Code of ethics squared

When was the last time you looked at the code of conduct for public relations? The Chartered Institute of Public Relations have a 24 page document that sets out what is expected from members of the organisation. I have to confess it is a while since I read through the points. What brought it back to the front of my mind was the arrival of the code of ethics for policing which I discussed at length today with colleagues.

There are inevitably many similarities in what is covered in both codes and I am sure the same words appear in the many other codes for finance, health, teaching and other professions. But are we rushing from project to project and job to job without ever questioning what we are doing and why?

Now more than ever it is vital for public relations practitioners to demonstrate the elements within the code. For them to show what the profession does and what it achieves and how it does this in an ethical way. So what are the key elements?

1. Highest professional standards of professional endeavour – including reference to integrity, confidentiality, financial propriety and personal conduct. All really important foundations for professional life but do we challenge ourselves over the decisions we make and how it looks to other people? Do we stop before we act in our personal lives?

2. Dealing honestly and fairly in business with those around us – are we trying to undermine the work of fellow professionals or do we act less than honestly with members of the public? These are difficult questions to answer and challenge what we do on a daily basis.

3. Show respect – this has to be in every code. The simple message is always to treat people as you would expected to be treated, or if that doesn’t work treat them as you would a loved one or friend.

4. Don’t bring the industry into disrepute – which has to link with the professional standards and what decisions we make. The test in modern work is not just what would the media say but what would this look like if it played out on social media?

5. Respect the code and ensure accountability – there is no point having a code of conduct, ethics or standards if you don’t feel it matters to what you do on a daily basis. You have to be accountable for your actions and decision-making, and it is important to challenge others who you believe are acting outside the code.

6. Encourage training to raise professional standards – I like this as it is a very positive statement about how the code should drive the future development of the profession.

Other key words to remember are: integrity, honesty, capability, competence, transparency, and confidentiality.

We would all say we are doing these things on a daily basis in the decisions we make and the actions we take. But perhaps it is important to really think about what these elements mean and whether they really are part of our decision-making. And particularly do we challenge other professionals over their behaviour?

I now face the challenge of two codes one of conduct within my PR profession and a second of ethics for my link with policing. I sense a lot of questioning of my actions, behaviour and decision-making in coming months.

To read the full detail of the code check out the CIPR website or this link http://www.cipr.co.uk/sites/default/files/Code%20of%20Conduct%20-%20agreed%20changes%20November%202013.pdf

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Taking time for my vision

I have written a few times about the courses that I have been taking with the help of Coursera. The latest one I am currently working on is about leadership and emotional intelligence and has had me doing a lot of self assessment and reflection. The latest one was to develop a personal vision statement and a list of 27 things I want to do before I die.

It was actually a more positive experience than it might sound. We all lead busy lives with work, home life, relationships etc, etc and we rarely, if ever, spend time reviewing where we are and where we want to be. Instead, we dash from work to home, juggle childcare or other commitments but don’t take time to reflect. To spend some time just thinking about where I am in life and what I want to do was really liberating. My mind was able to explore the vast array of things that exist in the world.

I found it easier to reach the 27th item than I thought I would. There were some easy short-term things that I could achieve within the next week. Alongside them were things that will take longer to achieve and need a significant investment of time. In short, I have just written the most important to do list of my life.

The development of this was to then write my personal vision statement. We all know that big organisations and companies will have a vision statement which sets out where they want to be in the next 10, 15 or 20 years. It is usually to be the best at X, or to be the most successful at Y. We need to inject a level of honesty into these vision statements and make them more about the values that we hold dear.

When I set about writing my personal vision statement it had to cover all aspects of my life from my health and well-being through to career, family and everything in between. It was my time to look at my dreams and reconnect with what is important to me. I can then positively question where I am in my life and what the next steps should be.

In a busy and hectic world this has been really cathartic and I strongly recommend taking some time out to do this. First write your own list of things you want to do before you die and follow it with a vision that will reflect where you want to be in 10 years. The challenge is then to start to be able to move closer towards that vision.

