What Is an Organizational Ombuds?

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Organizational ombuds work with individuals and groups in an organization to (1) provide a safe space to talk about an issue or concern, (2) explore options to help resolve conflicts, and (3) bring systemic concerns to the attention of the organization for resolution.

An organizational ombuds operates in a manner to preserve the confidentiality of those seeking services, maintains a neutral/impartial position with respect to the concerns raised, works at an informal level of the organizational system (compared to more formal channels that are available), and is independent of formal organizational structures.

There are a number of different titles or names for this position: “ombuds” [FN  The term ombuds is used to communicate to the widest possible community and is not intended to discourage others from using alternatives.] “organizational ombuds”,  “ombudsman”, and ''ombudsperson” among others. Organizational ombuds work in all types of organizations, including government agencies, colleges and universities, corporations, hospitals and other healthcare organizations, and not-for-profit organizations, foundations, and associations. Organizational Ombuds have their own standards of practice and code of ethics that guides their work.


The Organizational Ombuds—Role

An Organizational Ombuds engages in the following activities:

  • Listens and understands issues while remaining neutral with respect to the facts. The ombuds doesn’t listen to judge or to decide who is right or wrong. The ombuds listens to understand the issue from the perspective of the individual. This is a critical step in developing options for resolution.
  • Assists in reframing issues and developing and helping individuals evaluate options. This helps individuals identify the interests of various parties to the issues and helps focus efforts on potential options to meet those interests.
  • Guides or coaches individuals to deal directly with other parties, including the use of formal resolution resources of the organization. An ombuds often seeks to help individuals improve their skill and their confidence in giving voice to their concerns directly.
  • Refers individuals to appropriate resolution resources. An ombuds may refer individuals to one or more formal organizational resources that can potentially resolve the issue.
  • Assists in surfacing issues to formal resolution channels. When an individual is unable or unwilling to surface a concern directly, the ombuds can assist by helping give voice to the concern and /or creating an awareness of the issue among appropriate decision-makers in the organization.
  • Facilitates informal resolution processes. An ombuds may help to resolve issues between parties through various types of informal mediation.
  • Identifies new issues and opportunities for systemic change for the organization. The unique positioning of the ombuds serves to provide unfiltered information that can produce insight to issues and resolutions. The ombuds is a source of detection and early warning of new issues and a source of suggestions of systemic change to improve existing processes.

Embracing Conflict: Organizational Ombuds As Strategic Allies for Organizations



What an Ombuds Does Not Do

Because of the informal, neutral, confidential and independent positioning of an ombuds in an organization, they typically do not undertake the following roles or activities:
  • Participate in formal investigations or play any role in a formal issue resolution process
  • Produce any findings or make binding decisions 
  • Institute corrective measures
  • Serve in any other organizational role that would compromise the neutrality of the ombuds role
  • Receive notice or act as an office of notice for the organization 
  • Create policies
  • Create or maintain records 
  • Form any type of formal relationship (i.e., attorney-client

Skills, Training, and Professional Requirements of Ombuds

The most important skills of an effective ombuds include active listening, communicating successfully with a diverse range of people, remaining nonjudgmental, having the courage to speak up and address problems at higher levels within an organization, problem-solving and analytical ability, and conflict resolution skills. Specific career background or academic degree is less important than acquiring and demonstrating the skill set described above.

Some organizational ombuds are hired internally, assuming this role after fulfilling previous roles in an organization where they have exhibited the above-mentioned skills and established a widely known reputation for integrity, confidentiality, and knowledge of organizational processes across functions. When hiring from the outside, an organization will often seek someone who has a background in conflict resolution and/or has established standing as an ombuds through prior organizational experience. Ombuds coming from outside the organization, with no history or relationships, may be able to provide fresh perspectives and the perception of neutrality may be enhanced. Organizations might also turn to an independent ombuds who contracts their services.

Formal training is invaluable in preparing for an organizational ombudsman role. IOA offers a series of professional training courses that include skills training as well as practical instruction in establishing and maintaining an ombudsman office. Formal training in mediation and/or other conflict resolution processes is also very valuable. In order to stay on the leading edge of critical ombudsman issues, such as confidentiality and privilege, and to maintain and enhance ombudsman skills, active membership in relevant professional associations, such as the International Ombuds Association, is vital.


Learn even more about the organizational ombuds role and why my organization should have an ombuds.

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