can clarify the right action to take
- Identification of key stakeholders and reciprocal obligations
- Handy checklists of enablers and barriers to engagement with the Code’s intent.
- A ladder of escalation on how to raise issues and the key people who can help
- The protections awarded to employees who speak up
- Language Choice of voice or tone can be a subtle but critical “turn off” or “turn on” for users. Choose inclusive, inspirational language to delivery clarity and win employee engagement. Avoid legalistic language a prescribed response to hypothetical challenges as real life is often more complicated.
- Embedding: Cross-check code content with existing organisational protocols to ensure consistency and seek to streamline policies. Face to face training and an engaging communications plan needs to accompany its roll-out. All leaders need to publicly demonstrate how they link their critical decisions to the Code’s intent. This linking will reassure organisational members of the Code’s authenticity.
- Role modelling: Develop metrics to hold all leaders to account to role model the Code’s values. Build this accountability into performance reviews.
- Maintenance: Codes need to be continually reviewed and updated to take account of new technologies and accompanying changing societal values.
Remember it’s what leaders do and talk about rather than the Code that determines ethical behaviour. Regular conversations reminding people about the Code as well as monthly awards to employees who demonstrate its values sends a strong message that ethical behaviour matters.
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