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Guide for Developing Organizational Codes of Conduct


The purpose of this Guide is to share some best practices in code development that have been identified through research in order to help federal public sector organizations develop their organizational code of conduct. Organizational codes are to be consistent with the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector (VECPS) as required by section 6 of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (PSDPA). Although the approaches contained in this document are considered best practices, it does not preclude organizations from following a method other than the one presented in this document to develop their organizational code of conduct. In addition we strongly encourage organizations to share and collaborate amongst each other with their best practices.

Research indicates that the process followed when developing a code is just as important as the resulting content.See footnote1 In fact, the right content is only found when the right development process is used. The process for the development of the code also affects the success of the acceptance and integration of the instrument.See footnote2

In order to facilitate the development of organizational codes of conduct and promote consistency with the VECPS and the required tailoring of Appendix B of the TB Policy on Conflict of Interest and Post-EmploymentSee footnote3 (CoI/PE Policy), the Office of the Chief Human Resource Officer (OCHRO) has also developed a Model Organizational Code for Public Sector Organizations (the model code). This model code may serve as a guided template for the development of your organizational code of conduct and organizational requirements for conflict of interest. You will also find a list of other structural options listed under Annex A.

Key Steps for Developing a Code of Conduct

Step 1. Involve Senior Management

It is well known that strong leadership is a crucial factor in creating an ethical culture in the workplace. Employees expect that leaders not only communicate the organization's values and ethics but that they also "walk the talk". With the development of an organizational code of conduct, chief executives and senior management have a great opportunity to be seen demonstrating leadership with respect to values and ethics. Their involvement can help raise the profile of the code of conduct within the organization, ensure that it is aligned with the organization's vision and strategic outcomes, and facilitate the approval process.

Step 2. Create a diversified and multidisciplinary advisory group

In order to increase the effectiveness of an organizational code of conduct, it needs to be relevant to all employees that will be subject to it. Therefore it is important to have a multidisciplinary and diverse team, representing key stakeholders and with the cognitive and cultural diversity found within the organization. Alternatively, if a multidisciplinary team cannot be formed, the various functional and special interest groups within the organization should at a minimum be consulted in order to understand their needs. This will facilitate the validation process with employees, since the thinking around values, ethical risks and expected behaviours will have been inclusive of the organization's workforce diversity.

Step 3. Set the Objectives for your Organizational Code

The objectives of the code of conduct need to be set from the start, as they will influence the choices made with respect to the content highlighted in the code. These objectives are normally stated at the beginning of the code, explaining to employees what the organization intends to achieve with its code. The objectives should be linked to expected outcomes through which the effectiveness of the code will be reviewed to measure whether the objectives are being achieved.

Step 4. Tailor the Code of Conduct to the Needs and Values of the Organization

The requirement contained in section 6 of the PSDPA that "every chief executive shall establish a code of conduct applicable to the portion of the public sector for which he or she is responsible" offers the opportunity to take the high level public sector values and expected behaviours contained in the VECPS and determine whether additional guidance is required under any of these expected behaviours in order to ensure that employees know how they relate to their day to day responsibilities.

(A) Identify the organization's core values

The first step in creating the organizational code of conduct is to define the organization's aspirations, such as, its purpose, authority, obligations, duties and accountabilities. Some of these aspirations are clearly stated in acts of Parliament, vision statement, business plans and/or reports on plans and priorities.

Once aspirations have been defined, the organization should begin consultations with employees on their core organizational values using the public sector values in the VECPS as a starting point. For organizations that already have an existing code they can start with both their existing code and the VECPS. These organizational consultations may reveal other important values in addition to the public sector values or validate those already in your organizational code. Organizations are encouraged to explore if the value or behaviour can be situated within the existing VECPS framework. However, Deputy Heads can include additional values that are otherwise not stated in the VECPS if they feel it is important enough to do so, as long as the value is consistent with the existing content of the VECPS, as required by the PSDPA. The core values define what the organization stands for and the principles by which it will achieve its goals.

Below are two examples of how an organizational code of conduct can be adapted based on the values statements in the VECPS.

