A Good Ethics Policy

A good ethics policy is worth the time it takes to develop, review, and revise as needed; it becomes the basis for building and sustaining a business-wide ethical culture.

Ethical Advocate wrote about a related topic, creating an effective code of conduct, last year. Here is some additional guidance.

The Deloitte Centre for Corporate Governance points to best practices to suggest that codes of conduct should contain the following items (Deloitte, 2014):

— An introductory letter from the senior leadership team that sets out the “tone at the top”

— The company’s mission statement, vision, values and guiding principles

— An ethical decision framework to help employees make choices

— A list of available resources for obtaining guidance and for good faith reporting of suspected misconduct

— A list of any additional ethics and compliance resources

— Enforcement and implementation mechanisms that address the notion of accountability and discipline for unethical behavior

— Generic examples of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior

— Key areas of risk unique to the organization and its industry

For an ethics policy to be effective, it must contain essential information, such as those items recommended by Deloitte. However, it should also be compelling and memorable.

Last year the National Ethics Association (NEA) proposed an innovative way to write, or rewrite, an ethics policy. First ask yourself, said NEA’s Chief Content Officer Harry Lew, what you would not do “to make a buck” in the following areas: prospect solicitation, solution design, product presentation, required disclosures, client communication, customer service, staff management, or operational procedures. (Lew, 2013)

Just by asking that simple question for each of those areas you can begin to think broadly about all the areas in your business that are affected by ethics. You also can begin to identify actions you believe to be unethical in those areas. That’s a start. Next, says Lew, take each negative action (statement of something you would not do, or action that you consider unethical) and convert it into a positive statement about the opposite behavior. Then, pull out the most powerful statements: the ones that are most motivating to you and others in your business and the ones that represent your strongest values. Incorporate those statements into your ethics policy to make it motivating and relevant to your business, your staff, and your suppliers.

Ethical Advocate recognizes the value of a strong and compelling ethics policy. Contact us for consultation or training on ethics, compliance, ethics hotline implementation, and related topics.


Deloitte Centre for Corporate Governance Canada. Ethics and Compliance web page. http://www.corpgov.deloitte.com/site/CanEng/board-and-committees/board/ethics-and-compliance/ (accessed August 9, 2014).

Lew, Harry. “Five-Star Ethics: How to Outshine Your Competitors.” National Ethics Association Ethics Center article, August 5, 2013. http://www.ethics.net/a/Five-Star-Ethics-How-to-Outshine-Your-Competitors.