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Many employees often have the attitude that their company’s code of conduct is merely a policy when in reality the code should serve as the foundation of any given organization, capturing its unique values and culture. A code of conduct should be more than just a document but an experience that inspires employees to adhere to a code while also respecting the reality of workforce trends.

The best codes align with an organization’s message and are an authentic expression of the workplaces’ culture. As a result, codes should incorporate the organization’s mission and values throughout the document in order to develop a message that is meaningful to employees. Additionally, a code developed with the full backing of key constituents (i.e. board, senior leadership, global partners, etc.) will resonate strongly among employees. A high-impact message or letter from the CEO/leader can go a long way in inspiring a workforce to embrace and actively engage with a code of conduct or ethics.

In order to develop an impactful code, it is important to make the message easy to follow by using clear, concise language. The code should be written in a way that employees at every level can understand and it is best to define key terms in order to prevent any misunderstanding. Often codes become too detailed and just reiterate company policies. However, the most effective codes are easy to scan and explain expected behavior. Comprehension aids (i.e. call-out boxes, graphics, iconography, etc.) can help make codes easier to read and are useful to incorporate.

A strong code of conduct not only communicates the emphasis an organization places on ethical behavior but brings the values of the organization to life by showing how these values apply to specific situations. A code should not just be a document that employees are expected to follow blindly, but it should be an experience that fosters an environment of compliance and ethics.

A session on developing codes of conduct and ethics was presented at the 2016 NAVEX Global Ethics & Compliance Virtual Conference, held on November 15, 2016. The conference focused on harnessing the business value of an ethical culture, and was structured around three tracks: Demonstrating Value, Delivering on Culture and Driving Regulatory Change.

Amol Nadkarni is a Program Assistant with Global Programs at CIPE.