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What has #BEDM taught me?

Well, I finally made it. Thirty one days ago I read about the challenge of writing a blog every day in May. It seemed relatively straightforward and I thought it might be worth trying. Would I have the discipline to blog every day? Would I have enough ideas to be able to write every day?

Amazingly, this is my last blog during the month of May. I am reflecting on the month and what I have learned by taking part in this interesting experiment. I have written thousands of words and quite a few of them have been read by people.

Firstly, I have surprised myself by showing the discipline to devote time to writing every day. I have lots of ideas for written work from short stories to books but I always say there is a lack of time. Clearly, there isn’t a lack of time just a lack of discipline to make it happen.

Secondly, it has shown me that I have lots of ideas and that they can be sparked by many things. During the month I have blogged about discussions at work, considered television programmes, and events that happened to me and around me. Each of the 31 blogs have had a communication related theme and I am sure I could continue to write a blog a day in June.

Thirdly, it gave me an opportunity every day to reflect on something that had happened or had been of interest to me. When I was a teenager I wrote a diary and reflected every day on what had happened and what I felt. This was the nearest to that feeling that I had ever had since then. Blogging every day has helped me to review the day.

Fourthly, it has helped me to continue and develop conversations with people about the issues at heart. Sharing ideas and thoughts is really productive and throwing ideas out for people to review and comment supports creativity.

Finally, I have shown I can set myself a goal and achieve it. If I set my mind to something I can do it. This has been a bit of a surprise as I have felt like shutting down the computer many times during the past four weeks. I have thought of other things that I could do and I have been distracted. But at the end of the day I completed the task.

I would recommend setting yourself a blogging challenge as it shows you what you can do and takes you out of the comfort zone. This has been an entertaining 31 days. I have loved it and what it has taught me. But I might give myself a little bit of a blogging rest for the next few days. Hope you enjoyed the 31 days of words.

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What is your legacy?

Every day we touch many lives. We have a big impact often without even knowing it, and these interactions can be good or bad. We spend a lot of time looking for training and ways to expand our professional skills, but are we as keen to develop ourselves and our behaviour?

I don’t think we all need to rush out and get an armful of self-help books, but we do need to invest some time to consider what we do and how people view us. Are we able to encourage a supporting environment or do we create stress for those around us?

One difficult question is what your legacy will be. A way of thinking this through –  that I have been doing as part of my latest online MOOC – is to think of those people who have really helped you to get where you are. What was it they did and said, and how did it help you? Most people will come up with parents and probably one or two people they have worked with.

After that you have to consider who would put you on their list of people who had a positive impact on them? Would there be a few people or no-one? Are you a positive person to be around or do you share your bad feelings?

I know I don’t want to be a continued source of stress and negativity within the team. Yes, I will have bad days but these should have a limited impact on anyone else. What I don’t want is to think that my interactions could have been more positive and I have missed the opportunity. My legacy needs to be that I have supported and helped people as well as doing the day-to-day work.

But if we are to have a positive legacy then we need to first recognise that we are not perfect, we need help and we need to spend some time reviewing how people perceive what we do, say and how we behave. Now is definitely the time to do it, there is no time to wait.

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Smart carpet? Keep an open mind.

I was reminded today that it is important to keep an open mind about developments. What may appear on the face of it to be a silly or impractical idea can have some purpose. For example, what are your initial thoughts about having a ‘smart carpet’. That’s right a carpet that connects you to the Internet and social networks. Are you thinking that sounds like a waste of time?

I confess that was my initial thought but then I started to think about how it could be used to provide signs to help people get to where they need to be in big office blocks. It can also replace the TV screens that can be found on many walls providing news updates and corporate messages. When you start to think about it a smart carpet could have open many opportunities to share information in a different way.

