A Code of Conduct is the collective understanding of how individuals will behave and act. It includes the corporate vision, mission, and guiding principles and affirms the company’s commitment to core values and beliefs. The language of a Code of Conduct should be easily understood. It should not be legalistic but rather it should be empowering. The entire corporate team should see this Code of Conduct as an opportunity to solidify its existing commitment to a high standard of ethical behaviour.
For the past four years, we have been building Halcyon Consulting Group into a company. It is our dream that we can work with clients to be proactive in implementing sustainability into the lifeblood of their companies at the pre-growth stage. The TSX needs companies to lead in corporate social responsibility – so do our RRSPs, TFSAs, RIFS, and our pension plans. We saw a need to prepare entrepreneurs to strategically structure their companies with Corporate Social Responsibility as a strategic imperative so that they are poised for growth and competitiveness in a globalized economy. When it makes sense, they can go public and create wealth for all.
Yet the cobblers’ kids did not have shoes. I am proud to admit that we took this assignment as an opportunity to figuratively buy shoes. At a recent strategy focus session, I took the tools that I have learned in this course and facilitated a session whose output was our corporate Guiding Principles and our Code of Conduct. Both will be added to our Annual Financial Reports and to our “About Us” on our web site. Collectively we will proudly hold ourselves accountable to a higher ethical standard.
In preparation for the strategy session, each team member was asked to take a personal values assessment. There is a free tool online which we employed: Barrett Values Center. Each person took the assessment and brought the report to our strategy session. Values were then shared as a group. The values that were important to the team were:
- Environmental Awareness
- Future Generations
- Social Justice
- Good Governance
There were other values as well. But we found that these were the ones which we could link to our Vision and Mission. The corporate Vision is: Calm from Chaos. The corporate Mission is: To lead our Clients into growth as they prepare to be a mid-sized pre-publicly traded company.
By the end of Day 1 of the strategic planning session, the directors had created the Code of Conduct for Halcyon Consulting Group:
We believe and practice respect, integrity, caring and accountability. We consider environmental awareness, social justice and wealth as building blocks for future generations. We behave consistently. We practice and promote good governance within Halcyon and with our stakeholders.
As a team, we each signed and we have now added this Code of Conduct to our contracts. We expect our stakeholders to understand our Code of Conduct, and to support us in its application. An introductory letter is included with our expectations for our stakeholders:
The Code of Conduct is a corporate tool that allows a common understanding of what are the values and principles of a corporation. In a world of cross cultural globalization, what is an acceptable behaviour in one culture may be a violation of basic human rights in another. As a world, we have decided to step up and move beyond what is legal to hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard. Ethics is defined by Webster as a guiding philosophy. It includes a set of moral principles which define what is good and bad. We built our Code of Conduct to align our individual values and principles with our professional values and principles. We ask that you sign with us so that together we can consistently deliver principled leadership to our clients.
Our next step is to create a guide that will give each of examples of situations where we need to make a choice; a decision. The guide will help us learn and apply the guiding principles in both our lives. I choose to say lives, because when you work with family, it is more difficult to have these discussions and uncomfortable when one is corrected. We have added a beautiful dimension of growth to all areas of our partnership.
Our team is culturally diverse and the vocabulary that we chose resonated with us but we soon learned that words can be misleading. We followed the suggestions outlined by Robert Audi in “Creating a Framework for Ethical Decisions”.
- Identification of Conflicts of Obligations
- Ethical Assessment of the Obligations
- Selection of Ethically Viable Options
- Decision on a Course of Action
Conflict in the workplace comes from a difference in the application of our principles and values. The Code of Conduct is a tool that ennobles corporations and individuals to conduct business at the highest ethical standards. We can work aligned with our guiding principles and be authentic to ourselves. It is my hope that by (finally) creating the Code of Conduct with my leadership team, we will be better equipped to work as a team. We will lessen confusion with respect to decision making, improve communication and employee engagement. Our stakeholders will engage with us because of our guiding principles so that at the end of each day, that gut feeling of disgust that one feels because of working with an unethical person will be a distant memory.
Audi, R The Role of Business in a Free Democracy (2009)
Barretts Value Center: https://www.valuescentre.com/
Boatright, J. R The Ethics and Conduct of Business (2009)