Editors Note: Business ethics takes on an entirely new meaning with the major corporate scandals of the past few years. Business ethics are closely examined by the media. But more importantly, business ethics are now a major focus of consumers that you do business with.
Small businesses are not immune from business ethics scrutiny. Establishing a formal ethics program is not only good for public perception, it helps to lay the groundwork for the kind of company you want and what is expected from your employees.
How to Build a Business Ethics Program
by: Chris Anderson
Recent corporate financial scandals have highlighted the importance of business ethics and legal compliance. Yet a recent National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) survey of 280 corporate CEOs and directors found that "only one of three directors felt that they were highly effective in ensuring legal compliance".
Building an Ethics and Compliance Program
Most companies realize that they need to develop and implement a business ethics and compliance program.
An effective business ethics program can:
- Establish a code of conduct that reduces risk of criminal behavior
- Detect wrongdoing, foster quick investigations, minimize consequences
- Demonstrate companyís ethical/legal philosophy during an investigation
- Reduce fines if company is found guilty of wrongdoing
- Enhance company reputation and stature
Looking at the Options
But how do you build an effective program? Companies find themselves with three options to build the program:
- Develop in-house from scratch
- Hire an external consultant
- Use a pre-written manual
And most of these companies learn a few lessons - sometimes the hard way.
Making a Strong Decision
Developing a program from scratch can be very time consuming and costly. Also, the company might not have the knowledge or understanding of the complexity involved. But hiring an external consultant is not always a cost effective option either. So whatís left?
Developing Your Ethics Program
By using a pre-written template or manual, many companies have found it easier to develop their business ethics program. And to do this, they look for what a strong program needs.
A highly effective tool for creating, organizing and implementing a sound business ethics and compliance program should provide:
- Sample policies and procedures
- Step-by-step instructions for the development of a program
- A business ethics training program outline with classroom materials and a detailed session leaderís guide
- Business ethics and compliance officer position description
- Templates for employee involvement
- Sample code of conduct
Implementing Your Ethics Program
If the company board has committed to a strong business ethics and compliance program, the next step is to put the manual in the hands of corporate executives responsible for implementation. Used properly under advice of legal counsel, this efficient tool will yield a solid program that the board can understand, endorse, and monitor for effectiveness.
With step-by-step guidelines and accompanying examples of policies, procedures, training program, and employee survey, an effective tool provides an excellent road map for implementing an ethics and compliance initiative.
Maintaining a Culture of Integrity
Companies should make certain that their ethics compliance manual provides fully editable MS Word files with sample policies, surveys, forms and training session outlines. Also, businesses should ensure their ethics compliance system manual is fully endorsed by The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) as a tool to maintain a culture of integrity.