Working with codes of ethics & codes of practice

Codes increase certainty no matter the volatility or unknowns ahead

Codes provide a fixed point of reference when facing new situations, a ‘North Star’ for navigating in uncertainty and ‘bright lines’ not to be crossed. For example, organizations working with artificial intelligence are using codes to create guardrails for research, development, and deployment.

It’s a way an organization says here’s what we stand for and here’s how we go about it. There may be an extra piece: here’s what you can do if you think we’ve fallen short, a means to raise concerns if it seems promises haven’t been met. A best practice is showing resolved complaints and how the process worked.

The net effect reduces uncertainty and increases trust. With it comes greater loyalty to the organization and its aims.

  • Codes of practice typically lay out specific do’s and don’ts. There may be codes for the whole company, for senior teams, or even participants in standing meetings. Sometimes, they’re for specialized units, for example, newsrooms within a larger media company.

  • Codes of ethics express values and aspirations. Instead of specifics of what to do, a code of ethics describes how to approach what to do.

  • Some places have one or the other, others have both. For example, a code of practice may begin with underlying ethical principles.

Codes are dynamic. Expectations and standards may change, perhaps from recent events, or findings in law, or emerging possibilities. Another best practice is re-visiting existing provisions to see if they need to be refreshed. A measure of corporate governance may be periodic checks that codes are being followed and reflect the current operating environment.


  • Developing new codes of practice or codes of ethics
  • Refreshing legacy codes to reflect new practices or circumstances
  • Auditing existing codes to provide governance assurance
  • Delivering workshops for staff about new/updated code provisions and how they can be applied
  • Briefing senior management or boards about matters arising from codes

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