Earlier this week, David Talbott, an Ombuds for Coca Cola Enterprises, Inc., was a panelist at the IBA 2010 Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC. The session co-chair, F. Peter Phillips, an international commercial arbitrator and mediator, summarized Talbott's remarks.
Talbot explained that the function of the office is to provide a confidential and trustworthy resource for participants of an enterprise (faculty and students in the case of colleges; employees and managers in the case of companies) to raise substantive issues in a safe environment. Communications are off-the-record, informal, and do not constitute legal notice to the company. The Ombudsman’s office is structurally independent of legal or management functions and is designed for those relatively rare instances when Human Resources, Compliance, Legal and other functions are inappropriate. The Ombudsman can provide non-attributed information to management that can improve the functioning of the organization and divert potential disputes. The Ombudsman reports directly to the President’s office, avoiding exposure to individuals implicated in the issue. Talbot called the Ombudsman “impartial and multi-partial: We treat everyone the same way.” The desired effect of the office is to identify problems and permit their being addressed before they mature into more serious issues. Rumors are answered, concerns are followed-up, and the organization is run in a healthier way.
The IBA session, "Corporate Perspectives on Business Conflict Management," was attended by senior executives who manage disputes and outside counsel. (Business Conflict Blog, IBA Conf. Info.)
Related post: Coke Adds Life to Ombuds Website.