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Code Pitfalls

Just a few words about what our friends at USDOJ have called the "foundation" of any compliance program: the code of conduct.

A number of organizations have spent time and resources on their code of conduct over the last few years and still seem to have results that they and their stakeholders are not too excited about.  I'm getting ready to speak in Houston on Friday (https://utcle.org/conferences/CC16) about code development and these organizations are on my mind.

It seems to me there are five common missteps organization's often make that lead to disappointing results.

First, code development is a team sport.  Traditionally this was the lawyer's job alone.  But that produces typical results. Byzantine language that uses terms like "byzantine" without considering the audience. Three pages on antitrust risk including legislative history. A lot of "thou shall not" and very little "we're in this together".  Also, considering the operational perspective outside of the usual suspects (legal, audit, HR and compliance) allows the code to speak to those parts of the organization that need the message the most. Build a team.

Second, just having a slicker layout doesn't cure the ills mentioned above or ensure that the message is meeting the stakeholders. I've often said that the code needs to look more like an annual report -- and that is true -- but looking cool doesn't ensure that you have coverage nor accessible content.  And having a pull-quote or a graphic on every page may end up being a distraction rather than a tool to drawn in the reader.

Third, just appending your organization's values statement to the front of the code doesn't make it a "values-based" code.  For many codes the values page could have just as easily been a photocopying mishap since those inspiring words and phrases are completely absent in the rest of the code.

Fourth, have a plan.  Have a plan and timeline for initial development.  Have a plan for the roll-out and introduction of the code to the stakeholders. Have a plan to review and revise the code on a regular basis.  This is not a one-and-done project -- you cannot ignore your "foundation" and expect superior results.

Finally, just ask for help. This is sometimes hard to do.  But there are often untapped resources within your organization that can provide you the help you need to implement a successful project.  And if not, the "foundation" is significant enough to seek outside help when needed.