Including the Six Pillars of Character in Your Company’s Ethics Code

An ethical code of conduct must arise naturally from the company’s stated values and should provide detailed guidance for handling ethical challenges.  General principles without specific provisions risk being perceived by employees as just window dressing and may breed cynicism rather than commitment.

Though provisions must be specific and clear, an ethics code should cover a lot of ground.  The Institute encourages organization’s senor management to look at their business and develop their own list of core ethical values but at a minimum, they should address the Six Pillars of Character– trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Start each section of the code by invoking the company’s stated values on a given issue (often a line can come directly from the company’s values statement).  Then, state guidelines and examples of how the principle applies in specific, realistic situations.

Trustworthiness – Honest in conduct (not stealing or cheating), Integrity, Reliability (promise-keeping) and Loyalty

Safeguard public confidence in the integrity of the organization by displaying honesty in all dealings and avoiding conduct that might create the appearance of impropriety.  Go beyond what is legally required to permit public scrutiny of your activities.  Examples:

  • The goal of corporate communication is the truth – well and persuasively told.  In our advertising and other public communications, we will avoid not only untruths, but also exaggeration and overstatement.  (Caterpillar, Inc., ”A Code of Worldwide Business Conduct and Operating Principles”)
  • Our business is based on a strong tradition of trust.  It is the reason our customers come to us. Honesty and integrity are cornerstones of ethical behavior – and trustworthiness and dependability are essential to lasting relationships. Our continued success depends on doing what we promise – promptly, competently and fairly.  (American Express Company Code of Conduct)

Respect – Civility (courtesy and decency), Autonomy and Tolerance

Treat others with dignity – the way you would like to be treated.  Be civil, courteous and decent with all employees, customers and business partners. Examples:

  • We will consistently treat customers and company resources with the respect they deserve. . . . We treat one another with respect and take pride in the significant contributions that we come from the diversity of individuals and ideas. . . We owe our supplied the same type of respect that we show our customers. (Northrop Grumman Values)

Responsibility – Accountability, Pursuit of excellence (diligence and perseverance) and Self-restraint

Conduct business efficiently and honorably in a manner that permits employees, suppliers, vendors, customers and members of the local community to make informed judgments and hold the company accountable.  Example:

  • We accept individual responsibility, in partnership with the company, for the success of the business, for our personal development and for balancing work and family responsibilities. (The Chevron Way)

Fairness – Impartiality and Equity

Seek to be impartial; employ independent objective judgment on merit, free from conflicts of interest – both real and apparent.  Compensate all employees equitably; minimize wage disparities. Examples:

  • Whenever it operates in the world, the corporation offers salaries and benefits that are competitive and fair. . . In its hiring practices, Nortel will be fair and equitable.  (Northern Telecom, “commitments to Nortel Stakeholders”)
  • The BagelWorks wage ration ensures that the highest salary is only 3.5 times more than the lowest. (BagelWorks)

Caring – Charity and Compassion

Demonstrate a genuine sense of compassion and concern for the welfare of others – inside and outside the company walls.  Don’t allow tax advantages to dictate charitable contributions from the company.  These are ploys, not contributions.

Citizenship – Volunteerism (doing your share), Environmental protection and Law abidance

Honor and respect the principles and spirit of democracy and set a positive example by observing the letter and spirit of laws.  Demonstrate a commitment to the environment and to social responsibility that goes beyond legal requirements.  Example:

  • Our social mission . . . is to operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in the structure of society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life of a broad community: local, national and international.  (Ben & Jerry’s)

Adapted from Good Ideas for Create a More Ethical and Effective Workplace