Have you developed a code of conduct for your business? If you're asking yourself whether you need one, the short answer is yes.

A code of conduct helps you hold people within your organization to a set of standards, and if you share it with outside parties, such as potential customers, clients, and partners, it can also represent your values, responsibilities, and obligations to them. Doing so may help them decide whether or not they wish to conduct business with you.

A code of conduct can also help you in the decision-making process by serving as a framework from which to base your choices. It gives you some documentation so you can verify that what you're doing really does fall in line with your core values. Think of it as a sort of litmus test in this regard.

What goes into making a code of conduct?

The more people involved in creating the code of conduct the better, and the more eyeballs that get to see it ahead of its implementation, the more thorough and representative of the organization it's likely to be. The more input, the less likely that crucial things will be omitted.

A good place to start is to look at examples of other companies' codes of conduct. Many are completely visible online, and you can easily choose parts that you like from multiple codes of conduct to create a combination of factors that you believe best suits the needs of your own organization. Look at competitors' codes of conduct if available. Look at those of companies you greatly admire or that you believe share your core values.

Simply search online for the company name and "code of conduct," and chances are, you'll find some great material to work with. This doesn't mean you should copy the exact language used in these documents. It's about understanding the guiding principles and applying those you wish to incorporate into your own code in a language that suits your business.

Who should create the code of conduct?

According to human resources expert Susan Heathfield1, a code of conduct should be written by an executive team, but developed by a "cross section of employees from various functions," or it should be "designed by organization development, corporate communications, marketing, supplier relationships, and/or Human Resources staff, depending on the organization and its internal mode of operation and management style."

If this is the case, it's likely that the code of conduct will accurately represent the true values of the team as opposed to just representing something that sounds good, but isn't necessarily in line with reality.

Getting the code of conduct in front of the right people.

Once you've devised your code of conduct, you need to decide whether to make it public. Making it public on the web is a good way to get it in front of potential customers and partners, and in most cases, doing so will only serve to increase your credibility. However, should you choose to do so, you must make sure it's truly in line with the image you wish to convey for your business. It may also open you up to criticism if your company or one of its executives is caught violating the basic principles you’ve laid out.

Regardless of whether you share it with outsiders, the code of conduct should be distributed to employees, stakeholders, the board of directors, and potential hires. Make sure that everyone in the company understands and follows it. Have a company-wide meeting to discuss it. If you simply hand everyone the documentation, chances are, some people won't read it. Having an actual dialogue about it gives them the chance to hear the core values spoken aloud and ask questions and/or make comments for the sake of clarity.

If the code is violated, you'll have something to point to that makes it clear (in writing) that certain behaviors are considered unacceptable. Then, when you respond to violators, you’ll have written backup for your actions. On a more positive note, the code of conduct can also form the basis of recognizing and rewarding employees who go above and beyond in demonstrating its principles.

1. https://www.thebalance.com/code-of-conduct-1918088