Ethics and Partnerships - Developing a Code of Ethics

In the Helpsheets Ethics and Partnerships – Finding Partners Part 1 and Part 2 we saw how ethics and ethical dilemmas can colour the choice of community business partners when seeking a partnership.

But not all ethical dilemmas that can face a partnership are able to be addressed or even detected when it is first formed.

That is why it is important for partnerships to have some ethics guidelines in place from the start to ensure they can work through issues down the track.

This is where a code of ethics or ethics guide that your partnership, business or community group can rely on can come into play.

Why a Code of Ethics?

Having a code of ethics is important not only as a document that spells out the "rules", but also so your community group, business or partnership can be seen to have this document.

While doing the right thing is what ethics is all about, being seen to do the right thing (through the existence of a document like a code of ethics) is very important. In other words, a code of ethics is a visible demonstration to others – as well as to a business or group itself - of what it stands for, and can be a "rallying point" or aim that can unite staff or members.

It is also a document you can refer back to for direction and for advice.

A code of ethics is something you might already have as part of your community group. If so, a section could be written in about partnership ethics. Alternatively, a new code, dedicated to partnerships, could be put together.

It should be remembered though that a code of ethics will not guarantee that the "wrong type of people" won't come in and try to exploit your organisation or your partnership. What it does do is state the ethics you operate by, and what might happen to those who breach those ethics.

How to Draft a Code of Ethics

Teamwork is a must when it comes to putting together a code of ethics.

For members of your organisation or business to accept or "buy in" to the concepts in a code of ethics, the code's development must be one with an emphasis on teamwork.

A resource that can help a community group or organisation learn more about ethics and assemble a set of ethics guidelines is the publication Ethical Solutions published by Our Community and available from the Marketplace section of the Our Community website.

But briefly, there are seven steps towards creating a code of ethics:
  • Find a person to be in charge of the process
    • It is important to find the right person to oversee the process. Look for someone who is willing and able to do it – possibly a member of your board/committee or a senior staff member.
  • Gather a team of people who are willing to help.
    • Make sure the members of the team are interested in the process, can contribute and are representative of all areas of your organisation or business. There shouldn't be a focus on one particular section or department.
  • Call for submissions on the organisations key values.
    • Ask other people within your organisation or business for feedback on what they feel is important, needs to be flagged, emphasised or spelled out clearly as part of a code of ethics. Again a wide range of opinion is important, and ensure there is a mention or policy relating back to community business partnerships.
  • Prepare a draft code or ethics policy.
    • From the feedback – and discussion of that feedback – your team should be able to build up the framework of a draft code of ethics. Take into account all relevant submissions when doing so, and again ensure the code is one which applies across the whole organisation.
    • If this is unable to be done, maybe there is a need to produce another code of ethics depending on the department or area involved.
    • There is also the option of stating that your organisation or business will formally begin operating by this new draft code – showing how seriously you take the issue.
  • Distribute it around your organisation for comment – and to lawyers for checking.
    • Once a draft is done, put it out for comment among your group or business. Now is also the time to have lawyers give the draft code a once-over and make sure it is consistent – and not in conflict - with relevant laws and regulations.
    • But make sure your draft document remains one which is easily accessible and easy to understand – not based in "legalese" or "lawyer-speak"
  • Review the draft following the receipt of comments.
    • Naturally if you ask for feedback, take the process of reviewing that feedback seriously.
    • Also, there may be a number of issues come up which you didn't expect. If so, all the better – as they are issues that can be addressed now before the draft becomes a final product.
    • If there are significant changes that need to be made, it may be a good idea to send the re-modelled draft out again for comments.
  • Put together the final code and adopt it.
    • Go through the process of adopting the code, and make sure its adoption is known by everyone in your business or organisation.
    • Following that, if there are any procedural changes needed for you to adhere to the code, make them at this time.

If you are looking to put in place a code of ethics that relate back to a partnership opportunity, keep this in mind as you progress through the steps of developing a code of conduct. That way, the code will be relevant to partnership situations that arise.

Also, consider having a review or re-visiting the code of ethics at least semi-regularly to ensure it remains up to date, or that any input from staff or members is noted and/or incorporated into the code.