10 Tips to Write Your Effective Code of Conduct

How Would You Start Writing Your Code of Conduct?

Writing is hard. Not everyone is born with J. K. Rowling mastery (if you're into wizardry). So what happens when you've been handed the task of writing your organization's Code of Conduct? Gasp! Where on earth do you start?

First things first, you've received input from co-workers, had meetings on organization concepts and structure, talked about where you want to be in the future, brainstormed, etc.

So let's go!

The first thing you want to take into account is to think about your organization's values, beliefs, and expectations. How exactly do you want your employees to represent your company, in conversation, action, and belief? What you are about to write should have your employee saying "Yeah, I get it, and I am so there is making it happen!"

Values and Beliefs Need to Be Covered
An organization's values are the meat and potatoes of the Code of Conduct. These are how you base your operations and how employees need to conduct themselves. stock graphic code of conduct

Every industry is different and how employees will be expected to conduct themselves representing that industry will vary. Healthcare industries will need to take into account patient care, billing, and private records. A mining company will may need to take into account environmental aspects. But like those platform shoes from decades ago, these aspects might change over time, so keeping your Code updated and preventing if from falling into the category of "so 20 years ago", is a good idea.

Step Away From the Thesaurus
Resist the urge to use it. It could become a dangerous weapon. Stay away from trying to come up with fancy words that for the most part, most people really don't want to read. It's okay to delve into the realm of 'conversational copy'. Eek, but that's not professional copy you say. Well, who's reading it at the end of the day? Your employees. Hello - they need to be able to understand it, right? And at all levels of the organizational structure. Just because you don't have fancy twelve letter words in it doesn't make it less official.

You're probably going to have questions from employees about what things mean, so keeping it as simple as possible is a good thing. Less questions (don't get me wrong, questions are good thing) means more freed up time.

Concise and to the Point
You want to be as concise as possible without making the copy all choppy and boring. Find that happy to-the-point medium that will hold a reader's attention. A mix of short and medium-length sentences tend to hold a readers' attention better than using long, complex sentences that seem to go on and on forever.

Active Voice Rather Than Passive
This could be a little tricky if you're not used to writing. Here's an example:

Active - "You are required to read this code annually"
Passive - "The code is a required annual read"

You're more likely to get your employees to comply if you tell them to do it. Now they know what is expected of them - they have to perform an action by a certain time.

Give Examples When Appropriate
It's okay to provide an example or examples about the meaning of a code's provision. Provide scenarios that relate to the industry keep the situation real. Example, if you're a hotel chain, provide an example of 'housekeeping isn't allowed to pocket shampoo samples' if there happens to be excess not used. Create a scenario that explains the situation, a story if you will. Your employees will relate to this and understand the code better and what is unacceptable conduct.

Write for the Reader
The purpose of this document isn't to provide night time reading-in-order-to-get-to-sleep! Don't lose sight of the people reading your beautifully drafted code. What you as the writer, may find obvious in your hierarchical position in the organization, most certainly won't be obvious to all of your readers. You also need to write with differing cultures in mind if you have employees throughout the world. What might be 'done in our culture' isn't necessarily how you want your employees to be conducting themselves representing your business. Just because bribing may be prevalant in a certain country doesn't mean your employees working in that country need to partake in this practice. All employees need to know what is expected of them across the board.

Oh, we'll also mention, get that code translated into your employees' spoken language. They can't read what they don't understand, so unless you translate into French, German, Swahili, whatever, don't expect employees to 'get it'.

Don't Write Polished Prose
As awesome as it would be, this document isn't an article for the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course make sure you've done your spell check, grammar check, and ensure it makes sense and won't leave the reader scratching their head. The whole point of this exercise is to create something everyone understands and can take away and 'action' in their working day.

Read Your Work Aloud to Yourself
Go ahead, I dare you! Do you have a sound proof garage where your child jams with their band? Now's your chance to kick them out and for you to take over for a while. If you read your written work aloud, you will find errors and points of confusion because you are now 'hearing it' vs. seeing it. Hearing the words may detect problems you may have missed.

Don't have a sound proof garage? Why not read the code to your dog... they tend not to judge and you're guaranteed a tail wag!

Make It Look Easy to Read
Nothing like a large block of black text to make you turn the other way. Ask yourself, "How does it look to me?"

AVOID ALL CAPS. You're just yelling on paper. You want your code to look professional, yet easy to read and understand. Your draft will no doubt be passed onto reviewers who will judge what you've created thus far.

Avoid italics for extended lengths. They're just hard to read. Avoid cute and fun fonts - they don't look that professional. Keep to one or two basic fonts for heading and body, consistently, and you'll be just fine.

Ask Your Harshest Critics for Feedback
And be prepared, feedback may be harsh. But that's good. These are fresh eyes with important ideas and criticism, but they won't sugar-coat. Once you get their thumbs up, you've passed the finish line.

Congratulations. You now have a shiny new Code of Conduct!

That's the first step - give yourself a pat on the back. Your effective Code of Conduct will more than likely become the platform upon which an effective compliance program is built. Should the SEC become your next important visitor, they will question if you have a Code of Conduct and how it's disseminated throughout the organization. You're now on your way.

Now it's time to work on that compliance program.

eBook: 10 Best Practices to Build a Strong Compliance Program

photo Amanda Nieweler
About the Author
Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.

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