Engage, delight, and surprise: Switching from a static to interactive code of conduct

The code of conduct is a foundational element of your ethics program – ensure it's effective by making it engaging and interactive


May 5, 2022


The code of conduct is the foundational piece of every corporate compliance program; it contains critical information that empowers employees to perform their jobs ethically. Unfortunately, this information is usually presented to employees in a boring, outdated way – a static, wordy PDF that we all know no one wants to read. So how can we ensure this information is engaging and memorable instead?

Humans now have an attention span just short of a goldfish – so when employees at your organization are presented with a hefty code to pore through, you already know many of them are skipping to the attestation page and signing without reading it.

A code of conduct supports the day-to-day operations of corporate compliance programs by providing employees with clear expectations and standards for behavior at work. A code that’s underutilized is not only a wasted effort, but it increases risks across the organization. Today, we’re exploring how switching to an interactive code of conduct can help you boost employee engagement, improve compliance, and create an ethical foundation for your organization.

The value of a code of conduct 

At most organizations, new hires are expected to read and attest to the organization’s code of conduct on their first day. Therefore, the code is the first impression they’ll have of your compliance program – it can either convey the company values and demonstrate the importance of ethics & compliance, or it can send a message that E&C at your organization is an archaic afterthought.

“If somebody new is coming into your company, one of the first things they’re asked to do is read and attest to a code,” said Luka Stanic, Senior Compliance Counsel at OneTrust in a recent webinar. “It’s important for compliance to put their best foot forward, because if the experience is subpar, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle to engage that employee in the future.”

According to the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI), “A code encourages discussions of ethics and compliance, empowering employees to handle ethical dilemmas they encounter in everyday work. It can also serve as a valuable reference, helping employees locate relevant documents, services and other resources related to ethics within the organization.”

It’s hard to engage employees if you’re using a lengthy document written in legal jargon. In fact, it can have the opposite effect – it can overwhelm employees and lead them to ignore the code altogether. Often, relatively simple concepts like conflicts of interest can be buried in the code or written in legalese – and if the employee doesn’t spend a significant amount of time locating the relevant information or trying to decode the legalese, you’ve lost a chance to mitigate risk that’s otherwise relatively easy to understand for the average employee.

An effective code of conduct can act as the connection between an organization’s employees and the E&C team – laying the foundation for a culture of compliance, empowering employees to speak up and speak out, and reinforcing the value of ethical business conduct.

What does interactivity look like? 

Interactivity, especially as it pertains to a code of conduct, means offering a multi-media experience that encourages employees to interact and engage. Everything from the branding to the content – and how you say things – matters.

Melissa Magro, Compliance & Ethics Manager at Appfolio and OneTrust customer, recently made the switch to an Interactive Code of Conduct after using a static document.

“At Appfolio, we really cherish our brand and our values. But for the past five to seven years, when a new employee would come onboard, they were presented with a fancy package of brand materials, and they’d also receive a static PDF document of the code to sign off on,” Magro said. “When it came to switching to interactive, one of our biggest goals was to align the code with our brand and brand values.”

Interactivity is closely intertwined with functionality. Here are just a few ways an interactive code can bring added functionality:

  • Clickable and dynamic content. Videos, graphics, podcasts, and even GIFs. All of these elements can be incorporated to lighten the mood and give employees a reason to interact with the code. Flip cards or expandable text are also effective ways to convey information.
  • Questions and answers. Your interactive code can house an FAQ section, which can be an incredibly powerful way to reach employees who perhaps aren’t comfortable asking questions directly to the compliance team (or don’t know how). Seeing that someone else may have the same question, or has been in a similar situation, can empower an employee to speak up the next time they have a concern.
  • Data and analytics. You might not be able to tell how many employees are opening and engaging with a static code of conduct. Adopting an interactive code of conduct can show you how, when, and where employees are interacting with it – giving you areas to improve upon over time.
  • A frictionless experience. Lastly, the user experience matters. Reducing the friction around your code is incredibly important if you want employees to interact with it. The simpler, more accessible, easy to navigate, and relevant your code is, the more impact it will have.

These elements can all work together to create a more interesting and useful code of conduct experience – one that employees will visit well beyond week one on the job.

Why an interactive code of conduct?   

Interactivity increases engagement, and engagement breeds ethical business behaviors.

“With a code of conduct, it’s like being a parent: simply telling a child what to do or not to do doesn’t influence their behavior. It’s how you display those values,” said Philip Winterburn, Principal, Product Marketing and Strategy, Ethics at OneTrust. “In the same way, if a code of conduct is simply a delivery of what you must do, the message will fail. We need to look at how to use technology and behavioral science to actually get people to absorb the message a code is sending.”

