The process of developing a code of ethics can determine its success. Many codes today are simply PR statements. Authentic ones appreciate the specific contexts and ethical challenges of the company. They also acknowledge the stakeholders and employee engagement needed to win support. Consultation and collaboration in its design will ensure its relevance. Relevance is the key to user engagement. Critical steps include:

1. Consultation – Discussions with staff members and critical stakeholders is crucial. These sessions lay the foundation for engagement with the final content. Workshop the draft content to enable stakeholders to feel it speaks to the issues that concern them. That way, hopefully, they will be happy to commit to the final version of the code.

2.  Relevance –  Effective codes speak to the day to day ethical challenges managers and employees face. These will vary depending on their roles within the business. Invite staff to identify challenges or conduct an ethics audit to pinpoint issues. Incorporating these into the code will ensure its authenticity and relevance for the different groups within the company.

3.  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 they are critical to business success.
  • An explanation of the company’s core principles and values. Also, include 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.

4.  Language – Choice of voice or tone can help users to engage with your message or turn them off to it. Choose inclusive, inspirational language to deliver clarity and win employee engagement. Avoid legal language and prescribed responses to hypothetical challenges. Real life is often more complicated, so these become irrelevant.

5. Embedding – Cross-check code content with existing business protocols to ensure consistency. If there is a lack of consistency, seek to streamline policies. Face-to-face training and an engaging communications plan need to accompany the roll-out. All leaders need to publicly demonstrate how they link their critical decisions to the code’s intent. This linking will reassure your workforce of the code’s authenticity.

6. Role modelling – Develop metrics to hold all leaders to account to role model the code’s values. Build this into performance reviews.

7.  Maintenance – Companies must frequently review and update their codes. That is the only way they can take account of new technologies and the related changing societal values.

Remember, it’s what leaders do and talk about rather than the code that determines ethical behaviour. Have regular conversations reminding people about the code. Also, give out monthly awards to employees who demonstrate their values. Together, these actions send a strong message that ethical behaviour matters.


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