Do your customers trust and believe in your company? Do you trust and believe your employees? Do your employees trust and believe in you?
Trust and transparency in conduct is ever more important in our information-heavy age, and ethics need to be clearly stated, flowing down from the highest executives. All employees and clients get their cues from the highly-visible executives and owners, and if they are seen to push the limits of ethical behavior, they will as well. That’s why a clear and comprehensive ethics policy should be in place.
A corporate ethics policy is a cornerstone to providing employees and clients with concrete guidelines about what is and is not accepted in the workplace without the need for constant oversight from management. It can also provide transparency in action and goodwill with customers who strive to find companies that they can trust.
A good policy does more than just outline concepts of good behavior, it also communicates expectations and requirements, has buy-in from all levels of business (from the board of directors down), and develops measurements to determine if ethics are being maintained and yielding the desired results.
Creating an ethics policy can be daunting, as evidenced by how popular the Ethics topic is on KnowledgeLeader. The Code of Business Conduct sample document, the Guide to Developing an Effective Code of Conduct and the Ethics Program Review Audit Work Program are all very popular for a reason.
If you need guidance on creating a good ethics program, we can help there as well.
The Ethics Program Guide provides a fifteen point plan to developing or strengthening a company’s ethics program.
Here are a few sample points:
Identify and Renew Company Values
Companies without a clear set of values may find themselves at a disadvantage when developing ethics programs. Ethics programs are most effective when perceived by employees to be “values-driven,” rather than simply compliance-driven and values-based programs are most effective in reducing unethical behavior, strengthening employee commitment and making employees more willing to deliver bad news to managers. Many companies conduct regular companywide initiatives that involve employees at all levels of responsibility when renewing company values and updating them when appropriate.
Secure Visible Commitment From Senior Managers
Most ethics professionals agree that it is crucial to enlist senior management support for an ethics program to be successful. Senior managers should participate in training sessions, make ethics a regular element in speeches and presentations, and align their own behavior with company standards. If employees view an ethics program as merely an effort to protect the reputation of top management, the program may prove more harmful than no program at all.
Engage the Board of Directors
Engage directors in the ethics process by instituting a board ethics committee or by placing ethics on the board agenda as a regular item for discussion. Consider special training to enable directors to carry out their ethical responsibilities confidently. Many U.S. companies have instituted board ethics committees and training in recent years, a move motivated in part by the many regulations establishing that directors may be held liable for corporate ethical transgressions.
Develop an Ethics Code or Code of Business Conduct
Comprehensive codes are aligned with company values and all applicable laws. This addresses the full range of ethical dilemmas employees are likely to face and are updated regularly as new challenges emerge. It is important to be clear and specific about what is required of employees, where leeway is allowed in decision making and which ethical issues are nonnegotiable. Unclear rules and unclear expectations of employees are the single most prominent obstacle to ethical behavior.
Build Ethics Into Mission and Vision Statements
Many companies build ethical values and goals into their mission and/or vision statements. This helps senior managers and employees understand that values and ethical standards are integral to all company operations and planning and not simply an “add-on” to be considered after important decisions have been made.
Integrate Ethics Into all Aspects of Company Communications
Leverage existing company infrastructure to demonstrate to employees that ethics is an integral part of all operations and decision making. Integrate ethics and compliance training materials into multiple delivery sources, including new employee orientations, management courses, sales training, business meetings, business plans and other aspects of day-to-day activities
There is an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” If you haven’t implemented a solid ethics policy, then now is the best time. If you already have an ethics policy, then now might be a good time to review it.
Learn more about ethics programs by exploring these related tools on KnowledgeLeader:Ethics Program Review Audit Work Program
Business Ethics Questionnaire
Assessing Effectiveness of a Process or Program Guide