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Having A Code Of Ethics Vs Communicating It

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 7:05 PM

Did you know ? 75% of FTSE100 companies have a code of ethics. Good news, one would think, for better corporate governance.

But clearly, messages about ethical business practice are often falling on deaf ears.

London's Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) is onto it. Its latest good practice guide- Communicating Ethical Values Internally - examines the role of internal communication in establishing an ethical culture. 

In it, a varied cast of organisations - from Deloitte, Lockheed Martin, HEINEKEN, L’OREAL, Diageo, Serco, Mitie, Rolls Royce, IPF and Balfour Beatty provide examples of varied ways of communicating messages about ethical values to employees so that they are empowered to ‘do the right thing’.


Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and learning and development, the guide offers practical advice on how to communicate ethics through company leadership, line managers, codes of ethics, training and the workplace environment. 


The IBE  highlights 12 key points to bear in mind when communicating ethical values:

Stories are part of your culture – make them positive ones

Mind your language - think clear, accessible, inclusive

Align your ethics messaging with the business strategy - doing business ethically makes for better business

Leadership sets the tone - encourage all leaders. Empower middle management

Know your audience - which channels will work best for them?

Consider different learning styles - auditory, visual and kinesthetic

Don’t forget our ‘social brain’

Consider the 70:20:10 ratio of how we learn - 70% on the job, 20% through informal learning, 10% through formal learning

Involve your employees – communication is a two-way street

Don’t be afraid of surprising people- whether it’s through a video, humour, answering a difficult question, using a new technology or an event

Collaborate with other functions - ethics is everybody’s business

Show as well as tell.

But in this exercise, the IBE also asks the question: 'How do you communicate something as nebulous as ‘integrity'?

This, in my view, shows a basic flaw in its approach and process - or perhaps merely in its choice of words.

Here's the definition of 'nebulous': (of a concept) vague or ill-defined."nebulous concepts like quality of life"

synonyms: vague, ill-defined, unclear, hazy, uncertain, indefinite, indeterminate, imprecise, unformed, muddled, confused, ambiguous, inchoate, opaque, muddy "his nebulous ideas about salvation"

The thing is, I don't think there is anything 'nebulous' about integrity. And surely its definition needs to be very clear in the mind of any organisation before it even attempts to convey it to its employees. There is no hope of communication unless you begin with a clear - and  heartfelt - message.

Perhaps that is why the Code of Ethics among the FTSE100 sounds hollow.








Categories: Ethics, Communication, Governance