The foundation for a functioning code of business ethics lies in the hands of your executive leaders. These individuals must commit to developing the business ethics code and leading its implementation.
They must continuously emphasize the use of the business code of ethics as a measurement or guideline for judging ethical behavior in your organization. The Human Resources professional cannot effectively lead this effort, but you can support the executive group that does as a member of the leadership team.
Developing a Code of Business EthicsIn an earlier article, How to Make Values Live in Your Organization, I detailed a process for engaging and involving much of your workforce in developing organizational values and value statements. If you incorporated the value statements into your strategic planning process, you have part of your code of business ethics already developed. If not, the process I designed will also work well for developing a code of business ethics that your employees will support.
As with each of these strategic initiatives, a large part of the value comes from employees talking about and identifying how to address key issues related to customers, fellow employees, and the organization. The end document is gravy assuming it is used regularly in your organization.
Institutionalize Your Code of Business EthicsOnce you have developed your code of business ethics, the critical component in making it an effective tool is using the code, daily, if possible.
Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting, at his excellent resource about business ethics, tells this story. "If you are planning to infuse strong, ethical principles throughout your company or want to change the culture of your company, then you might take the advice of Bob Kniffin, Vice President of External Affairs, at Johnson and Johnson (J&J) company.
"The way that J&J handled an ethical issue (the "Tylenol scare" crisis) in the 1980s is probably one of the most inspiring and enlightening examples of how to successfully deal with a major ethical issue in business. Kniffin was one of the key players in helping J&J to handle the crisis so effectively.
"Kniffin said that it was not the J&J Credo (a form of a business code of ethics) that helped J&J to handle the crisis so well. Rather, it was the ongoing 'challenge sessions' that the company regularly held in order for each person to clarify their own perspective and commitment to the J&J Credo."
For those of you who may not remember, J&J managers immediately removed Tylenol from the market and stopped all production of the product after seven Chicago residents died after ingesting cyanide-laced capsules. Despite different advice from consultants and lawyers who said they would ruin the brand forever, these managers lived their code of business ethics and made these decisions while their company CEO was on a plane. By the time he landed, the entire process was underway.
Make your code of ethics live in your organization by organizing your own challenge sessions and using the business code of ethics document as a measurement or guideline for all actions and decisions in your company. Your reputation and integrity are too important to leave to chance.