Companies who are embarking on a Code rewrite often ask if there are good Codes they can look to as templates or models.

Today, we’re going to feature one Code we like a lot: the Shire Pharmaceuticals Code of Ethics.

Here are three things I appreciate about the Shire Code:

1. It features professional-quality design.

Whether it’s Apple or your local farm-to-table restaurant, smart businesses today use design to stand out from the crowd.

Good design signals a quality product that the owners believe in. And bad design? Well, it says: “We didn't care enough to make this look better.”

I’ve seen more than one great Code rewrite hampered by a decision to skimp on design. So I appreciate the level of design expertise and thought that went into the Shire Code.

Here’s what I notice:

  • The Code is completely on brand. If you look up Shire’s main page or their annual report, this has a clear family relationship in terms of look and feel (and tone of voice).
  • Any visuals support and enhance the content. Great designers are trained to use design to reflect and amplify the main points and message. Amateur designers decorate the page with graphics and photos but don’t use these to connect to the content or communicate anything deeper.
  • Each page is well-balanced, with plenty of white space. There are thoughtful touches, like the handwritten topic headers. This adds visual interest without making things too busy. The handwriting element also humanizes the document — similar to a handwritten note at the bottom of a form letter.

2. It’s written in simple, clear language.

Too many Codes and compliance communications sound as if they were being spoken by the company rather than a person.

Yes, the Code is a formal document, but readers won’t connect with a disembodied voice.

The writing in the Shire Code is direct and personal — and directed right at the reader. (The word “you” appears 164 times in 36 pages).

Even complex ideas are explained in simple, straightforward language. (A fourth grader could parse most of these sentences.)

This focus on simplicity and clarity has the added benefit of forcing the Code to get specific. How can you avoid a conflict of interest at work? Well, here are four actions to take, six examples of additional conflicts to watch for, a note about joining boards, and a list of additional policies where you can find more information.

The result is an easy-to-understand, easy-to-reference document full of useful information and guidance.

3. The writers take time to set context.

In the early days of compliance programs, most Codes of Conduct quickly announced it was important to follow the law and act with integrity — and then launched into a list of rules.

Alternately, Shire does a good job of explaining WHY the Code is important and why following its guidance matters — not just once, but in different places and in different ways:

  • Both the CEO letter and Introduction take care to position the Code as an extension of ideas and principles that are central to the business — like “being Brave.”
  • At the start of each main section, they outline why integrity matters in this particular area, setting an aspirational vision that everyone is likely to agree with, like: “We strive to create a work environment where all people are valued so that they can maximize their contribution to Shire’s Vision and reach their full potential.”
  • Each individual topic also begins with its own plainly worded “why”: “Our success is driven by diverse employee talent around the world. We embrace and value all the things that make us unique individuals.” The specific guidelines follow — if you value the things that make your coworkers unique individuals, of course then you wouldn’t harass, wouldn’t discriminate, wouldn’t bully.

If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you know “because” is a powerful word — he calls it a “weapon of automatic influence."

A 1989 Harvard study showed that people were nearly 50% more likely to respond favorably to a request if it included a “because” statement.

All this context-setting in the Shire Code adds up to a powerful “because” — making it much more likely to persuade its audience.

How does your Code of Conduct measure up? If you’re ready to add professional quality design, clear language, and context to your Code, we can help. Connect with the Rethink Compliance experts.