April 28, 2010

Indian Software Lobby Urges Companies to Create Ombuds Programs

The National Association of Software and Services Companies, the Indian trade group for software and outsourcing industries, has just released a report on corporate governance practices that includes an endorsement of Ombuds.

NASSCOM's Governance and Ethics Committee listed several recommendations "to establish highest standards of probity and corporate governance within the IT-BPO industry." These suggestions include the call for companies to implement whistle blower policies and create Ombuds positions.  The report describes the Ombuds as follows.
Ombudsperson concept
It is important for organisations to provide a robust structure for stakeholders across the globe to raise their concerns. Organisations can introduce the concept of an ombudsperson to give stakeholders the confidence and accessibility to raise their concerns.
An ombudsperson is one who investigates reported complaints, report’s findings and helps to achieve equitable settlements. An advocate of ‘fairness’, he/she is expected to resolve conflicts and employee concerns in the organisation, guided by the principles of justice, objectivity, confidentiality and independence.
The ombudsperson should preferably be a person from the company’s senior management. The key characteristics of an ombudsperson is his/her impeccable reputation for integrity; they should be known as a just and trustworthy person. It is also necessary for an ombudsperson to have excellent problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. He/she should be an excellent communication conduit between conflicting parties to find a solution. An upholder of human values in the organisation, the ombudsperson should possess the sensitivity to view a situation from different perspectives.
The responsibilities of an ombudsperson are listed below:
• Providing options to whistleblowers with ethics concerns. The ombudsperson is responsible for resolving ethical dilemmas by interpreting policies and procedures
• Evaluating the situation, helping stakeholder/s organise their thoughts, assessing their feelings, and deciding on what is important and relevant to the specific circumstance
• Ensuring that the stakeholder/s blowing the whistle are protected against any abuse, bias or improper treatment
• Ensuring confidentiality of the stakeholder/s, if desired by them
• Investigating the concerns raised by the stakeholder/s and reporting the findings of this investigation
• Taking appropriate action to resolve the issue
• Working towards strengthening the policies and procedures based on his/her understanding and the outcome of the investigation.

(PC World; NASSCOM.)

Some will find the NASSCOM Ombuds model surprising, since it incorporates elements of both the Organizational and Classical Ombuds models.  For example, the NASSCOM model is confidential, as are both Classical and Organizational Ombuds.  The duty to investigate is shared with Classical Ombuds; whereas the duty of neutral conflict resolution is more akin to the role of Organizational Ombuds.  Most striking, is NASSCOM's recommendation that the Ombuds come from the ranks of senior management.  By contrast, the Classical and Organizational models assert that Ombuds should report to senior managment, but have no conflicting collateral duties.  Yet, it cannot be said that one model is "better" than another.  Indeed, there are more similarities than differences.

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