December 29, 2010

Chuck Howard: BP Never Had the Ombuds Office It Should Have

An article in the latest issue of Ethikos (a magazine that examines ethical and compliance issues in business) examines BP's decision to close its Office of the Ombudsman. In a year in which BP became one of the most pilloried companies in the world, the magazine wondered: "Could the timing be any worse?"

Charles Howard, author of the Organizational Ombudsman and an authority on corporate ombuds offices, suggested that in a culture where there seems to be a fear of coming forward–which maybe the case with BP–it doesn't make much sense to eliminate the office. One wants to create more places where people can report things, not fewer.
That said, BP never had the ombuds office that it should have had, Howard told us. It was external, run by a former judge, and seemed more geared to conducting investigations than to providing employee counsel or coaching or some of the other functions of the "organizational ombudsman" that Howard writes about. (See the March/April issue of Ethikos for more on this.) It was structured more like an external, alternate compliance function, he suggests.

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