Critically discuss the contribution which codes of conduct issued by professional bodies such as RICS can make to the behaviour and conduct of their members who are either employees in privatepractice or employees in organisations.
Individually and,in association, collectively, the professions ‘strike a bargain with society’in which they exchange competence and integrity against the trust of client andcommunity, relative freedom from lay supervision and interference, protectionagainst unqualified competition as well as substantial remuneration and highersocial status.
Professional codes of conduct, when rigorouslycommunicated and enforced, contribute substantially to the proper behaviour andconduct of members of the organisations which issue them. Rueschemeyer’s introductoryreference (1983, cited in Eraut, 1994) to the bargain that professional organisationsstrike with society furnishes a context for critically evaluating the conceptof professional codes of conduct which can be considered to at least partiallyformalize the bargain with society as well as the effects of these codes onthe behaviour and conduct of members of professional organisations who areengaged in private practice or who are employees of other organisations.
To establish afoundation for the analysis, the professional organisation will be compared andcontrasted with other types of organisations, and the concept of codes ofconduct will be explored. The focus will then shift to a discussion of theeffects of codes of conduct issued by professional organisations on memberbehaviour. Finally, conclusions will be presented.
The Professional Organisation: Comparisonand Contrast with Other Organisations
Robbins(1998) defines an organisation as: A consciously coordinated socialunit, composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuousbasis to achieve a common goal or set of goals. Daft (1998) describes organisations as (1) social entities that (2) are goal directed, (3) aredesigned as deliberately structured and coordinated activity systems, and (4)are linked to the external environment. Organisations are formed for a varietyof reasons including those that are started for public and private purposes,for pursuing business and social goals, and for profit or non-profit results.
A professionalbody meets the criteria for an organisation as identified by Robbins andDaft. The professional body is a specific type of organisation, usually non-profit, that exists to further aparticular profession, to protect both the public interest and the interests ofprofessionals (LaborLawTalk.com, n.d.). The ASEP Newsletter (1998) claimsthat professional organisations are formed and exist for the purpose ofrepresenting the profession, adding that this type of organisation consistssolely of members who are, or intend to be, working in the profession, or havebeen allowed special membership status.
A fuller description of these types of organisations is offered by the Canadian Security Administrators (2004), which states in this quoted extract that a professional body:
. admits members primarily on the basis of their educationalqualifications;
. requires its members to comply with the professional standards ofcompetence and ethics prescribed by the organisation; and
. has disciplinary powers, including the power to suspend or expel amember.
Theconcept of profession is important to the understanding of professionalorganisations. A profession can be described in terms of its features whichinclude representation by a professional organisation, adherence toprofessional ethics and standards, and self-regulation of such functions aseducation, training, and certification or licensure in the profession. (ASEPNewsletter, 1998). Professions are generally identified by occupationalgroup (e.g. doctors, attorneys, surveyors, nurses, consultants, writers, lawenforcement officers). Membership in a professional organisation is often arequirement to legally practice in the profession (LaborLawTalk.com, n.d.).
Aprofessional body differs from other types of organisations in that most othersare comprised of members from a variety of professions. These memberscoordinate their individual competencies to achieve an organisation’s ends. Asingle organisation may have as its members people from such diverseprofessions as doctors, lawyers, clerks, labourers, and engineers. Thisarrangement is certainly necessary, but it has one drawback.
A typical organisation is very insular with regard to specific professions. For example, engineers may only interact with other engineers within the organisation. They have little opportunity to exchange knowledge about their profession with engineers in other organisations. On the other hand, a typical professional body, through its focus on a single profession, provides a forum for this type of exchange.
One ofthe many professional bodies is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors(RICS) which promotes itself as the largest organisation for professionals inproperty, land, construction, and related environmental issues worldwide withthe purpose of promoting best practices, regulation and consumer protection tothe public and to businesses. RICS, which claims 110,000 members worldwide, isthe leading source of property related knowledge, providing independent,impartial advice to governments and global organisations. (RICS Rules ofConduct, 2004)
Codes of Conduct: The Concept
Codes of conduct in professional organisationsprovide a type of social control of expertise, according to Eraut (1994). Thesecodes help to protect clients against incompetence, carelessness, andexploitation. Eraut traces codes of conduct to nineteenth century Britain andthe United States where, at the time, government control was not adequatelyprotecting clients. He claims that experts agreed that a measure of controlmust be vested in the professionals themselves to be effective and, thus, theprofessional organisation was born.
