There has been an interesting evolution of the structure and format of a best practices Code of Conduct over the past 10 years or so. Initially, my experience with Codes of Conduct was that they were written by lawyers, largely for lawyers. This included ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’ liberally sprinkled throughout a lengthy written document. This was what is now referred to as Code 1.0. The compliance community then evolved Code 2.0, where the writing was less turgid, we moved to more employee friendly language and then somewhere along the line we started putting in hyperlinks and pictures.

There are two factors which a company should consider on the structure of Code of Conduct. The first is to consider how your organization generally communicates, overlaid with the most effective way to communicate with the various stakeholders who will read and use the Code of Conduct. These stakeholders can include such diverse groups as employees, shareholders and third parties on both the sales and supply side of your business. This may require multiple approaches.

The second point involves considering the thinly veiled land of the future of compliance by considering how will your Code of Conduct be viewed and used going forward. A simple example is the switch to mobile devices as a mainstay of corporate communications. Think about how laptops were viewed as the primary vehicle through which most employees and stakeholders interacted with training and resources for many organizations. Now many companies are going to mobile devices. Will you’re the format of your Code of Conduct work on those various platforms and perhaps some you have not yet considered?

With a current Adobe .pdf platform for instance, you can have a .pdf document because it is the easiest thing to provide to people who are looking at it on a phone on a PC on a tablet or want to print it out and hold the pieces of paper as it is the most compatible format out there. Also, you can embed some interactivity into a .pdf document. Such technology allows you to add functionality as it becomes available to you.

If your organization is one where communication is more free flowing and there is more free-wheeling internal communications, that should be reflected in your Code of Conduct form. This means if your organization is a startup in Silicon Valley or in a well-known fun-loving organization such as Southwest Airlines; there may well be more playful attitude and a more playful way to communicate Code of Conduct topics. Conversely if you work for a hierarchical energy services company, which communicates in a top down strategy, such playfulness is not appropriate. What you should strive for is a consistent communications strategy. If your employees and other stakeholders are accustomed to receiving communications in a certain style it would appropriate to maintain that style in your Code of Conduct. The key is to consider not just how the internal communication at your company occurs. Consider how does HR ops and marketing and other other corporate disciplines communicate. You should strive for a consistent communication strategy in your Code of Conduct.

Think about the evolution of the Code of Conduct from the type of document that was akin to an annual report to one that now addresses corporate culture. A Code of Conduct must speak to the typical important concepts such as values that define the ethical culture or should define the ethical culture of the company. Some Code of Conducts have been as long as 12,000 to 14,000 words but others can be quite short, only four to five thousand words. It all means there is no set length and the style of writing can vary. But it must ring true with your employees, stakeholder and shareholders.

Be sure to make your Code of Conduct readable. This is beyond simply eliminating legalese. It is writing English at a grade level that is sufficient for your employee population. It may be that an eighth-grade language level is appropriate for your work force. However, if you have a population consisting primarily of professionals, translating it into the appropriate languages it might be appropriate to aim for a higher level of language. Finally, you do not have to say the same thing, in multiple different ways.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Companies have moved past having a Code of Conduct in by lawyers for lawyers to a fully interactive Code for all employees.
  2. Consider how information is distributed at your organization as a basis for communication in your Code of Conduct.
  3. Your Code of Conduct must be readable, in both in English and native language for non-English speaking employees.

This month’s sponsor is the Doing Compliance Master Class. In 2018 I am partnering with Jonathan Marks and Marcum LLC to put on training. Look for dates of one of the top compliance related training going forward.