A company’s Code of Business Conduct is the written word when it comes to communicating expected behaviors within an organization that intend to provide a productive and pleasant work environment and produce positive business outcomes.  A Code of Business Conduct reflects an organization’s core values like ethics, social responsibility and compliance with the law, and communicates expectations for a respectful workplace. It is the foundation for building company culture.

An organization’s Code of Business Conduct sends an important message to employees and those external to the organization like customers, suppliers, shareholders, business partners, recruits, and the community at-large. Whether your company has five employees or 100 employees, it will benefit from communicating its mission and core values, how it interacts with others, and its philosophies on doing business.

The substance, format, and tone of a company’s Code of Business Conduct will be unique to the organization. But in every case, the Code of Business Conduct should have a positive and inclusive tone, use language that is clear, direct and easy to understand, and be visually appealing. Development of a Code of Business Conduct usually starts at the executive level, but a meaningful and relevant Code will capture the diverse input of employees at all levels.

Teamwork is a Relevant Core Value

With the rise of Millennials and Gen Z in the workforce, teamwork is a prominent focus in recruiting, engagement, and retention. These generations grew up in more collaborative and social environments than preceding generations, and those experiences are influencing expectations and core values relating to teamwork in the places they work. This trend will likely continue as more employees in these generations enter the workplace and rise to management positions.

What does this mean for today’s Code of Business Conduct?  Well, it’s no longer just a rule book as some viewed it historically. More than ever, today’s Code of Business Conduct needs to incorporate teamwork concepts, and the work environment needs to encourage and support collaboration and open and honest communication among employees at every level of the organization.

The Code Framework and Compliance

Before creating your company’s Code of Business Conduct, you might find it helpful to study Codes of Conduct of other companies to get a flavor for their content, tone, and overall approach.  There are many ways a Code of Business Conduct can demonstrate a company culture that values teamwork, candor, and respect. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use language like “teammates”, “community”, and “shared values” and collective pronouns like “we” and “us.”
  • Encourage candid and honest communication among employees at all levels of the organization, and establish a “hotline” where employees and others can report concerns anonymously if they’re more comfortable with that approach.
  • Emphasize that the company does not tolerate retaliation against any employee who reports concerns with the company’s activities or those of another employee.

Every company, regardless of size, should develop an effective compliance program that includes educating employees on the Code of Business Conduct and the company’s plan for managing its business and legal risks. Formal training and workshops should be interactive and take place frequently, at least during onboarding and annually thereafter. Sprinkle in real-life, everyday scenarios throughout the year by sending compliance snippets by email or through the company’s internal messaging platform.

Compliance program training gives employees an opportunity to appreciate more fully the importance of the Code of Business Conduct, to learn and be heard, and to certify to the company that they are compliant and unaware of any compliance issues within the organization.

More than Just Words

The values incorporated in the Code of Business Conduct extend far beyond the written pages. Organizational culture is a living, breathing part of every company that shows up through the actions of the company and its employees at every level, starting with the CEO. Business leaders must demonstrate the values embodied in the Code of Business Conduct because, after all, actions do speak louder than words.

At the end of the day, will your employees be proud of where they work, will your vendors and business partners respect you and your company, will your customers refer business to you without hesitation, and will the community embrace your company for what it stands for?  The answers to these questions will impact the success of your business one way or another. Having a Code of Business Conduct that communicates the values of ethics, integrity, legal compliance, professionalism, respect, and teamwork—and living by those words—will help ensure that “YES” is the answer to each question and positively contribute to the livelihood of your business for years to come.