How a Values-based Code of Conduct Can Help You Boost Compliance, Productivity and Build a Culture of Integrity

March 2, 2020 Steffi Prange-Jones

When was the last time your employees were excited by the prospect of taking compliance training? We know the answer, and the reason behind that answer.

Workplace compliance training has a reputation for being a tedious chore. Any mention of the dreaded and abstract term of compliance typically induces a bout of eye-rolling, followed by a severe case of feigned interest.

This common reaction to obeying vital laws, regulations and behavioral expectations is most prevalent in organizations that fail to consider the needs of their employees during the compliance process and tend to focus on regulatory obligations; a narrow-minded approach that often leads to the implementation of complex, uninspiring and laborious policies.

This worrying trend applies to all aspects of a company’s comprehensive compliance training program, including its all-important code of conduct, which can be defined as: a statement of business guidelines meant to inform day-to-day decision making and prevent behavior that does not fall in line with the company’s mission and greater objectives.

But the truth is that a corporate code of conduct is much more than a box-checking exercise that satisfies a legal requirement; it forms the backbone of an organization’s culture, brand and identity.

Defining and developing a values-based code of conduct

To embed an ethical risk-aware organization, initiatives must begin and thrive internally, with employees committed to building and owning corporate culture, before they become apparent to external stakeholders. Otherwise, codes of conduct, ethics policies, compliance measures and articulated values just become boxes to check and words on the wall without efforts to instill an ethical culture in the daily actions of the company. 

This forward-thinking, values-based approach to compliance engenders an environment, and ultimately a culture, in which employees’ time and humanity feel respected and recognized, making them more likely to treat the company with respect and comply with rules and regulations.

Compliance and HR departments should strive to develop an ethical code that clarifies their organization’s mission, values, and principles by linking them with standards of professional conduct that employees can buy into. This forward-thinking, values-based approach to compliance engenders an environment, and ultimately a culture, in which employees’ time and humanity feel respected and recognized, making them more likely to treat the company with respect and comply with rules and regulations.

The development and execution of an engaging code of conduct training is vital in terms of impacting employee behavior and embedding the code into the company psyche. Rather than focusing on stuffy rules and legal policies, training should be linked to the company values that are lived and breathed throughout the organization and based on real-life scenarios. This people-centric approach makes it more relatable, helping participants to understand how it can facilitate informed decision-making.

Compliance culture, driven by employees

Though executives are driving the ethical strategy, effective organizational compliance culture starts from the bottom up. To achieve employee engagement, staff should be empowered to be the voice of the culture by driving the conversation around what does and doesn’t need to change.

After all, the culture an organization creates will dictate the risk employees take, making them the key stakeholders in the process. Senior and middle management need to lead, direct and participate in this vital conversation, but employees must be the owners.

A values-based code of conduct helps to form an essential part of compliance culture, which is led from the top, reinforced by middle management, and nurtured at the foundation. However, you can have the best-written code of conduct out there, but if management isn’t consistent with their messages, it sets a precedent that nobody else has to either and employees will lose trust in the code they have helped to create.

That’s why sticking values on the office walls simply isn’t enough; managers must lead by example. This will trigger a ripple effect that filters down to all levels.

Embedding a values-based code of conduct into an organization

Writing a values-based code of conduct statement and proactively promoting it from the top down are just the first steps on the path to establishing it within an organization. However, without relatable training programs that empower employees to own the code, and reinforce the information conveyed through it, it will be considered another piece of useless red tape.

Learning-centric technology combined with face-to-face dialogue promote a rich discussion, more robust conversation and better perspective-taking.

To achieve compliance, training programs should reflect the complex situations employees face every day. A scenario-based approach allows participants to walk through interactive simulations of real-life scenarios evoking real emotion, which facilitates better decision-making in the future. When decisions are made based on feelings and experiences, employees are more likely to retain vital information.

Organizational ethics and compliance shouldn’t just rely on effective training and communication; it also requires frank conversations to address related issues. Learning-centric technology combined with face-to-face dialogue promote a rich discussion, more robust conversation and better perspective-taking.

By implementing a campaign-based approach to ethics and compliance learning, an organization will be well-placed to embed corporate values and expectations of conduct into the fabric of its culture. The code of conduct needs to be part of the employees' workflow and must be easily accessibly dynamic and meaningful.

This will build confidence in the organization’s commitment to developing a healthy compliance culture and help employees to make ethical decisions or understand ethical dilemmas they might experience.

A living code of conduct

The code of conduct is not a one-time event, however; it needs to be dynamic and truly embedded into the organization. Adopting a proactive approach will reduce the number of ethical errors and empower employees to raise issues before they escalate. The more confident employees are to take responsibility for their own actions, the stronger an organization’s integrity will be. This will create a foundation that provides the ethical grounding for employees to navigate change and respond appropriately to mounting pressures.

The process of defining, developing, embedding and maintaining a values-based code of conduct requires a holistic approach that considers and engages employees at all levels of the organization. Putting people before regulatory obligations and involving them in the conception, delivery and evolution of the code will ensure the organizational culture and values positively impact employee engagement.

This, in turn, will help to improve levels of compliance, increase productivity and build a lasting culture of integrity.

 


For more information on how SAI Global can help you reinvigorate your code of conduct or refresh your training program, request a demo.

About the Author

Steffi Prange-Jones

Steffi Prange-Jones is a Business Development Manager at SAI Global. As part of the ethics and learning portfolio at SAI Global, Steffi is responsible for new business in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. She has an extensive background in compliance, ethics & compliance learning and is passionate about helping customers to manage and mitigate risks and protect their brand, reputation and stakeholder trust by implementing an ethical culture. Steffi has an MA Cultural Studies/Critical Theory & Analysis from Universität Hildesheim.

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