Is a code of conduct important?

Code of Conduct

Is a code of conduct important?

‘Don’t violate your own code of values and ethics, but don’t waste energy trying to make other people violate theirs.’

Melody Beattie – American self-help author

What is a code of conduct and is it important for a business?

A code of conduct is a set of rules or standards that capture the beliefs and ethics on behavioural expectations in the organisation. There are many types of business codes ranging from financial reporting, conflicts of interest, health and safety, and communication to employment discrimination. A code of conduct sets out a common standard of performance for employees, while respecting the rights of employees and providing a framework for acceptable behaviour.

One of the best examples of a code of conduct is Rotary International’s Four-Way Test for use in professional and personal relationships:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Codes of conduct are linked to corporate or organisational values and the mission statement. A good demonstration of the use of corporate values as a guide for decision-making is this example from one of the transport companies I worked for:

‘If you ask yourself the following five questions and you can answer ‘yes’ to all of them confidently, you should go ahead and make the decision:

  • Will the decision help me exceed customer expectations?
  • Is it respectful to all individuals – customers, suppliers, employees and community residents?
  • Does it further our goal of continuous improvement?
  • Is it in the long-term best financial interests of the company?
  • Can I do it safely and ethically?’

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, then the decision you are about to make is unacceptable.

The values, in the form of a card that could fit into a wallet, were given to all staff so that the values could be referred to when required.

In our logistics business, we had a values statement which was as follows:

‘Customers and employees are our greatest assets. The company is committed to providing the highest level of service by working with its customers in an environment of continuous improvement through the introduction of new technology, superior systems, staff training and development.

Work performance and service quality is enhanced by giving responsibility to supervisors on the shop floor. The flat management structure drives the efficiency and effectiveness of the business. It has enabled the company to react quickly to opportunities and requests from current and potential customers.’

However, the statement did not set out specific values driving organisational behaviour – such as work standards, accountability, being open and fair, or personal interactions and behaviour. It did not summarise what needed to be done – for example, ‘we will celebrate success and encourage initiative’ – and what will not be done – for example, ‘we will not tolerate poor performance or rude and condescending behaviour towards others’.

Why was this important?

Because we did not have these values clearly defined, we could not use it as a basis for managing interpersonal conflict when the business was struggling in one area. The failure to accept responsibility for continuing unacceptable performance by a senior manager  who was in denial, and not having a clear values statement, resulted in an acrimonious and deteriorating situation.  Unfortunately, I did not manage the situation constructively at the time and, out of sheer frustration, I allowed my emotions to override a common sense approach to resolving the situation satisfactorily for the business.

Conflicts within organisations are inevitable. The challenge is to manage conflicts when they arise in a constructive way.

Does your business have a code of conduct?

Does it clearly set out the acceptable standards of behaviour as well as a framework to manage conflict?

For example, does it say ‘we will respect and support each other as individuals and members of the team’ and ‘we will recognise both group and individual results’ and ‘we will not ignore achievements or tolerate poor performance’?

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