The other evening I sat down in front of the television with my eldest son. The first film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series was playing and, although I had seen the film on numerous occasions, I was just looking forward to us spending some time together. We were not disappointed and had a great evening. But what caught my attention was the part where the governor’s daughter invoked the right of “Parley” from the Pirate Code when she was captured by Captain Barbossa’s crew. Wow, even pirates have a code of conduct! Come to think of it, so do the Mafia and many other successful organisations nowadays.
As we have learned, a code of conduct can be a powerful motivator and engagement tool when used properly; in fact, it is the foundation of most religions – an example being the 10 Commandments, the ultimate code of conduct. So, what is it about them that makes them effective?
Clarity – Both the rules and the consequences of not following the rules are clear, and everyone knows and understands them. Knowing the boundaries of the framework in which we live and/or work promotes trust.
Common understanding – Being able to trust that everyone else in the organisation will follow the same rules reinforces our sense of security.
Fairness – The rules are the same for all. A sense of justice is achieved by everyone living and working by the same guidelines, no matter what their position is in the organisation.
Nowadays, it’s not surprising that companies strive to establish common values and a distinct culture, as they have understood the power of codes of conduct. But beware – codes of conduct are like a double-edged sword: for all the positive energy that they can bring about, there is a lot of damage that they can do, as well. Only those prepared to follow all three points above can succeed.
If the rules are complicated and not clear, leaving room for interpretation, then people will invariably interpret situations differently, and this will ultimately undermine trust. If they can’t be sure that everyone is acting according to the rules, then people will become insecure and secretive. If the rules are not applied to everyone, then there will be no role models and no justice – sooner or later, this results in a “what can I get away with” attitude.
Francis Lambert – Zabok, 31 October 2013