Leading in HR: The Power of a Professional Conduct Policy

Professional Code of Conduct

There’s not much in the way of employee behavior that would surprise an experienced Human Resource Manager.

What is far more surprising is the amount of time a leader will put up with behavior that makes them need HR in the first place.

At times, it’s the policies in place that prevent any other viable option. However, there is one policy that will keep you more out of HR than in it.

Addressing Workplace Issues

In most companies a policy exists for everything from punctuality to the use of profanity. The Federal Government even dictates break times to maternity leave. With all clear policies, measurement of performance and termination is made easy and they usually started as merely good guidelines.

When guidelines are not made into policies and clear guidelines don’t exist, managing performance is a real problem.

Managing the attitude about the problem is even worse.

In fact, the number one problem new leaders seem to face is how to address those subtle challenges such as:

  • Attitude
  • “Milking the system”
  • Doing just enough to stay employed
  • Gossiping
  • Backstabbing
  • “Stirring the pot”
  • Or even “quitting,” but forgetting to tell anyone…

Professionalism, Defined.

Address those subtle or not-so-subtle issues with what is called a Professional Conduct Policy. Enumerate how one would successfully conduct themselves on the team you lead or in the office you manage.

Perhaps it will not be the policy that, when broken, is a key firing factor, but it sure beats assuming they know how to behave based on the guidelines you live by that usually remain in your head.

Creating a Professional Conduct Policy

Here is what the mere creation of a Professional Conduct Policy can do for you and the team and their performance.

Allows for Low-Level Intervention

This is a term used in training classes that refers to participants managing each other. For example when two people are talking while the instructor talks and another student “shushes” them, you’ve just seen Low-Level Intervention.

The instructor didn’t have to say a word.

The same will happen on the team you lead when you invite all to participate in the creation of the Professional Conduct Policies. Spend a staff meeting coming up with these “rules” or “housekeeping guidelines” or “Rules that Guide our Behavior with Each Other and our Customers.

What you call it is not as important as the discussion that will occur when you are creating the list. Magical dynamics are when colleagues all mutually agree on the “rules.” As none of us argue with our own data, so to speak, allowing each team member to have input will help them to own the rules.

The rules they own will be ones they agree to and want to abide by and will thus, defend, when others break the rules. You may create situations in which fellow employees begin to manage each other to some extent and thus, take some of that burden off of the leader.

This doesn’t mean you get to now be “hands off”, but it will be a nice benefit of having spent the time to make the list of behaviors.

Provides a Metric for Behavior

When given the choices of attitude, behavior, or performance problems, participants in our leadership training courses repeatedly rank attitude problems as the most challenging to resolve and address. These are followed closely by behavior issues that are not tied to some quota or performance review objective.

The reason for both being more difficult than performance is that neither is readily measurable by the average company.

Most managers assume far too much of the way others will behave. Then the managers are  surprised when someone acts unethically or has lesser initiative or has no issue at all with showing up to the meetings but doing nothing in the way of making progress on a team project.

These are each behaviors that can be part of the Professional Conduct Policy. For example, look at these:

  • Always do your best
  • Follow up within 24 hours
  • Make ten minutes early your “on time” mark
  • Maintain confidentiality of anything that could be considered gossip

Once they’re written down, they become measurable.

Provides Clarity in Coaching

If a leader wants to address a behavior not listed on that team member’s performance review, and there are no consequences for the behavior, other than talking with the boss, little change occurs.

With a Professional Conduct Policy, created by their peers, coaching to the policy can now include the consequence of letting down their peers. It also gives you a reference point in history when they agreed to abide by the behaviors listed.

Not only are you able to be clear about which policy has been “broken”, but you now have precedent, previous conversations, and a frame of reference from which to coach for improvement.

Asking questions like:

“Was this not something you really agreed with when we came up with these in our meeting?”

“Is there something that has caused you to change your mind on the importance of this behavior to our work?”

will help you get to the heart of the matter.

Any of this kind of detail is more effective in a coaching scenario than the leader saying “Would you just cut it out?”, which is what happens when one doesn’t have much to go on.

Moving Beyond Policy

Once you create it, consider hanging your Professional Conduct Policy next to the Mission Statement and Values Declaration. Just remember that much like those other documents, the work that it took to create them is far more valuable than the space they take up on the wall.

And if all you want is for people to look at the list, the last thing on your list needs to say “buy frame.” If you want them to actually abide by these guidelines, “buy frame” gets delegated and your first two “to-dos” are coach them when they don’t and reward them when they do.

So, do you have clear, concise, and open access to a professional code of conduct policy booklet? Or is your just informal and not well documented? When issues arrive, is your policy guidelines booklet referenced properly and professionally, or does your management team need training in this arena? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Monica Wofford
Monica Wofford
, CSP, is CEO of Contagious Companies, Inc.
She serves her clients by getting business results and ROI for training functions
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Office 1.866.382.0121

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  1. Dale Wilcox on June 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Good Morning Monica
    You are so right. Over the years I think I have experienced all of the sad situations you listed. Some times as an employee and sometimes as a manager. To have helped create a Professional Conduct Policy would have allowed me as an employee to speak up, and as a manager to have a strong basis on which to act much sooner than I often did.
    Thanks for some great ideas.
    Dale Wilcox

  2. Sandy Cooper on June 12, 2013 at 10:30 am


    Great post. A Code of Conduct is not even a nice to have, it’s a must have. With the generational difference in the current work environment there can exist a wide variety of expectations with regards to what is acceptable in the workplace.

    Thanks for the article,