Some months ago people laughed at me because I got excited about the arrival of a bluetooth toothbrush. But again I could see the possible uses it could have in encouraging children to clean their teeth and get rewards as well as providing technical information to your dentist.

As we move to a time when so many things can have technology incorporated into them, then perhaps we have to ensure we keep a very open mind. If things don’t work the first time they appear we need to give them some time to develop and be prepared to have a look at it again. Don’t dismiss things forever if they don’t quite work initially.

Most importantly, don’t make snap judgements on things. Take a good look at the development, see what it can do and what it offers. Perhaps take a different look at the way you currently do things and see what that means for the technology. You might find doing this allows you to be more innovative and creative than you ever expected.

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Seeking forgiveness

In a number of meetings and discussions today the quality of content delivered through social networks was highlighted. Four or five years ago social media users were more forgiving of organisations and businesses who were stepping into the new digital world. If things went wrong or the right tone wasn’t used there was some acceptance that it was such a new phenomenon that everyone was learning.  But I am not sure the same is true today.

People are now more digital savvy and have been using social networks for some time. Organisations and businesses are now seen as behind the times if they haven’t stepped into the digital world. If companies then get the tone wrong or don’t understand the conventions of social media there is only a small amount of forgiveness. People’s expectations have risen dramatically.

I am relieved that we started the journey to use social media four years ago which has put us in a much better position now. In the early days the usage of social media was nowhere near what it is today and that helped. Now, people have a short fuse and only a small amount of patience when information or messages aren’t working.

So, what can people do now if they are behind the curve but need to get involved in the social networks?

Firstly, be really clear why they are going to use social media and know what they want to achieve by using it. It may be customer service, it may be engagement, it may be to sell something. Whatever it is make sure that you know and have articulated what it is as this will make the strategy for use much easier to develop.

Secondly, spend some time learning and understanding the different networks before ever stepping into them. Learn from others, look at what is being done, read about the use of social networks.

Thirdly, have a strategy that identifies what you will do and how you will do it. Use your knowledge of your organisation and the networks to define the road you are going to take.

Fourthly, get support to achieve the goals. It may mean getting some new people in, or it might be better to adequately train existing staff so that they can turn the strategy into action.

Finally, be prepared to take some risks and to apologise if things don’t go the right way. But always be clear that there will be a small number of times when things go wrong, learn, develop, reassess the strategy but above all make sure you continue.

People will be supportive if you have invested some time in understanding the world they inhabit and then things go wrong. They are not supportive when you blunder in and hope for the best.

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I have a complaint…..

I was interested to watch The Complainers a new programme on Channel 4 looking at those people who persistently complain and how organisations and companies were dealing with them. Now, I am not going to decide what this was trying to say. Was it that serial complainers should stop it or do they have a point that poor service, products or behaviour should be highlighted?

One thing that seemed clear was that the technical revolution has given people the opportunity to have more of a voice than ever before. Social media have provided people with a chance to name and shame companies that have failed them in a very public way. It is much easier now to find an email, Twitter name or Facebook page that will allow you to vent your anger or concern about something.

But is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. It has given companies the chance to deal with people’s concerns and issues, and to do this in a very public way. The new technology gives organisations an opportunity to show behind the scenes and to explain in a very direct way why something happens. If social media is handled in the right way then it provides a human face to the interaction that takes place online.

People have ever-increasing expectations of what response they will get to issues or concerns. The fact that there have been cuts for most public services and businesses does not bother most people. They still want an answer to their query and they want it faster than ever. It means we have to take the chances we have to deal with their issues at the first point of contact. Company social media sites have to be able to respond to the points raised. Most importantly we have to find ways to use this technology, these expectations and find ways to innovate in service provision.

It would be nice if alongside The Complainers we could have a programme called The Praisers to talk about those people who use the new technology to highlight good service. Every day we receive messages about good service that has been received and get positive responses to how we are using social media to provide information and support to people. But I suppose that might not be as exciting to watch.

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