Your Ethics Policy: Is Obeying the Law Enough?


Being ‘merely’ compliant is probably adequate, but what company wants to be just adequate?  However, coming to a consensus about ethics is a delicate alchemy, combining an artful blend of rules, explanations and procedures in order to gain traction with employees and management alike.

In the not-so-distant past, there may have been a more rigid and mutually agreed upon definition of right and wrong in the workplace— a tacit complicity about what was acceptable.  But as the world changes, so goes the workplace…and the world has changed.

Compared to say, fifty years ago, we have become, for example, more diverse, more health conscious, more sensitive to the needs of others, less tolerant of some behaviors while more tolerant of others.  A successful ethics strategy should be constructed with input from all departments, not just from legal or HR, because each department may have some “commandment” it holds sacred.  So, although adhering to federal and state law is necessary, it may not be sufficient.

A corporate ethics policy may have elements that allow a certain culture to develop [See Google’s “You Can Make Money Without Doing Evil” mission], which are equally important to the company’s long-term viability.  Think about it; why would simply ‘not breaking the law’ be considered all there is to being ethical?  And would it be a wise policy to just blindly comply without probing the bigger picture?  Smart companies obey the law, but they also go further to ensure deep alignment with their beliefs.

The best companies instill reasons for taking the high road, ideals for being ethical easy and natural, and build a procedural framework that allows additions or changes in a sensible, modular way.

Of course, an attorney should be consulted so that practices and policies are in concert with employment, compliance, intellectual property and other laws.  But as you may have guessed, there are other crucial ethics issues best answered by your own people.

© Allan Parr, 2011, All Rights Reserved

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