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Make It Findable

Make it easy for users to find the information they need.

What is findability?

Findability is a central concept in web design. Findability refers to the ease with which information contained on a website can be found. It is also critical for the design of effective ethics codes. In our context, let us define findability as the ability of employees to find an ethics code and to navigate its content to discover and retrieve with ease the information they need.

Findability is important

Findability of information is a critical piece of effective user experience design. "You can’t use what you can’t find,” says Peter Morville, a pioneer of user experience design. When shoppers on an e-commerce website have to struggle to find what they are looking for, they tend to abandon the site. The result is lost sales.

We should assume the same for employees who are looking for information in an ethics code. When employees turn their attention to their company’s ethics code, they often do so with a specific question. Maybe they are planning an event for customers and need information on permissible gifts and entertainment. Maybe they want to check if they have a conflict of interests and how to resolve it. Or they want to report an unethical business practice they have observed but don’t know whom to contact. When employees abandon the ethics code due to poor findability, the result can be unmitigated risks.

A graveyard of dead links

Some companies work hard at writing ethics codes, but then seem careless in the code's implementation resulting in poor findability as the following two real-world examples illustrate.

One of the world’s biggest banks, headquartered in New York City, has a web code. The customary welcome message from the CEO instructs employees that they must promptly inform the company if they have a concern regarding a potential Code violation. It then lists “Integrity Hotline” as a resource to use for reporting. The words “Integrity Hotline” are hyperlinked, but when clicking on the link, an error message is returned: “This site can’t be reached.” Many other links in the same web code are broken as well.

“What!? I can’t do text search?”

Another company recently announced the launch of a new ethics code. After a glance at the table of contents, I decide to have a closer look at the section titled “Speak up.” To get there quickly, I use the search function, hitting the Ctrl + F shortcut on my keyboard and enter “speak up” into the search field. To my surprise, no matches are returned. The reason: The code was published as an image-based PDF, rather than a text-based one. I resolve instead to hit my keyboard’s “PgDn” button repeatedly until I find the section I am looking for.

External findability = SEO

Findability has an external and an internal dimension. External findability refers to the ease with which users can put their hands, or eyes, on the ethics code. It is about the ease with which employees can find their company's ethics code. The magic word for external findability is “Search Engine Optimization.” SEO helps search engines understand what a site is about and increases the chance that a code will show up on top of search results when someone is looking for related information online.

Try the following test: In your preferred web browser, type your company’s name followed by a topic in your ethics code, for example “anti-discrimination” or “report a concern.” Is your company’s ethics code the first entry on the search results page? If not, talk to the people in charge of your website’s content management system (often the communications department). They should be able to help with SEO.

Internal findability

Internal findability becomes relevant once users hold the ethics code in their hands, or look at it on their screens. Good internal findability is about making sure that information is easy to find within a website or document. It is the results of a well-designed information architecture and navigation system.

Here are three tips for optimizing an ethics code's internal findability.

Design a good table of contents

The first order of business in optimizing internal findability is defining a meaningful structure for the code’s content. In a pdf code, this structure is reflected in the table of contents (TOC); in a web code, it is reflected in the website’s navigation menu.

  • The TOC needs to be the first thing users see once they advance past the cover page. In some codes, the TOC is buried after an introduction or a CEO’s welcome statement. From a findability perspective, this is a mistake.

  • The TOC's content needs to be clear and simple. Headers should be short and intuitive. The main headers should stand out and address the key questions which employees bring to your code.

  • Keep the TOC's visual design clean and simple. Visual elements (e.g., icons) or colors should only be used to the extent that they support the TOC’s function: finding information.

Make your code searchable

Electronic formats (PDFs, websites) provide search functionality that printed documents lack. Use them:

  • Make sure your PDF code is not an image file, but text-searchable.

  • If you have a web code, include a search function that is noticeable on the screen and supports autocomplete and autosuggest.

Use hyperlinks

  • Hyperlinks allow users to quickly jump to relevant information. For example, hyperlink each heading in the table of contents to the corresponding heading in the document.

Give it a try

These are just a few of many possible tweaks for improving an ethics code’s findability. They may seem obvious, but they are frequently ignored. Let’s remember: Employees are more likely to use information they can find with reasonable effort.

Optimizing a code’s findability isn’t difficult or costly. All it really takes is awareness of the issue and an intent to provide a code that is user-friendly. Take a moment and review your company's ethics code focusing on its findability. Can you spot opportunities to improve it?

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