Your Code of Conduct: a Guide in Difficult Times

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Post by: Jim Walton and Dana Vazquez, Advisory Team at LRN Corporation specializing in Code of Conduct

Companies around the world are reacting to COVID-19, taking measures to protect and support their employees and communities. Where can ethics and compliance leaders turn for help? Your Code of Conduct provides the answers. With a resounding call for social distancing and many countries giving ‘Stay at Home’ or ‘Shelter in Place’ orders, there is a shift to personnel working from home. With this increase in work from home traffic, less face to face time, and more stressors, there are elevated concerns about many ethics and compliance risks. Now, more than ever, it is essential to have effective guidance and enablement around these key risks, such as data privacy and respectful communications.

Communicating around ethics and compliance topics can be tricky when so many employees are facing other issues in their day-to-day outside of work; from homeschooling children, to taking care of parents or neighbors, to spending more time indoors, employees can feel overwhelmed. How can ethics and compliance teams proactively prepare and educate for risk aversion and safety, while still communicating in a way that’s empathetic and in solidarity with the struggles any employee may be facing? Look to your Code of Conduct.

Companies shouldn’t rely on rules to govern each employee through a confusing time—but values can guide and inspire. Operating and reinforcing values can provide clarity on how to treat other people and react in unfamiliar situations, and generally promote ethical decision making. A company’s Code of Conduct can inspire, guide, and enable employees to do the right thing. At a time when so much of the world is becoming trickier to navigate, relying on inspiration from core values is the key to success.

Focusing on how to live out values and make ethical decisions will equip employees to react with empathy when facing unusual situations. When employees rely on values, and feel support from leadership in doing so, each person can contribute to building an ethical culture.

Companies can rely on their Code of Conduct to provide this support—the most effective Codes of Conduct provide integral tools for values reinforcement and inspiration. Through the Code, companies reinforce key behaviors while also encouraging connection. This can take form in many ways, such as:

  • Making your Code easily accessible —provide the link to an online version or printed copies for essential workers
  • Talking to your colleagues and teams about your values and how they want to continue to live them, even when not physically together or challenging to do so
  • Utilizing your Code’s decision-making model to encourage ethical decision making—create virtual posters, include references to the Code in communications to your team, or post them on the intranet
  • Enabling dialogue to have employees ask questions about E&C risks they may be facing—set aside 10 minutes during a team meeting to ask about challenges they may be facing and provide clear resources to guide them
  • Utilizing the principle statements from your Code—be proactive in communicating about what risks or challenges are most applicable to you and your organization
  • Making Code of Conduct training materials available and known for employees to review in addition to the Code of Conduct document

Your company’s Code of Conduct should reflect your character and your culture written down. In times like these, it is more important for your people to not only know the Code, but live it as well.

For more business continuity insights for ethics and compliance professionals, see LRN’s COVID-19 resources page.