On average an ombuds will see 3-5% of an organization’s members in the course of a year. Our work as organizational ombuds has increased steadily over the last couple of years, where we’re initially called in because someone in leadership is being dogged by a “small” conflict that won’t go away but keeps festering and growing until they can’t sweep it under the rug any longer. (From there, we typically enter a contractual arrangement with clients where we serve as their ongoing go-to ombuds, mediator, and conflict adviser.)
At first, this would bring up the question: Is HR missing too many of these low-level hidden conflicts?
Well, I’d say that’s the wrong question. It’s not that HR is doing a bad job or “missing” anything; it’s the nature of HR’s function. They are a reporting mechanism, and represent both the employee and employer. In a situation where a conflict flares up between employee-employer, where can one go for impartial, confidential expert advice? HR is not always the best solution, comfortable for the individual or equipped to resolve the situation.
Ombuds and conflict advisers are perfect partners to HR departments and consultants, because they bring that impartial presence and expertise. Forward-thinking leadership in HR leverage this tool to help create a conflict-competent organization, the goal of which is to head off conflict before it happens.
Conflict competency has become crucial to the very survival of organizations in these times of rapid and disruptive change and the potential it brings for conflict and polarization. HR professionals cannot be expected to have the expertise that the modern ombuds have, who work every day in their specialized expertise to shift “negative” conflict to the constructive, innovative power of conflict.
How is the organizational ombuds’ function different?
1. Only the ombuds can guarantee confidentiality and promise not to take action without the consent of the individual, even for complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination (with the exception of an imminent threat of physical harm).
2. The ombuds can offer independence from the company’s leadership and its business interests, which offers an objectivity that no one else in the organization can promise.
3. Complementing HR, legal and compliance functions, the ombuds can help build employee loyalty and a culture of engagement that can save costs and improve workplaces.
4. The “outsider” status the ombuds holds puts them in a unique position to facilitate and strengthen effective relationships between organizational departments, partners and professionals.
Specific services the Organizational Ombuds can provide
Proactive Conflict Awareness
Available on-site or off-site, we are on call and ready to support our open relationship with all members of the organization, individually or in teams. All communications are “off the record” and offered as an informal adviser with no decision-making power - just a valuable support mechanism, safety net, and trusted adviser to help leadership build a workplace culture where constructive, creative conflict is harnessed to bring out the best in your teams and organization.