In the wake of a continual parade of scandals, there has been a lot of talk concerning codes of ethics. I've written dozens of codes and have a healthy respect for their value as an element of a corporate culture, but I wince at the unreasonable expectations attached to these documents.First of all, ethics codes don't make people ethical. They don't make bad people good. Nor do they make people with bad judgment wise. Most of the very bad behavior we've seen in recent years would not have been prevented by an ethics code.
You see, there are two aspects to ethics: discernment – knowing right from wrong – and discipline – having the moral will power to do what's right. A code can help define what's right and acceptable and provide a basis for imposing sanctions on those who don't follow it. But unless it reinforces an established ethical culture, it won't do much to assure that people do what's right.