Here’s why interactivity works: 

  1. It’s engaging. It’s all in the name: an interactive code of conduct is meant to be engaging, with its content jumping off the page. You may consider incorporating media, like images or videos, to encourage click-through – or even a search function so employees can locate the policies they need.
  2. It’s easier to use. For employees, navigating a traditional code of conduct can be a slog. They may not have time to sort through pages upon pages of a static physical or PDF document, and there’s a chance they may not even know what policy they’re looking for. An interactive code of conduct simplifies the approach, reducing friction for employees and making them more likely to use it.
  3. It’s custom to your organization. If you’ve ever used a template comprised of legalese for your code of conduct, you’re not alone. But consider approaching your code like a marketing project; how can you brand it to reflect the organization’s values and the compliance programs goals? A code of conduct that incorporates the language, values, and scenarios employees encounter in their day-to-day job will resonate more than a one-size-fits-all approach.
  4. It’s trackable. With traditional documents, you have no way of telling if your employees are accessing the code or how they are interacting with the code. With OneTrust’s Interactive Code of Conduct, you have access to analytics that track engagement, and you can also use the analytics to identify knowledge gaps and potential risks.
  5. It’s dynamic. The code and company policies change. The industry changes. Employee roles and responsibilities change. A code of conduct will have enduring value if you have the ability to easily update it, publish it, and communicate new changes where relevant.

These benefits cannot be achieved from a static document. And as a key reflection of the compliance brand at your organization, the code of conduct should be as engaging as possible. No matter the tone of your company and corporate values, an interactive code of conduct is built for impact in the modern workspace.

How to switch from a static to interactive code of conduct 

Perform an audit 

First, it’s important to evaluate your existing code. When looking at your organization’s code of conduct, consider the following questions:

  • When was the code last updated?
  • How are employees interacting with the code, and how often? Can you even tell?
  • Are your values reflected within it?  
  • Does the code empower ethical decision-making in employees’ daily activities? 
  • Is the code effective in deterring unethical behavior?
  • Are the existing policies and training relevant?

Once you’ve performed an audit of your code, it’s time to start building a new one.

Define your brand  

Treat your code of conduct like a marketing campaign. You need to drive awareness across the organization, and to do that you need to define and actualize the brand of your compliance program and your code.

Consider the voice, tone, and visual aspects of your code. Are these the same as your company’s, or distinct in some way? Decide how you visually want to represent your compliance brand.

Create code of conduct content

Once you’ve got the concept down, it’s time to populate the code. What do you actually want to communicate in the code? In contrast to a traditional code of conduct, try to say more with less and focus on a more intentional approach to policies that employees can clearly understand and follow.

Be sure to incorporate assets that users can engage with, including video, podcasts, images, and flipcards. All of these elements can be used independently or together to create a more enjoyable, dynamic experience. And with video and podcasts, you can measure how many employees are actually clicking through, and how long they’re paying attention. This information will help you understand what’s working and what’s not over time.

Build the technical requirements 

An interactive code of conduct works best on a microsite that is accessible to employees and easy for you to update.

Choose a memorable domain name that reflects your compliance brand and/or company values. One additional consideration – especially if your organization is in manufacturing, shipping and logistics, or related industries – is that the code should be mobile-responsive to reach employees who do not perform their jobs at a computer.

Consider also if you’d like your interactive code to be public-facing. Making your code publicly available is required or favored in some industries, but it can also be beneficial when working with external stakeholders who care about your company values. In tandem with the code of conduct, think about where your policies will be located and how you will link to them within your code. Will they be behind a firewall, while your code is visible to the public? Your answer will determine your technical needs.

Many companies haven’t made the switch to an interactive code, simply because it takes a lot of resources to rebuild one from the ground up. When you partner with OneTrust for an Interactive Code of Conduct, the technical process is made easy. with full support of an implementation team and the ability to customize every aspect of the site, you can trust that the end result will delight and engage employees and stakeholders alike. Take a look at Appfolio’s interactive code of conduct that replaced a static PDF.

“We used to give employees a static PDF that they’d check off once and never revisit,” said Melissa Magro. “But as a business, your priorities and industry change, along with the needs of your employees. Having the ability to continuously evolve your code and create responsive policies can help employee engagement down the line versus just one time.”

Continuing code of conduct engagement down the line 

The story you tell through your code of conduct can have a major impact on your organization’s adherence to compliance. It can influence how the compliance department is viewed by employees, and even impact trust. The more helpful and engaging that code of conduct is, the better.

What story are you telling? OneTrust can help you reach employees and boost engagement with an Interactive Code of Conduct. Ready to get started?

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