The organizational code of conduct or the professional code of ethics, most organizations have one. It is where we find the organizational and personal standards of behaviour. The moral code by which we should conduct ourselves. It is always part of the employee contract, grounds for dismissal if violated.
Why do we need one in the first place? Don’t most people have a moral compass? Should we not know instinctively what is right and wrong? And I would argue that a written statement will not make much of a difference to an employee lacking moral fortitude.
An organization needs a code of ethics to clearly state what the obligations and responsibilities are in order to protect all stakeholders from internal and external forces. A code of ethics also says to the world that this is a place of respect and integrity. But what it does not do is protect against lack of judgment.
“Wells Fargo* expects its team members to adhere to the highest possible standards of ethics and business conduct with customers, team members, vendors, stockholders, and the communities it serves, and to comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations that govern our businesses.” (Wells Fargo Team Member Code of Ethics and Business Conduct )
What you read above is the Code of Conduct for Wells Fargo employees. From reading it, it is clear that all employees are expected to adhere to the highest standards. But that is far from the culture at Wells Fargo. Last year, 5300 employees were fired after it was revealed that across the company, employees were creating false accounts for customers and selling them financial products without their knowledge. We are a long way from the “highest standards of business conduct with customers”.
The point I am trying to make is that an organizational Code of Ethics is only as good as the organization it serves. The corporate culture also has to live by and exemplify those same rules. I know a mining company whose Code of Ethics is simply “Do no harm”. They decided to forgo all the frivolous language and be clear about their core message: Do no harm to each other, do no harm to our customers and do no harm to the planet. Organizational behaviour has to reflect those values for them to have meaning. Otherwise, we end up with more organizations like Wells Fargo.