Create a Relevant, Relatable Code of Conduct That Resonates
Written by Emeka N Nwankpah, JD, MBA, CCEP
You get it! This is what every company wants its consumers, customers, and other key stakeholders to say about it. You “get it”—you understand what they need, want, and value. The companies that last and thrive in a competitive marketplace are those who get it over and over again, year after year.
We can trust you. This is the belief, the conviction that every company wants its consumers, customers, and other key stakeholders to hold about it. And you can’t overestimate the importance of trust to your company. Companies that lose trust, lose business. It’s that simple. Together, these thoughts, to a large extent, shape your company’s reputation. A great way to illicit such thoughts and enhance your company’s reputation is to have a code of conduct that is relevant, relatable, and that resonates.
- Relevant: Address real risks.
A code of conduct is relevant when it adequately and appropriately addresses real compliance risks. This is its sole reason to be. In this context, adequately means providing enough guidance to handle common business situations without being voluminous. But focus on the compliance risks that matter to your company. When considering which risks to concentrate on, a best practice is to look at internal sources such as its enterprise risk management process or significant allegations trends and at external sources like government enforcement trends, industry hot topics (with staying power), and benchmark the codes of your company’s industry peers.
Addressing risk appropriately means knowing how much to include in the company’s code of conduct and then guiding your employees toward your company policies and/or subject matter experts. Keep it high level, with enough detail to be useful. Remember that the main audience is business people. They’re busy and don’t have time to read a dissertation on ethics and compliance. So while ensuring your code of conduct is informative and comprehensive, keep it concise.
- Relatable: Speak in simple, straightforward terms.
Now that you have developed a well-reasoned inventory of the compliance risk areas and drafted guidance for each compliance risk area with the right level of breadth and depth, ask yourself another question: Is your code of conduct relatable? Not sure? Ask yourself a few more questions: a) Is the language simple to understand? b) Does it provide clear, pragmatic guidance as to what your employees should do, must do, and must not do? If not, it’s not relatable.
As an analogy, think about your favorite teachers in school. If your favorite teachers were anything like mine, they broadened your horizons while guiding your perspective in a pragmatic way. They examined complicated concepts but explained them in simple ways. This is exactly how you make your code of conduct relatable. Use simple, down-to-earth words. The fewer times your employee needs to reference a dictionary to understand a passage in your code, the better. After reading your code of conduct, your employees should know exactly where your company stands and what your company expects them to do or not do. This includes where to look for more information or where to go for more detailed advice.
Also, when it comes to information being relatable, presentation matters. Consider the following best practices when drafting your code:
- Highlight key risk areas based on the type of business the company is conducting, the industry in which the company is operating, and the current and future geographic locations where the company does or may do business;
- Use frequently asked questions and other comprehension aids to illustrate;
- Incorporate a logical flow or progression of thought that provides a greater context and helps the reader build his or her understanding;
- Group risks by corresponding company values, by stakeholder group, or both; and
- Collaborate with colleagues from other departments to ensure your code has an easy-to-follow design that will appeal to a broad cross-section of your employee population.
- Resonate: Give them a compelling reason to read it.
If your code is relevant and relatable, won’t it automatically resonate? Not necessarily.
Codes of conduct that resonate help the reader understand why it all matters. One of the best ways to do this is to frame it within the context of your company’s values, vision, and mission statements. This is especially important if your company has a strong values culture. By connecting compliance with your code to furthering the company’s business objectives, you will help your employees understand why your code matters. Instead of it being an abstract guidance document disconnected from the company’s goals, it becomes a business enabler.
Also, incorporate your company’s branding and images into the code for an extra nice touch. You want your code to absorb as much of your company culture as possible. This is the blueprint we followed when we recently refreshed our Global Code of Ethics at Kellogg Company.
In conclusion, treat your employees like your customers and consumers when writing your code of conduct. Give them what they need, want, and value. Your employees need to know what is permitted and what is prohibited. They want things explained to them in a simple, readily applicable, and accessible way. They value the company’s profitability and longevity and value things that help them meet their business objectives—the right way. If you have a code of conduct that is relevant, relatable and that resonates, your employees will know that you “get it.” And as your employees comply with your code and protect your company’s reputation in the process, you have just given your other key stakeholders another reason to believe they can trust you.