I have a confession to make…

I have a love/hate relationship with Codes of Conduct. It’s true.

Despite the fact that I’ve spent countless hours helping companies update their Codes, I find the average Code difficult to read, boring, and most troublingly, ineffective. If your Code is so dense, boring, or visually unappealing that employees can’t be bothered to read it, it isn’t working.

The Purpose of Code of Conduct

An effective, modern Code should serve three purposes.

  1. It should highlight your company’s values and commitment to compliance and ethics.
  2. It should provide your employees with tools that make it easier for them to be a part of the compliance and ethics solution.
  3. It should provide a high-level overview of the company’s various corporate responsibilities and explain, specifically, how they impact the day-to-day responsibilities of your staff.

A Modern Touch-Up

Sometimes your Code doesn’t need a full rewrite, it just needs a mini makeover.

The five tips below will give your Code of Conduct a quick touch-up. Should you want assistance with doing a more comprehensive overhaul, reach out to Spark Compliance.

Values First, Values Throughout

Start your Code by discussing what your company values are and how those values impact the way you do business.

Use caution when choosing values. A list of 10 corporate values may be difficult to remember, whereas highlighting three to five important principles can be memorable and effective.

Don’t stop your discussion of values after your opening page, rather reference those values throughout your explanations of various corporate responsibilities.

Highlight Employee Resources

Work to make your code a toolbox for your employees.

One way to do this is to put employee resources towards the beginning of the document. This can include a page-spread dedicated to the company’s speak-up culture, a framework for making ethical decisions, or a list of additional resources.

You can also incorporate tips, Q&As, and specific employee-focused instructions throughout the document.

Simplify, Then Simplify Again

I am guilty of defaulting to writing at a level best suited to individuals with post-secondary educations and, even, writing like a lawyer, a habit I consider one of the biggest sins of lawyers-turned-compliance-professionals.

Using language that is easy to read is key to creating a Code that is accessible to all your employees. Opt for simpler structures and consider when it might be appropriate to use bullet points, rather than long-form paragraphs.

These tricks will result in a Code that is easier to read and easier to translate.

Cut, Cut, Cut

Your Code does not need to contain a detailed recitation of all your company policies. It may not even need to reference all your policies!

Concentrate instead on creating a document that highlights the various areas of risk the company faces, describes the company’s general corporate responsibilities, and tells employees where they can find more detailed information on particular topics.

Make it Pretty

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to make your Code visually appealing, though working with one often makes sense. The design process starts before you even begin writing.

When putting together your table of contents, make sure that you are using headings and subheadings that will make it easy for the reader to navigate the document. When working on the design phase, pay attention to what the document will look like when read on a computer screen or mobile device.

A complete Code overhaul can take months but doing a quick update may be all you need to bring your Code up-to-date, easier to understand, and better to look at.

Try these 5 ways to make your Code of Conduct more effective. Now the employee will find it interesting to read, and you don’t lose them to sleep halfway!

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