Conduct: a mode or standard of personal behavior especially as based on moral principles (Merriam Webster Online)
Organizations establish codes of conduct to help their members understand the types of behaviors that both advance and obstruct the organization’s purposeful productivity. Any organization that does not develop, disseminate, support, and enforce a simple code of conduct is doing its members a tremendous disservice. The ability of any code to serve organizational constituents will always be constrained by the willingness of the constituents to serve the code.
The majority of folks adopt for themselves standards of personal behavior that are within the code. They do what it takes to get by, to maintain acceptable relationships with their peers, to stay out of trouble, and to keep themselves in consideration for recognition and rewards.
Some folks chose for themselves patterns of personal behavior that ignore established standards of conduct. Machiavellianism, narcissism, sub-clinical psychopathy, and pre-conventional cognitive moral development are a few potential explanations for why some people behave as if they are exempt from norms that others respect and observe. Why some people ignore standards of conduct is less relevant than how we respond when they do. Ignoring deviant behavior validates it and renders our willingness to serve the code impotent as we surrender our moral authority and disable our courage to do the right thing.
It’s troubling how many people adopt a standard of behavior that both personally conforms to the code but also accepts the deviance of others. Personal responsibility for these folks seems to end at the tip of their noses and never extends to the corporate commitment to shared responsibility. In many organizations, these flexible standards of personal conduct and corporate tolerance have become part of the de facto code.
Relatively few folks give themselves permission to live and work above the code. The code is never an issue for them because their standards of personal behavior far exceed expectations. Their positive deviance from the code of conduct defines their excellence.
You and your organization would be wise to design systems that attract, retain, support, and promote these folks. You can wish that more of your folks lived and worked above the code, but the best wishful thinking will ever achieve for your organization is the competitive parity of ethical ambiguity.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.