The “Coffee and Naps” School of Business Ethics Training: Part 3


Part 3: Designing the Ideal Business Ethics Training System

This is part 3 of a three-part series. You can read part one here, and part two here.

All caught up? Good, because for today’s post, I’ve promised you the fun stuff. We’ve talked about the deliverables of an effective business ethics training program, and today we’ll dive into each one.

There are a number of pieces that come together to make an end-to-end business ethics training system. The emphasis in that sentence was on system – a successful ethics program isn’t just a one-time event. Let’s look at the components of your business ethics training system.

Coffee and Naps, AKA Culture

I just couldn’t resist the reference back to the article that inspired this series.

Dilbert Culture - Business Ethics Training
Definition: Culture includes the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that form the unwritten rules of your organization. The attitude your organization has towards autonomy of employees, as well as perks that matter to your employees, can go a long way towards helping your organization build the ethical culture that supports the foundation of your business ethics training program.

Example: Patagonia: Employees are encouraged to spend time outdoors, which is what the company calls “Let My People Go Surfing” time.

Rob BonDurant, Patagonia’s VP of marketing, says,

“The time we spend outside the office helps us manage the storytelling process around our products. We’re designing ski and surfing apparel, we need to be traveling and trying things out.”

You may have heard of Google’s 20% program.

“It sounds obvious, but people work better when they’re involved in something they’re passionate about, and many cool technologies have their origins in 20 percent time, including Gmail, Google News and even the Google shuttle buses that bring people to work at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.”

You may be surprised to hear that another company implemented a similar program… in 1948. 3M has used 15% time as their innovation engine for over 50 years, and it’s still in place today.

“How is the program implemented? In Beinlich’s telling, workers often use 15 percent time to pursue something they discovered through the usual course of work but didn’t have time to follow up on. And even that depends on other factors — how closely managers keep tabs on projects, for one. What’s more, 15 percent time is extended to everyone, not just the scientists (you can hear the cheers in marketing), the idea being: Who knows where the next Post-It Note will come from?”

Best Practices: Care about your people and make it show. Whether it’s flexibility around telecommuting or having your employees’ favorite snacks in the break room, it’s the little things that let people know you care. Also monitor how employees treat each other and the unwritten rules they seem to follow.

One thing that continues to surprise me about working at The Network is that everyone sends congratulatory emails when someone completes a project. I’ll admit that I’m not very good at it yet; it’s totally foreign to me. I love how supportive the environment is, everyone is recognized for their contribution. It’s not even a value that I knew I had, but now it’s one of many reasons that I love working here.

Implementation & Promotion:  Are people living up to (and working up to) the standards you have in mind? If not, start a dialogue with the relevant employees and managers. Build the culture together. Keep in mind that everything starts with caring, though. People are much more likely to work towards a standard a caring person set for them, rather than a robot or faceless corporation.

Being vocal about your values is critical, because in order for people to behave in line with your beliefs, they have to know what those beliefs are. Your CEO has the opportunity to be vocal about values every time he addresses the company, and you have the opportunity to support his words with an excellent Code of Conduct and memorable business ethics training. Both can be effective communication tools for you and your CEO to put a face and a context to the rules of your organization.

Code of Conduct

Definition: An opportunity to define the values of your company and communicate your expectations for employee behavior.

Example: I’ve mentioned the example of Newell Rubbermaid before, but it’s just too fantastic to pass up. The code was designed with corporate goals in mind, embracing the theme of Growing with Integrity. You can view the code in full here.

Another favorite is Dell’s Code of Conduct. You can see that Michael Dell is highly visible throughout the document, the language is easy to understand, and the design is very modern and approachable.

Best Practices: Your creation process will depend on whether you already have a Code in place, and are planning to update it, or if you’ll be starting from scratch. You may consider starting from scratch if your Code of Conduct has difficult to read language, unattractive formatting, or generally isn’t in line with the tone and style of your company. Keep in mind that style does matter here; if the document looks like a thirty-page guide to legalese, how often do you think employees will reference it?

For a full list of our best practices, visit our Employee Code of Conduct page.

Implementation & Promotion: I referred to Dell as an example of a great Code of Conduct, and they knocked it out of the park with promotion. At the same time that the full Code was launched, a summary of the Code and reporting guidelines was launched in booklet form. Only a few pages, the booklet included a very high-level overview, how to report incidents of unethical conduct, and a reminder as to where to find the full-length Code.

Some of our clients choose to implement an online-only version of their Code via a company Intranet, and promote via paper-free methods. Others choose a multimedia approach of print and digital marketing, housing the full Code alongside other policies on the Web, but also providing print versions and desk drops as physical reminders. Your approach depends on the resources available to you, and the culture of your company. If you’re a paper-free company, it would go against your standards to provide printed versions of every document, so an email campaign may be more appropriate.

Business Ethics Training and Beyond!

Definition: Well it wouldn’t be a very good training system without some training, would it? Let’s expand our definition of training to include contemporary, engaging, and interactive. Anything less qualifies as forgettable. Remember that any training is a reflection of your brand, and also a communication tool between you and your employees.

Example: Yahoo’s ethics campaign was titled, “On the Road with Code,” which took employees around the world to visit Yahoos around the world in ethical situations. The cornerstone was their Code of Conduct, which you can view here.

At the same time, they launched their new video training program. You can see that the training and the Code tie in seamlessly, from the language used to the visual elements. You can read Yahoo’s full case study here to learn more about how they launched, promoted, and executed their training program.