Values of the Public Sector CodeSee footnote4


Public Servants serve the public interest by…

VECPS Statement:

Taking all possible steps to prevent and resolve any real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest between their official responsibilities and their private affairs in favour of the public interest

Example of Organizational Code of Conduct Statement:

National Gallery of Canada - Code of Conduct:
An employee who learns of an art object available for purchase which is reasonably likely to be of interest to the Gallery for its collections is expected to place the interests of the Gallery ahead of his/her own in acquiring the object.

VECPS Statement:

Acting at all times with integrity, and in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny; an obligation that may not be fully satisfied by simply acting within the law.

Example of Organizational Code of Conduct Statement:

Canada Revenue Agency's Code of Ethics and Conduct (June 11, 2009)

Under no circumstances are you authorized to:
  • access any information that is not part of your officially assigned workload;
  • disclose any CRA information that has not been made public; or
  • use official CRA information for personal use, gain or financial benefit for yourself, your relatives or anyone else.

(B) Identifying Risks: Assessing the potential for behaviours inconsistent with the values

In tailoring the code to the organization's needs, it is important to focus on the risk areas where behaviour may be inconsistent with organizational or VECPS values, as it will increase the code's relevance and effectiveness. The risk assessment review should include an examination of areas of risk for conflicts of interest. For organizations in the core public administration this would be information that can be used for the tailoring of the Policy on Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment (see Annex B).

Some examples of what types of information should be considered in a risk assessment are:

  • Risks inherit through the organizational lines of business
  • Historical trends
  • Past Public Service Employee Surveys or other surveys conducted by the organization (e.g. ethical climate surveys)
  • Number and nature of grievances
  • Harassment complaints with respect to a certain operational area
  • etc….

Effective risk assessments are done in consultation with senior management, and are validated by middle managers. Mitigation strategies should be developed to address the identified risks. Standards of conduct can then be extrapolated from these mitigation strategies.

(C) Define standards of conduct

Standards of conduct offer additional organizational behavioural guidance for the values and expected behaviours contained in the VECPS. They may promote "right-doing" by inspiring exemplary behaviour or discourage wrongdoing by identifying activities or behaviours that will not be tolerated.See footnote5

Organizations can add standards of conduct if required to address specific organizational risk areas, or simply to "translate" a value or behavioural expectation into a specific operational "do or don't". In addition to these standards of conduct, organizations may want to provide examples. Such as in section 4(a) of this document, where excerpts from other existing organizational codes of conduct were provided to demonstrate how to operationalize the expected behaviours under the Integrity value.

It is well-recognized that each organization within the federal public sector has its own culture and operational requirements. An organizational code of conduct should reflect this, while remaining grounded in the values and expected behaviours of the VECPS. Organizational culture may also influence decisions about the tone and language in organizational codes. For example, more compliance-based language such as "shall" or "must" may be more appropriate in some organizations, while the use of inclusive language may be preferred in others.

(D) Determine your audience

When drafting the organizational code it is important to consider the audience by taking into account workforce demographics (e.g. education, cultures, etc.). This will contribute to a document that is read, accepted, understood and put into practice by the target audience.

Step 5. Validate the draft organizational code of conduct with Employees and Bargaining Agents

An effective organizational code of conduct is developed in consultation with employees and bargaining agents. Once a draft code of conduct has been completed, it is necessary to validate its content with these stakeholders through meaningful consultations. This will ensure that the values and expected behaviours are relevant to employees and their work environment. It is also an excellent opportunity for senior management to engage their employees in a dialogue on values and ethics and the organization's commitment to sustaining an ethical culture in the workplace. Such consultations may also identify some of the areas where increased awareness, training or further discussions will be needed during the implementation phase of the organizational code.

Implementation and Monitoring

While the development of an organizationally appropriate code of conduct is an important first step in reinforcing and creating an ethical culture, other important key factors are leadership, communication, learning, coaching, and performance management. Organizations are encouraged to give careful consideration to how their code will be implemented in order to maximize its effectiveness.

Values in organizations evolve over time, and codes of conduct should be reviewed and adjusted periodically to reflect this reality. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the code will help organizations determine to what extent the code is achieving its expected outcomes.

A more complete summary of the research on best practices regarding implementation can be found in Annex C of this document.

For further information

If you have any questions or require further information on developing a code of conduct, do not hesitate to contact Mary Anne Stevens, Director Values and Ethics; Awards and Recognition, at 613-948-9837 or Contact Mary Anne Stevens by email: MaryAnne.Stevens@tbs-sct.gc.ca.

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