Intro to Ombudsing by liaoxiuli2



An Ombudsperson is guided by cornerstone principles:

•An ombuds is not part of line management, does not
make management decisions, and cannot compel
anyone to take any particular course of action.

•In order to preserve independence, the ombuds cannot
be considered a place where “notice” of improper
activities can be given to the institution.

•In order to assure independence, the ombuds typically
reports to the head of the organization and does not take
on other roles that might compromise, or appear to
compromise, independence.
•Ombuds encourage people to resolve problems at
the lowest effective level, before they escalate.

•If informal resolution is unsuccessful, and the
problem moves into a formal arena, an ombuds’
involvement ceases.

•An ombuds does not participate in formal
processes, even if given permission to do so.
•The ombuds does not advocate for the employee or
student, or anyone else.

•As a designated neutral, the ombuds helps people to gain
perspective on situations so they can make better-
informed choices as to how to proceed.

•This often entails helping visitors gain access to relevant
information as well as opening avenues of
•The facilitation of constructive
communication, whether through informal
mediation, facilitation, or “shuttle
diplomacy,” is a key aspect of impartiality.

•Conversely, ombuds do not negotiate on
someone’s behalf, pressing for a particular
outcome or course of action, nor do they
render decisions.
•Confidentiality is essential to what makes the ombuds office a
safe place for people to bring their concerns, open their minds,
and explore potential courses of action.

•The only instance in which an ombuds would breach
confidentiality is if he or she believes that doing so is necessary
to address an imminent threat of serious harm.

•Because of the expectation of confidentiality, the ombuds
cannot serve as an “office of record” or an “office of notice” to
the institution.
•Confidentiality belongs to the ombuds, not to those
providing information to the ombuds.

•Even if a visitor were to given an ombuds permission to
discuss a situation, the ombuds might not do so in the belief
that such a move might violate another ombuds principle
(i.e., not participating in formal arenas).

•Confidentiality is one of the ombuds’ most valuable tools.
For this reason, ombuds are working to develop explicit
federal “shield” legislation.
•Unlike HR professionals, ombuds do not develop policies
or procedures, impart authoritative interpretations of, or
defend or enforce them; or participate in formal arenas.

•Ombuds do not interpret agreements or advocate on
behalf of individuals.

•While EAP professionals focus on psycho-social
assessment and referral or coping with problems outside
the workplace, ombuds concentrate on practical,
constructive methods for addressing workplace conflicts.
•Ombuds encourage people to report wrongdoing, help
them learn about and gain access to their rights, and
assist them in finding safe ways to come forward.

•Central to the role of ombuds is the function of coaching.

•Coaching helps people discern what they actually want
(their underlying “interests”) as opposed to their initial

•Coaching allows them to explore potential avenues for
addressing those interests.
•The coaching process includes “reality checks,” which
help people determine what is, or is not, reasonably
attainable, and the possible costs and advantages of
each option.

 Such one-on-one counseling is the core of ombudsing.

          Other services radiate from that core.
            Move to settlement
     move from past to present to future
       Brainstorm options – intervention

   Issues and interests – reflective listening
     clarify issues and common interests
          Establish trust – foundation
                a positive tone
       Intake – Scope of Services and
• LISTEN, while being           • PROVIDE resources for
  respectful                      information on procedures,
                                  policies and regulations
• IDENTIFY alternatives and
  generate options              • PROVIDE feedback on
                                  trends, issues, policies and
• OFFER neutral                   practices without breaching
  perspectives                    confidentiality
• FACILITATE                    • PROVIDE problem solving
  communication between           skills to members of the
  aggrieved members of the        University community so
  University community            they can express their
• REFER people to those on        concerns effectively to
  campus who are able to          others
  help resolve their problems
• Advocate for a person     • Act as an office of legal
                              notice to the university
• Arbitrate                   that a problem exists

• Promise confidentiality   • Testify in formal
  if there is an imminent     proceedings, including
  risk of serious harm        legal proceedings

• Deter a person from
  pursuing relief through
  any formal process
      OMBUDS                          MEDIATION
• An informal process and         • A formal, structured process
  great way to prevent              and great way to facilitate
  disputes, where possible, or      the resolution of a dispute
  facilitate problem-resolution
• Mediation is one of many        • Mediator restricted in role
• Can work with one, both or      • Both sides must be present
  all parties
• Can help find the best          • Process is defined
  process or options
• Keeps no case records           • May keep case records
“Early”                     Courts
 Dispute                    Laws

                         ADR: Mediation
Resolution                 Arbitration

                    Within the Organization:
                       Open Door Policy
                   Internal Support, HR and
                       Mediation Teams

       OMBUDS: The one you go to when you need
      help to work it out yourself – to refer you, link you
                  up, or coach for self-help.
              Value = Worth
Economic                     Humanistic
 Management time
 Time                          Morale
 Productivity                  Trust
 Reputation                    Creativity
 Recruitment and retention     Someone to Listen
 Reduced formal processes      Educational
 Reduced litigation            Collegiality
             Time = Money
Ombuds’ effort
 number and time spent on phone calls,
 number and time spent in meetings,
 time spent in research, fact-finding
Methods employed
 consulting, discussion, facilitation, ombuds’
 mediation, “looking into,” shuttle
 diplomacy, referral, training, information
Individual impacts (retention, envalument)

Case impact (formality averted, individual changes)

Collateral impacts (others involved, improved)

Environmental system impacts (institutional
  changes, reputation enhancement/protection, etc.)
   Additional Value Contributions
Ombuds handle issues no one else does.
  Less likelihood of issues being “stranded.” Stranded issues
  seem to mutate!
Ombuds Enhance Other Programs.
  More “right” issues quickly navigated to the
  best resource means those programs return more value.
Ombuds Add Educational Value.
  Ombuds coaching and tools used – interest based
  negotiation, active listening, etc. – teaches users better
  communication, conflict management techniques, and
  interpersonal skills.
          Conservative Assumptions
• A case filed with a federal or state agency has a
  nuisance value of $25,000.
• The Ombuds Program is able to prevent at least
  one meritorious case from going to a government
  agency or court.
• Every meritorious case cost $50,000 in legal fees
  (win or lose) excluding settlements and damages.
• Half of all issues resolved through Ombuds
  without senior management involvement.
             THE VALUE OF OMBUDS
• Early-warning system on the need for systemic change.
• By adhering to the principles of independence, impartiality, and
  confidentiality, we have created a safe place where people feel
  comfortable telling us what really is going on.
• Ear of the organization. People often leave our office saying that this
  was the first time they truly felt heard.
• Our next task is to help people sort through what actually is going on
  and what outcome they really want. This entails disentwining many
  threads that the person may have tangled into one seemingly
  insurmountable problem.
• We help people identify the threads, sort them into categories, and
  then explore options for satisfactory resolution of each concern.
• Once it is determined what is really wanted, priorities are identified and
  possible courses of action are explored.
Wesley, Margo, California Public Employee Relations Journal,The
Compleat Ombuds: A Spectrum of Resolution Services, Issue 166,
June 2004.

Special thanks to Margo Wesley, Ombudsperson and Director of the
Staff Ombuds Office at the University of California, Berkeley, and the
University of California for permission to use The Compleat Ombuds
as the basis for this presentation.

This presentation is reprinted with permission from CPER No. 166
(June 2004). Copyright by the Regents, University of California. The
California Public Employee Relations Program provides nonpartisan
information to those involved in employer-employee relations in the
public sector.

To top