Ombuds – Using Trusted Conflict Navigators

This module will provide concepts and tools to enable users to: 

This module will address the following Core Competencies

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Today, a growing number of social and political movements and organizations are experiencing the disruptive power of rapid social, political, economic and technological change, making internal and external conflict inevitable. Such rapid and disruptive change often brings conflict and polarization – as well as the opportunity for positive transformation. At this time of accelerated change, ombuds are serving as trusted navigators, engaged by people and organizations to inform critical decisions and help resolve conflicts for lasting and positive organizational impact.

What is an Ombuds?

Ombuds are specialists in the world of conflict. The biggest asset they may bring to those they serve is as a listening and sounding board during difficult situations. In all cases, they bring specific expertise to the table around problem-solving, negotiating, teaching, dispute resolution, coaching, and system analysis.

Functions of an Organizational Ombuds

  • Helps public and private sector organizations anticipate and avoid risk, litigation, and costly damage to brands and reputations
  • Conducts training and education, and coaching and facilitation for organizations and individuals facing challenges
  • Complements traditional HR, legal, and compliance channels and departments
  • Identify systemic trends and risks that help the organization make informed policy and management decisions
  • Build and strengthen productive and effective relationships between the organization and their external partners
  • Perform outreach to diverse constituencies and stakeholders about alternatives to traditional conflict resolution
  • For individuals, an ombuds may offer coaching, option building, mediation, and dispute resolution

Qualities of an Organizational Ombuds>

An experienced organizational ombuds acts as a no-barrier, first-stop for staff as well as leadership and managers seeking guidance, information, and insight from a trusted advisor who is:

  • INDEPENDENT An ombuds does not represent the organization, but exists to present solutions and guidance independent of internal or external forces.
  • IMPARTIAL  An ombuds does not take sides, but works to address issues in a way that allows everyone involved in a dispute to be treated fairly and in good faith.
  • CONFIDENTIAL An ombuds will protect participants’ identities and the information they share, and is not compelled to share details of any conversation with the organization.
  • INFORMAL Engaging with an ombuds inside an organization doesn’t trigger a formal course of action often typical of HR or legal processes. Engaging an ombuds is always “off the record.”

Summary

Having an independent, unbiased, informal, and confidential conflict expert woven into the fabric of an organization, an ombuds supports the organization in working through important issues at their earliest possible stage, and transforming those conflicts into positive social change.

Next Steps

Reflection Questions to provoke thinking about how your organization manages conflict and perhaps consider using the services of an Ombuds

  • Does your organization have a conflict and complaint management protocol? If so, is it well understood by all members of the community?
  • Do all members of the organization’s community have equal access to conflict resolution resources?
  • Are there reasons you can think of why someone may not want to go to your Human Resources department to figure out options to a problem?
  • Are there unresolved conflicts within the organization right now? Why?
  • Do you have a system in place that collects and reports to management about commonly occurring conflict related situations and issues that may be costly?
  • Do you have someone within the organization you can seek help from with ANY type of issue?
  • Is there a system in place now to normalize and benefit from the positive side of conflict?

TOOLS AND TIPS

How to Get an Ombuds

Organizations typically take one of three paths in developing the ombuds function and filling the ombuds position:

  1. They choose a well-known and trusted person within the organization to continue in their old role and learn to be the ombuds too.
  2. They choose a person within the organization or from outside the organization, to act in the sole role as ombuds.
  3. They choose an external contract service to set-up and deliver ombuds services.

The Steps in Building the Role of an Ombuds

Confirm the Need
The starting point to the building of an ombuds program is to inform and then establish the need with the key decision makers in the organization. Buy-in from every level in the organization is a final goal.

Assess the Organization
Collecting information about the current culture, conflict capacity, management practices, and unique needs of the organization, are critical components in building a resilient and sustainable program. By surveying, interviewing, conducting strategic meetings of stakeholders, and using assessment tools, an accurate picture develops that informs the core structure of the program.

Create the Structure
A custom reference document (charter) defines the program; a position description details the ombudsperson(s)’ qualifications and experience; finalized budget, reporting, and measurement tools are defined. Whether an internal ombuds is used, or a contract service is deployed, this structure is critical.

Start the Work
The ombudsperson or team begin services as defined in the Charter which should include: managing the program; marketing the office; working cases; training/education; and collecting data for reporting.

Measure and Evaluate
By collecting data system-wide, reporting at regular intervals, and developing before and after metrics, a picture of actual value to the organization becomes clear.

Resources

Articles:

"Ethics, HR and the Importance of Ombuds Programs" by Human Resource Institute

Organizations

International Ombudsman Association
We cannot say enough about the depth and influence of information provided by the IOA (International Ombudsman Association) to its members and the international community.

Other Resources

What Are Ombuds? - A short video by the International Ombudsman Association

Citations

The information you have read here has in large part come from the work of the International Ombudsman Association.

Our team of highly skilled conflict professionals can support you

For more information and support, or if you are interested in becoming a member of the DPACE team, please contact Wendy Wood, Project Director: dpace@mediatorsbeyondborders.org