April 10, 2009

Ninety Second Defense of an Ombuds Office

Tom Barnette, Ombudsperson for American Express, kindly agreed to let me reprint his recent email on giving a succinct defense of an Ombuds program (aka the “elevator pitch”). His advice for Ombuds is especially timely given the current financial climate.
IOA Colleagues,

Given the current economic environment, it seems likely that more of us will be asked to defend the ongoing existence of our offices. So I imagined being given 90 seconds by the senior leader of the organization to articulate a rationale. The checklist below is simplistic and oriented towards the corporate sector. I am sharing it here to encourage colleagues to contribute additional key points applicable to all sectors in which IOA members practice. How might this list change for your organization?

Ninety Second Answer to the Question: "Why should we keep the Ombuds Office?"
  • Now more than ever, you need an unfiltered source of feedback. Your team is more likely to rationalize, delay or even avoid sharing news that is not positive.
  • Our employees are increaslying reluctant to speak up at all levels. With job security at risk, most conclude that the safest course of action is to be silent and not risk being viewed as a trouble- maker. The Ombuds office is the safe haven where employees perceive that they can speak freely.
  • Stress levels from internal and external sources are increasing. Without our office, employees lose a very critical resource to help them find support and vent frustration. The confidential discussions with our office help employees deal with distractions and focus their energy on work priorities.
  • Increasingly challenging goals and the difficult operating environment tempt some leaders to take inappropriate short cuts to deliver on their commitments. Our office is a source of early warning while there is time to prevent lasting legal, regulatory or brand damage.
  • In the unfortunate event that significant wrong doing does occur in our organization, external stakeholders will be interested to know that we maintained an informal resource where employees could speak about their concerns without fear of retribution.
  • Our surveys show that employees overwhelmingly value this resource. Closing the office will send a negative message to employees at perhaps the worst possible time. We should work to regain trust, not further diminish it.
Update 4/17/09: I make it clear that posts on this blog are not intended to represent organizations I am affiliated with (IOA, UCLA, and others), but I should make it equally clear that the same applies to individuals identified in posts. In this particular case, it should not be inferred that Tom Barnett is speaking on behalf of American Express. I apologize for for any misunderstanding this may have caused.

Related posts:
Magazine Explains "Vaguely Named" Ombuds Profession; Ombuds Can Help Minimize Effects of Layoffs; Caltech to Close Historic Ombuds Office.

1 comment:

  1. I can't resist... Tom Barnette is "right on" and it's an outstanding pitch. How about capping it off with one last thought provoking point... by asking, "what is going to be the social impact at all levels of the organization if there is no office and what will the "cost" be of that social chaos?"