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Using Tree Diagrams to Connect Ethics Policies to
Tree diagrams display ideas in an organized format
that can be used to combine information from multiple
sources into one easy-to-read display. They are
powerful planning tools when you want to specify the
means to achieve a specific goal or target.
One of the most complex aspects of developing and
implementing a code of ethics/conduct is to translate
the policies into tangible behaviors that can be
evaluated objectively—in other words, to link
the theories to the practices. Additionally,
it’s important that behavioral expectations
reflect real-life situations and responses. Tree
diagrams provide a simple way for showing these
linkages and involving a cross-section of employees
in describing the appropriate behaviors.
A process for developing the high-level ethics
policies was presented in the article, “Codes
of Ethics: A Primer on Their Purpose, Development,
and Use,” by Patty Brandl and Miles Maguire
(The Journal for Quality and Participation,
Winter 2002). We’ll focus now on the steps
required to translate those policies into appropriate
behaviors for the organization, teams, and
individuals, as well as displaying those connections
on tree diagrams.
- Record the ethics policies on Post-It™
notes so you can move them around more easily.
- Ask each team member to brainstorm
organizational, team, and individual behaviors
associated with each policy and write them on
- Group the brainstormed ideas into one of three
levels—organizational, team, or
- Imagine your work space to be a matrix of
columns and rows. Place the ethics policies in the
far right column.
- In the second column from the right, align the
organizational behaviors with the appropriate
policy. There generally will be several
organizational behaviors associated with each
- Check to make sure that behaving as described
in this column will ensure your
organization’s successful attainment of the
code of ethics. If necessary, add other required
organizational behaviors to increase your
- In the next columns to the left, place the team
behaviors that are associated with each
organizational behavior. In some cases, the team
behaviors may split into multiple rows because they
are independent. After all the brainstormed team
behaviors are assigned to rows and columns, check
again for comprehensiveness.
- In the final columns on the left, place the
individual behaviors associated with each team
behavior, splitting into multiple rows when
necessary and ensuring all relevant behaviors are
- Draw the final tree diagram, connecting each
policy to its associated organizational, team, and
- Throughout the placement process, reach
consensus on the selected items.
- If your process starts with brainstorming
ideas, you may find it useful to make an affinity
diagram first. You can group all the tasks that are
associated with a particular policy together and
then arrange them in order on the tree diagram.
This can reduce the discussion time.
- If you take time to be comprehensive, you will
have more realistic plans that increase your
confidence level and success rates.
Figure 1 shows a simple tree diagram that
represents just a small portion of an overall ethics
plan. It includes policies that are based on those of
the American Library Association (http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/ethics.html).
As your eye moves from right to left, the diagram
shows the association between organizational, team,
and individual behaviors and the policies those
behaviors are designed to achieve. Behaviors are
split into separate rows when they are distinctively