Another approach is Cisco’s approach. Cisco also wanted a fun approach to training, so we designed “Ethics Idol,” an interactive game-show. Cisco used a variety of vignettes (3-5 minute videos), delivered electronically, as a portion of its training system to educate employees about its Code of Conduct.

Best Practices: Multimedia, animated training that offers interactive exercises and quizzes will allow your employees to be involved and engaged in the training process, which maximizes retention. It’s also critical to update training regularly. This doesn’t need to be cost-prohibitive; if you’re using an animated training, minor tweaks will keep scenarios, characters, and content fresh.

Implementation & Promotion: Make sure your training system has attestation tracking. This allows you to have all of your training information in one place, to see who has taken which training, who is due for training, and which version of a training an employee accessed.

In terms of promotion, consider promoting the new Code of Conduct as a package with your new business ethics training program. Since your new training will be interactive and fun, employees will be motivated to partake. Consider matching promotional materials that can be distributed as desk drops or printed as posters for break areas. Yahoo, for example, printed postcards from their trip around the world as a desk drop, which advertised the training and the new Code.

Also, it’s not just training – it’s training and awareness. These promotional materials can do double-duty as awareness materials to keep your values, ethics expectations, and reporting guidelines top of mind, long after your official training has ended.

Meta-Policy: A Policy on Policies

Dilbert Meta Policy: Business Ethics Training

Definition: In short, a policy that defines the standards of your policies. This should include everything from the tone of voice and vocabulary used in policies, to where they’re stored, to the layout of the actual file.

Example:  For a really fantastic example, check out this meta-policy by the University of Canterbury.

I know it’s not a corporate example, but you’ll see that there are a number of things they’re doing really well. Starting at the top, they’ve got a “last modified” and “review date.” This is great because you immediately know whether or not you’re accessing a current document, or not. The review date also ensures that the policy is updated regularly.

They also lay out the compliance document lifecycle, including a list of possible reasons that a new document would need to be created. Other highlights include standards for what must happen during a policy review cycle, where documents are to be stored, and a checklist for development of a new compliance document. Way to go, Canterbury!

Best Practices: Lisa Hill, president of PolicyScape Consulting and OCEG Policy Management Group co-chair, advises companies to implement a roadmap for managing the policy lifecycle, from drafting and validating to approving and implementing. This entire roadmap should reside within the meta-policy.

For more advice, check out Michael Rasmussen‘s webinar, Benchmarking Your Policy Management Program: Deficient, Common & Best Practices.

Implementation & Promotion: Your meta-policy will lay out the rules and procedures for implementing all of your other policies. The key to implementation and promotion will be effectively communicating why a meta-policy is necessary. Let your employees know that the goal of a meta-policy is to simplify the policy management process.

Supporting Policies: Plug Your Gaps

Definition: Any policies that you may not have updated recently or haven’t created yet, such as your BYOD or social media policies. Since these are especially relevant right now, they may require special support from your business ethics training system.

Example: The examples I’m going to provide are three very different approaches to social media policy.

Best Buy’s Social Media Policy: There are three things I love about this policy: they use very easy to understand language, it’s short, and at the bottom, they list other policies that employees should keep in mind when using social media, such as their Customer Information Policy, Information Security Policy, and Policy Against All Forms of Harassment.

Coca-Cola’s Social Media Policy: While the language is slightly more formal than Best Buy’s, it’s by no means incomprehensible. The policy also references Coca-Cola’s social media training several times:

“To get you started or to help you improve your social media skills, we offer training to our associates and our agency partners through our online learning portals, and we’ll continue to regularly evaluate our training classes and update them as social media evolves…
When acting as an official Company spokesperson, we expect you to:
1. Be trained. All authorized Company spokespeople must complete the necessary internal training before speaking on behalf of the Company.”

Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Social Media Policy: Some of you may work in industries that require heavier regulation of the information shared via social media. Check out the CDC’s social media policy.

Though far more in depth than Best Buy’s or Coke’s, they are still approachable. The other thing that’s neat about the way the CDC has presented its policies is that it offers all of its social media materials to healthcare professionals they work with, and even state on their website:

“Although these guidelines have been developed for the use of these channels at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they may be useful materials for other federal, state and local agencies as well as private organizations to reference when developing social media tools.”

You can view on in-depth examination of eight more companies’ social media policies in Lydia Dishman’s article on Fast Company.

Best Practices: I’m sure that you have your social media policy all squared away, but just in case it hasn’t been updated recently, check out the latest National Labor Relations Board rulings on social media and no-gossip policies.

I’m going to pick on BYOD too, because as of 2013, “only 30% of businesses have any type of BYOD management in place.” With over 70 million BYOD devices currently in use, lack of policy and management presents a huge security risk. Make sure you check out my colleague Cindy’s post on 9 features your BYOD policy must include.

Implementation & Promotion: These policies should be addressed as part of your business ethics training. Whether it’s social media, BYOD, or another policy that’s currently not receiving as much attention as it needs, an interactive course could be the perfect method of shining light on these hot-button issues. They should also be featured prevalently in the online area that houses your policies. Check out these examples of short vignettes (3-5 minutes each) that we designed for Apple. They featured one each quarter, though all were available in their ethics library.


That concludes our “Coffee and Naps” School of Business Ethics Training series! You’ve learned how to perform an ethics audit and a culture snapshot, get your CEO on board, and implement the individual components of a business ethics training program. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.


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