Action or Contemplation?

I recently suggested that it is time for a code of ethics for agile coaches.  The essay has sparked several important conversation threads. During those conversations, I recognize that I have conflated the two concepts of a code of ethics and as opposed to a code of conduct. A bit of research has helped me to recognize the difference and then realign my thought process.  The two concepts are different. A code of ethics impacts how we make decisions whereas a code of conduct focuses on constraining behavior. They are interrelated and both are tools for self-regulation.

Code of ethics provides a set of principles that are useful for making decisions.  Another way to think about ethics is as a tool to use core values in a decision process.  For example, if a coaches core value is “commitment to their clients” and they were presented with a decision between working with their client and playing hooky, their code of ethics would provide guidance for the the decision. The code of ethics (expressed or implied) suggests that when a coach is faced with this type of decision that they choose the decision path that shows the most commitment. Ethics often boil down to the Golden Rule, make decisions to treat others as you would like to be treated.

A code of conduct operationalizes the code of ethics. For example, recently many organizations have been wrestling with the concept of the privacy of user data. A code of ethics will state that the organization respects their clients right to privacy whereas the code of conduct would provide more specific guidance by stipulating that organization will follow the laws and regulations defined as part of the EU’s GDPR.  The code of conduct outline specific behaviors that are required or are prohibited. Sexual harassment policies are codes of conduct based on ethics.

Ethics, as a rule, require interpretation through the filter experience and context.  For example, the Golden Rule is a useful ethical construct to guide decisions, however it can allow a wide range of outcomes base on context.  While I was walking to my car last night a person in front of me tossed their lunch bag “near” a garbage can. They made a decision based on their ethical framework which generated a decision and an action.  I picked it up and thew it in the can. A colleague (currently reading a Jack Ryan novel) suggested that codes of ethics weaponize codes of conduct.

Note:  Several threads are currently active in the ethics/conduct conversation all of these thread bear consideration.  I need to review the code of ethics essay to determine whether it is impacted by the distinction just outlined between codes of conduct and ethics.  I will then dive into the discussion of whether certifications are a mechanism for defining ethics and conduct.