Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is an Organizational Ombud?
An individual who serves as a designated neutral within a specific organization and provides conflict resolution and problem-solving services to members of the organization. There are Organizational Ombuds in all sectors (corporate, academic, governmental, non-governmental, and non-profit).
An Organizational Ombuds provides confidential, informal, independent and impartial assistance to individuals through dispute resolution and problem-solving methods such as conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation, and shuttle diplomacy. The Organizational Ombud responds to concerns and disputes brought forward by visitors to the office and may report trends, systemic problems, and organizational issues to high-level leaders and executives in a confidential manner. He or she does not advocate for individuals, groups or entities, but rather for the principles of fairness and equity. The Organizational Ombud does not play a role in formal processes, investigate problems brought to the office’s attention, or represent any side in a dispute.
2. Why the word “Ombud”?
The word “Ombud” is Scandinavian and means “representative” or “proxy.” The term is gender-neutral in origin and is used by the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) to communicate to the widest possible community.
3. What is “IOA”?
IOA is the International Ombudsman Association. IOA’s mission is to “support and advance the global Organizational Ombudsman profession and ensure that practitioners work to the highest professional standards.” For more information, please go to www.ombudsassociation.org. There are currently more than 500 members in the IOA.
IOA has established a set of ethical principles for Organizational Ombudsman practice. These ethical principles are:
IOA has also established Standards of Practice, which are based on the ethical principles. For more information on the IOA Code of Ethics or Standards of Practice, please go to: http://www.ombudsassociation.org/standards.
4. How does an Ombud differ from an Employee Relations/Human Resource professional?
The roles of the Ombudsman and the ER/HR professional are not competing roles, they are complementary. When the two functions work together in an effective partnership, they can yield tremendous benefit to an organization by maintaining an environment that encourages the use of multiple options to surface and resolve issues and to improve systemic policies and procedures.
5. How does an Organizational Ombudsman differ from a lawyer?
The Organizational Ombud’s role is quite different from that of a lawyer, who is associated with more formal processes and the legal system. An Organizational Ombud maintains neutrality and impartiality when working with visitors, while a lawyer must advocate for his or her client and generally uses adversarial approaches to resolve issues. Though some Organizational Ombud may have legal training and experience with issues of the law, Ombudsmen do not provide legal advice.
6. Is an Ombudsman the same as a mediator?
No. An Ombudsman works to manage conflict within an organization, whereas Mediation is a specific process used for conflict resolution. Many Ombudsmen are trained as mediators and often use mediation skills and techniques as one of many approaches to problem solving and conflict management.
7. How can an Organizational Ombud contribute to an organization?
An Organizational Ombud can:
- "Humanize" an organization by providing constituents with safe and informal opportunities to be heard; assistance in identifying options for managing or resolving concerns; facilitation of communication between or among conflicting parties; conflict resolution skills training; and upward feedback to management about trends in conflicts, hot-button issues or other matters of import to organizational leaders (see Question 9 for more).
- Help organizations reduce costs related to conflict by resolving disputes informally and helping to avoid the waste of resources, time and energy of parties in formal grievance processes and litigation.
- Help keep top management abreast of new and changing trends within the organizational community.
- Help executives and managers avoid spending excessive time attempting to resolve conflicts.
- Refer individuals toward appropriate formal processes and resources within the organization.
8. Why should the leader(s) of an organization listen to an Ombud?
The Ombud is interested in being helpful to the leader, in the same way that the Ombud is helpful to others within the organization. An Ombud orientation is toward "fair process" so he or she is likely to be sensitive to the interests and concerns of a wide range of people. An Ombud is likely to have a different perspective than most others to whom organizational leaders listen. He or she is likely to be familiar with multiple points of view regarding any given situation and be able to appropriately articulate the concerns of those whose voices often go unheard. The Ombud can also:
- Brief the leader on issues or ‘hotspots’ of which he or she ought to be aware, and the possible implications of those issues.
- Share what has been done so far to address the issues, taking care to maintain confidentiality.
- Identify serious potential problems that may be unforeseen or downplayed by management or employees.
- Create an opportunity for the executive to talk about things they might not be able to talk to others about.