November 16, 2017

Tech Startup Aims to Outsource Ombuds Services

A startup that launched in June seeks to exploit declining trust in HR departments by offering an independent and external Ombuds service. Bravely advertises that it, "connects employees with expert conflict coaches ... for off-the-record phone conversations about all kinds of workplace stress." 

All interactions are offered confidentially, "so employees can easily take the first step toward resolution—dealing with stressful moments as they happen, and developing the skills they need to move forward." Bravely's intention is to be a neutral third-party for employees. 

CNN reveals how the company works: 
Bravely is free for employees. The employer itself pays a fee to use the service. The cost depends on the company size; the current rate is between $5 and $8 for each employee, each month. Bravely has raised $1.5 million in funding to get the business off the ground. It declined to name its current partners but said most of its investors are startups with 50 to 500 employees. 
The company says that it expects to sign up 30 businesses by the end of 2017. 

Surprisingly, the word "Ombuds" or any variant does not appear on the company's website. Neither do any of the employees listed on LinkedIn have any Ombuds experience or training. Bravely has been getting press coverage related to the Weinstein Effect. (WorkBravely.comCNN Tech; NPR All Things Considered.)


  1. I don't think Bravely expressly markets itself as providing "ombuds" services so it's really NOT surprising that the word ombuds isn't mentioned on the site or associated with any of the Bravely employees/contractors. Offering services such as coaching and listening aren't exclusive to ombuds roles, nor is providing such services under the guise of IOA principles (even though they are almost certainly wrong as to being able to provide legally unassailable confidentiality). What Bravely (along with other start-ups leveraging technology e.g. Empower Work) is demonstrating is that the IOA/ombuds doesn't have a monopoly on being a resource for employees and to that extent the IOA should take a long hard look in the mirror. Bravely, whether it is ultimately successful or not, demonstrates the future, largely as demanded by Millennials and subsequent generations because they probably care less about labels ("ombuds" vs. "Bravely Pro") and they want smart phone accessibility and convenience. This is where the IOA has probably been misdirected in its efforts in the past 5 years or so. Instead of (i) trying to effectually make the ombuds club smaller and more exclusive through Co-Op certification (do visitors to the ombuds office really care about this? Practically speaking, perhaps certification really only matters if the profession were regulated by law that in turn required certification); (ii) proposing to certify ombuds offices (again, do visitors care? and this would make it even more difficult if not impossible for the high number of otherwise very capable "newbies: to break into the profession); (iii) offering mentoring only to individuals who are already working in the profession, rather than also offering support to individuals on the path; and (iv) lacking any outreach program of note other than the really great work that has been done by the members of the Ombuds Committee of the American Bar Assn. to get the ombuds role to the forefront. If the IOA and perhaps even the "organizational ombuds" is to flourish rather than limp along, the IOA has got to figure out how to become pervasive in the corporate world. My goodness, from Weinstein to Uber to Fox and NBC... the number and scale of failures of HR, Compliance, Legal, and leadership are too many to count. It would seem the time is ripe. Could an ombuds have prevented the meltdown we're seeing now? Most certainly not, but if an ombuds could have helped one employee or helped these issues surface long before now, then in my mind at least, the ombuds role would have been worthwhile.


    1. Among your many good points is the issue of technophobia. I agree that IOA seriously needs to update its standards and attitude if it wants to remain relevant for the employees.

    2. I don't disagree with any of the sentiment, but I feel very conflicted about this comment. So easy to have big, anonymous ideas from the outside; much harder to implement them in community. I'm disappointed in IOA much of the time, I really am. It's one of the most frustrating organizations I've ever been part of, and my role is a very minor one and I've only been in the game for four years. But ain't nobody here but us chickens. I'm also disappointed by how many members can't be bothered to roll up their sleeves or sign their names (or even open their IOA emails--yes, we know if you've clicked on it or not), even though I'm sympathetic to the many good reasons for inaction and anonymity.

      The original poster may be a Board member for all I know, or someone else working hard to steer IOA in a healthy direction. But with only 650 members, there's only so much oomph to go around. There's no consultant, no lobbyist, no management company out there (yet) that understands OOs well enough to singlehandedly craft strategy and compellingly advocate for our profession. That's on us, and it means being vocal, present, and committed to doing the work as well as bringing the ideas--both as individuals and as an association. The kind of change the OP is pointing toward requires sticking necks out, not keeping heads down, a tough and risky stance for many OOs to take. One thing IOA needs to do better is make it feel safe and worthwhile to members to take those risks and/or invest that energy.

      If the OP is willing to mentor aspiring ombuds, please put that word out on the street, you'll have lots of interest! But consider joining the mentoring committee too, eh? We'd also be thrilled to have you on the communications committee, so do reach out if so moved (though maybe you're already on it?). Big, contrarian ideas are very welcome there, provided they're accompanied by some elbow grease. (mary.conger @ gmail)