A Code ofConduct is a written guide that says how people should behave. It setsstandards of behaviour it says what you should do and should not do. (Crime andMisconduct Commission, n.d.) Organisations establish codes of conduct tocorrect errors of personal equation, according to Miner (2002). Shafritz(1998) describes the term code of conduct through its component words: code,which he defines as laws, regulations, rules, standards, statutes, and conduct,which he defines as bearing, behaviour, demeaneor, and deportment. His fulldefinition for code of conduct is a: specifically identified list of behaviorsthat [has] been deemed appropriate or inappropriate enough to have beenincorporated into either laws or regulations or policy statements. He addsthat a code of conduct narrowly defines what one is to do in a given positionor set of circumstances.
The term code of conduct isfrequently used interchangeably with the term code of ethics, but thetwo have different meanings according to Shafritz (1998). Codes of conductoffer specific directions on behaviours expected under various conditions;codes of ethics furnish a set of aspirational standards by which to live andwork. Codes of ethics are designed to inspire. Codes of conduct are designedto require.
Organisations that have instituted codes of conduct include for-profit businesses, industry groups, unions, special interest groups, government agencies, schools and universities, and professional bodies. Not unexpectedly, a code of conduct for a professional body outlines the acceptable or desirable behaviours and practices of a particular profession such as doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, and ethicists (EthicsScan Canada Ltd., n.d.).
Steadman et al. (1994, cited inEraut, 1994), identified four sets of values affecting conduct: legal values,values of the profession, values of individual professionals, and (foremployees of organisations) values of the employing organisations. The firm Deloitteand Touche (2003) offers comprehensive guidance for developing codes ofconduct. In stating that there is no pre-packaged verbiage for a code ofconduct, the firm suggests that it be written in positive, rather than negativeterms, to help promote positive reception by the intended audience and thus amore like positive outcome in terms of conduct. The code of conduct should:
. employ simple language, be concise, and be readily understood;
. not be written in legalistic terms but, rather, in terms ofexpected behaviours;
. apply to everyone in the organisation; and
. be revised as needed to reflect changes.
Deloitte& Touche recommends more than fifty topics that may be included in codes ofconduct. Some of these that may particularly applicable to codes of conduct forprofessional organisations include client service, confidentiality, compliancewith professional standards, independence, conflicts of interest, licensure,fraud, personal conduct, and privacy. In addition, and importantly, the firmrecommends that, in addition to stating expected behaviours, codes of conductshould include enforcement and implementation mechanisms that address thenotion of accountability and discipline for unacceptable behaviour.
The RICS,which was highlighted earlier, has a comprehensive, 56-page code of conductcontaining many of the topics recommended by Deloitte & Touche withsections focused on personal and professional standards, conduct ofprofessional activities and business, practice details and co-operation,conflicts of interest, impartiality, and independence (Royal Institution ofChartered Surveyors Rules of Conduct, 2004).
In addition, and as suggested by Deloitte & Touche, the RICS has issued a 28-page supplement to the code of conduct specifying disciplinary rules. These rules state the constitution of disciplinary bodies, possible contraventions (initial processes, rights, and powers), and powers of disciplinary bodies. (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Disciplinary Rules, 2004).
Professional Codes of Conduct: Effects onMember Behaviour and Conduct
Lindsay, Irvine, and Lindsay (1996, citedin Messick, 1999) write: failure to seriouslymonitor, measure and reward (punish) the performance of individuals on theethical plane will leave codes of conduct operating in a vacuum, of littleuse in actually promoting ethical behavior. But what mechanisms take place in shaping thedesired behaviours of members of professional organisations? Operantconditioning and social learning theories help to explain how codes of conductcan help in encouraging desired behaviours.
