October 11, 2018

Guest Post: The Thread that Unites Us All – A Celebration of Ombuds Day*

The following post was submitted by Reese Ramos, CO-OP, former IOA President and Ombuds for Sandia National Lab and UCLA:

Organizational Ombuds don’t have to look beyond the news of the day to hear about the divisions apparent in our world. From Brexit, to tensions in South Africa over farm land reforms, to US politics, to rising nationalism across the European Union, much of the headlines in today’s news are about what separates and divides us. Given these great divisions, I thought it important that today, on Ombuds Day, we focus on the good done by our profession, and on the common thread that unites us all.

When contemplating this question, my first thought was that it is the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) and its Standards of Practice (SOPs) that is the common thread that unites us Organizational Ombuds. Personally speaking, as a Certified Organizational Ombudsman Practitioner, these standards are absolutely what guide my work.

But then, I began thinking a bit more and remembered a wise sage named Don Hartsock. Don, who sadly passed away last month, was one of the Ombuds pioneers that truly shaped our profession. Don was an Ombudsman at UCLA from 1969 until 1991. He served as an Ombuds before IOA and its SOP came into existence. What made Don effective even without any formal SOP? I think it is best stated by Charles E. Young, UCLA Chancellor during Don’s tenure, who recently wrote in tribute, “Don did not have to learn to be an Ombudsman. He had been such for most of his life. He defined the term.” After reading that quote, I realized: what makes an Ombuds is not a title. And it’s not (dare I say) just our IOA Standards. It the way that we LIVE.

So imagine, as I invoke John Lennon for a moment, if there were no Standards of Practice. It’s easy if you try. If there were no SOPs, what would we have? Strip away the letter of the law and what we have left is the spirit of the law. It is our Purpose. What unites us all is what is at the core of our Principles and Standards of Practice: A commitment to Fairness & Respect.

To me, the SOPs have always been the “how” we achieve the results we are after. The “why” we do what we do is much deeper. The ultimate goal has been to ensure fairness and to provide space for our constituencies to feel a level of respect that might be missing in their work lives.

Whether or not someone is a Certified Ombuds, practices to all of IOA’s standards, or is located within a specific sector or region of the world where laws interfere with the SOPs, I truly believe that as long as you are a conflict resolution practitioner committed to fairness and respect in your organization, then you are an Ombuds. And that commitment should be celebrated.

As Ombuds, we know the breakthroughs that can happen when individuals voice their concerns in a safe and respectful forum. We’ve seen the tears, the heartache and the confusion in those that trust us with their troubles. We’ve also seen the smiles, the triumphs, and because everything doesn’t always end with a resolution, we see just the quiet acceptance that some troubles can’t be changed. And yet, we listen.

We listen because there are those that need to speak the unspoken.
We listen because people want to feel respected.
We listen because others that should be listening aren’t.
We listen to understand. And to encourage change.
We listen to create options.
We listen to seek fairness.

And so, on this first ever Ombuds Day, let us celebrate what we do, how we do it and why we do it. Because maybe, if we celebrate our profession, the world might just stop and listen.

*as recognized by the American Bar Association’s Resolution 103.


  1. Thanks for posting Tom! And (because I am on the IOA Board) the views above don’t necessarily reflect the official position of IOA. Looking forward to seeing our profession grow! -Reese

  2. Kudos to all Ombuds people. Keep doing what you are doing, and the world will be a better place, one person at at time.

  3. Thank you for this - it beautifully captures what we (try) to do everyday!