The Continued Evolution of the Code of Conduct | Thomas Fox – Compliance Evangelist

Welcome to a special five-part blog post series on the New Traliant, sponsored by Traliant, LLC. Over this series, we will discuss key issues that Traliant is helping to lead and define the online training industry in going forward. I will visit with John Arendes, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), on what is new at Traliant and what the Department of Justice (DOJ) has communicated to the compliance community regarding its expectations around online training and communications; Maggie Smith, Vice President of Human Resources, on the role of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in your corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) program; and Scott Schneider, Head of Content Development, on your Code of Conduct and anti-corruption training. In Episode 4, I visit with Scott Schneider on the evolution and importance of the corporate Code of Conduct.

The corporate Code of Conduct has evolved as much as any part of a best practices compliance program. Early codes were often sold as statements about who we are and, as resources, that employees could use to make better decisions. Unfortunately, they tended to be written by lawyers, for lawyers with both formalistic and legalistic language. This created, as Schneider noted, “a clear disconnect that didn’t help employees a lot.” However, as Codes have evolved, he believes “companies have done a much better job and they began to phrase codes of conduct in terms of values and what a company stands for.” This has, in Schneider’s words “restored that connection between the code and the company.” Codes of Conduct also began to include features, language and content that was geared towards employees. This allowed employees who were trying to do the right thing, to use the Code “to figure out what decision should be made either because it provided guidance or because it at least put that guidance in the context of values that you could apply to your situation in making a decision.”

Once the language issue was overcome, the next step was around Code implementation for the devil is in the details. When a code said things like “our company does not discriminate”, it was, as Schneider expressed, “putting a stake in the ground.” If you understand the values in the Code that are motivating, an employee can look at a situation and say, at the very least, I need some help on this. A Code then begins to become something employees can begin to apply because the situation before a particular employee may not be exactly covered in the code. Additionally, companies began to develop resources around their Codes such as FAQs which presented information in a question-answer format in a manner that an employee could obtain an answer.

We next considered Code of Conduct training. Here, Schneider believes companies have room for improvement as the development of the Code itself, “took an arc towards something that is more meaningful, more relatable, more helpful. I do not think code training is quite there yet.” Oftentimes Code training is too formalistic. Many companies have “coalesced around this idea that the training should be modular so that you can train on various topics within your Code.” This includes one training module on what the Code says and then several others which are essentially summaries of law. “We’re kind of stuck that way. I think it leaves employees in the same place they were before with the bad codes, what you remembered as an employee was that I have to sign something that says I read it, even though I did not.” Schneider believes that too often, “employees take Code training because they have to,” and then say, “that’s done”. This loses the connection between the training and the company and the training and the employee. “So, there’s room for improvement for sure.”

One of these responses has been more focused, engaged training for the Code. There is an obvious tension for shorter and more in-depth training and sometimes it is difficult to make that trade off. The key is to understand what is important, what is the core message that you are trying to communicate? The details are often important in providing context and guidance. Schneider concluded, “I think that the key to having shorter training is to understand what’s important and what you want the takeaway to be. Moreover with longer modules, it means you cover fewer topics and the more likely the learner will tune out.”

Start with what is important, what is the takeaway, and then fill in the things that will bring that to life. It does not mean that you must cover every legal detail. Always try to remember who you are training. For the most part, “we are not training lawyers, we are not training judges, we are training employees. You want to help them understand the context of the issue, what they can do, with a focus on what they can do. With the idea that if they get out in the real world, they’ll be able to at least spot the danger and ask for questions.”

Join us for our next episode where we look at the evolution of anti-bribery/anti-corruption training.

Check out Scott Schneider podcast on the evolution of the Code of Conduct and Code training here.

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