Operantconditioning, which contends that behaviour is a function of theconsequences of the behaviour, suggests that desired voluntary behaviour leadsto a reward or prevents a punishment; in social learning peoplelearnthrough observation and direct experience (Robbins, 1998). Codes of conduct,by specifying the desired behaviours as well as associated rewards andpunishment, guide those affected into behaving as desired (operant conditioning).The enforcement of the code of conduct against those who violate its rules, andthe publicity of the consequences, serves as a model to others on properbehaviour (social learning).
Reinforcement is essential to obtainingdesired behaviours. There are four reinforcement methods available to shapedesired behaviours through reinforcement: positive reinforcement, negativereinforcement, punishment, and extinction (Robbins, 1998):
. positive reinforcement involves following abehaviour with something positive;
. negative reinforcement involves terminatingor withdrawing something unpleasant;
. punishment involves creating anunpleasant condition to eliminate an undesirable behaviour; and
. extinction involves eliminating areinforcement that maintains a behaviour.
These reinforcementmethods can be applied by professional bodies in encouraging desired behavioursamong their members. For instance, an organisation could offer annualrecognition to those members who have exhibited highly-desirable behaviours(positive reinforcement). The organisation could impose, then later withdraw, asanction against a member who violated a minor rule (negative reinforcement).The organisation could expel a member who flagrantly violated a major rule(punishment). And, finally, a professional organisation could cease referringpotential clients to members who have violated conduct rules (extinction).
In addition to enforcement, a code ofconduct must be rigorously promoted to be effective lest it becomes justanother dust-collecting document on the shelves of those for whom thebehavioural messages are directed. Over time, if conduct rules are not rigorouslypromoted, the expected behaviours can become less and less important in makingdaily decisions on proper behaviour. EthicsScan Canada Ltd. (n.d.) recommendsthat codes of conduct be promoted continuously.
For example, members should be required to acknowledge annually, in writing, that they have read and understand the code of conduct. A suggested method for promoting a code of conduct involves discussing it as part of annual performance appraisals or scheduled meetings. These meetings might include introducing case studies followed by discussions of proper behaviour and problems that might occur.
Members of professional bodies can beself-employed or employees of other organisations. Whilst codes of conduct mayserve as the sole behavioural guidance for self-employed professionals inprivate practice, employees of other organisations may be subject to two setsof conduct codes one presented by the professional body and one by theiremploying organisations. When the conduct specified in these codes is aligned,employees typically will not experience conflict; however, when the employees’expected conduct as required by their employers differs from that expected bytheir professional bodies, a conflict exists and employees face potentialdilemmas.
For instance, in some cases, professional organisations sanction members who do not adhere to their professional codes of ethics, yet the same members face disciplinary action from their employers if they should disclose information about a breach of public interest (Guy, 1990, citing Dozier and Miceli 1985; Archer, 1986). This dilemma could result in an employee deciding to violate either the rules of his or her employer or those of the professional body. To aid employees facing this type of dilemma, both the employer and professional body should have experts available for consultation.
Properly written, promoted, and enforced,codes of conduct can be powerful tools in helping to ensure desired behavioursfrom members of professional bodies. Nevertheless, whilst beneficial, codes ofconduct cannot be viewed as a total solution for ensuring the proper behaviourof members of professional organisations. Shafritz (1998) writes: Codes of conductdo not represent professional assurancesabout high moral standards. Rather, they provide direction to those whoseconduct they govern. Codes of conduct are minimalistic prohibitions againstunquestionably subversive or criminal acts. The primary benefit of codes ofconduct lies in augmenting government laws and regulations in promoting desiredbehaviours in the professions.
In closing, it may be that professional organisationsare in the fore among organisations in terms of success with codes of conduct.According to Miner (2002), [b]usiness can well learnfrom the professions when it comes to maintaining standards. Professionalbodies seem to take quite seriously the role they serve in ensuring thatclients of professional bodies are protected against incompetence,carelessness, and exploitation.
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