Making Ethics Codes Meaningful

I’m missing good times this week as I was supposed to be presenting today at the American Accounting Association annual convention in Washington DC. Unfortunately, scheduling and other tactical issues got in the way so my DeVos Graduate School colleague, Brett Hunkins, is handling it on his own.  I’m sure he’s doing a great job although I regret not getting to hang out with all of those wild accountants.

Our research title is impressive too: “The Role of Salience and Group Identity in the Effectiveness of Codes of Ethics.”  I’ll give you a second just to be in awe over that title.

Codes of Ethics are only the first step

Ok, what it actually means is that an individual’s commitment to, and engagement in, a corporate code of ethics is directly impacted by that individual’s feeling of belonging. We propose that the closer a person is to the Code, the more likely they are to follow it. The more personally meaningful it is, the more likely that the code will be used as a guideline when facing questionable situations.

Of course, like most academic research, that sounds like a given. But here’s the thing. Most organizations have A code of ethics and if they train to it, they do so across the organization. In an effort to be consistent, and make sure everybody has received the same information, it is less likely that the code will be “translated” into anything meaningful for those in the various departments. For example, an ethical issue that occurs in Human Resources may be unimaginable in Sales and vice versa.

We’ve just started this examination with some initial surveys and hope to find some things that can help organizations be more effective in putting their Codes of Ethics to use. As many companies have found, having a Code of Ethics is one thing…making them meaningful and real is something entirely different.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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