An ethical evening

For a number of reasons, I’ve been reading an unusually high number of ‘codes of conduct’ recently – for executive coaches, for school staff, for Trustees and for other non-executive directors, and it was therefore fortuitous that last week’s Changing the Chemistry Graduate Group Meeting (for members who have one or more board roles), was focused on the ethical standards which Directors and Trustees in public bodies in Scotland are expected to uphold. The invited speaker was the Convenor of the Ethical Standards Commission for Scotland, Kevin Dunnion, and in a measured presentation, and a subsequent, thoughtful, guided conversation, he took us through the Ethical Standards themselves, the processes that exist to support these and manage breaches, and examples of what can go wrong, and how.

Planning how to avoid breaches of ethical standards was probably uppermost in my own, solutions-focused, mind; far better, it seems to me, to work out how to steer people in whichever field is under scrutiny (in my case, educational leadership, governance or coaching) to adhere to the straight and narrow path, rather than have to devote energy to manage painful forays off into the surrounding thorny thickets. Prevention, surely, is far more desirable than cure in this respect. With this in mind, reflecting on my learnings of the past couple of weeks, I thought it might be useful to draw up a little checklist to support ethical behaviours in practice:

  • Make an ethical standards framework visible to all Board members; use the Nolan Principles as a foundation guide, and spend time seeking out what others have put together – this framework does not have to be written from scratch, and if you are in a regulated industry, it will exist already.
  • Lead Board members through regular training on ethical behaviours; this is not a task just for induction or onboarding, and it certainly isn’t just a form to be signed and filed away.
  • Conduct a regular governance review; do you have in place all the possible processes you could employ to support ethical behaviours, and to provide checks and balances for the Board?
  • Engage in regular Board appraisal; think about using a Board coach to gain an external perspective.
  • Put ‘ethical behaviours’ on your Board meeting review form, so you reflect on them.

I like checklists, but I never accept them in their totality; invariably, I think of additional perspectives and other practical bullet points to add to them. This checklist, then, is an invitation to you – to reflect and work out what you would add. Do share, so I can add to my own list!

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