Inside Outsider – The Independence of the Organizational Ombuds


What makes an organizational ombuds office different from other available resources?  I often get this question and, in answer, I point to the IOA (International Ombudsman Association) Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice that include Independence, Confidentiality, Informality, and Impartiality. While some resources within an organization have some “parts” of these as features, only the organizational ombuds has all four as its core standards.

Today, let’s explore Independence.

The IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice state the following on Independence:

Code of Ethics –  Independence
The Ombudsman is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization.

Standards of Practice – Independence

1.1  The Ombudsman Office and the Ombudsman are independent from other organizational entities.

1.2  The Ombudsman holds no other position within the organization which might compromise independence.

1.3  The Ombudsman exercises sole discretion over whether or how to act regarding an individual’s concern, a trend or concerns of multiple individuals over time. The Ombudsman may also initiate action on a concern identified through the Ombudsman’ direct observation.

1.4  The Ombudsman has access to all information and all individuals in the organization, as permitted by law.

1.5  The Ombudsman has authority to select Ombudsman Office staff and manage Ombudsman Office budget and operations.

From a practical standpoint and for potential visitors to an ombuds office, the question of interest, is “where” does the ombuds report?  If the ombuds reports administratively to the “highest degree possible” within the organization, then the Code is met. The standards spell out other aspects to create separation between the ombuds and the organization served. This is needed to help the ombuds bring an outside view of organization to the issues brought to the office.  At the same time, the office also needs connection to the organization to be effective.

One ombuds described this as being an inside-outsider and I think in terms of being separate from and connected to the organization served. Both concepts are simultaneously in play and provide the ombuds with a point of view that can be helpful. Often people bring only one perspective of a situation to the ombuds; however, considering from multiple perspectives can provide multiple paths toward resolution. We so often only “see” things from one perspective – ours – while the ombuds can help find multiple different vantage points.

At the same time, in order to help provide these different points, the ombuds also needs some  understanding and knowledge of the organization.  For example, after discussion with the ombuds, a visitor might decide that existing resources of the organization may be helpful; however, they had either not considered the option or were unaware of how the resource worked before meeting with the ombuds. Providing this type of information helps people develop options and is an important ombuds function.

Thus, next time you want multiple points of view, go visit the ombuds, the organization inside-outsider!

IOA Conference Highlights – Robin Hood and the Boss Whisperer


The International Ombudsman Association recently completed its annual conference with 400+ attendees (the largest conference to date) in downtown Richmond. There were many “highlights” to the conference and let me share a few.

One afternoon session led by Teresa Ralicki, CO-OP (ombuds at University of Colorado – Denver) and Adam Barak Kleinberger, CO-OP  (ombuds at Boston University) found us in Sherwood Forest where Robin, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and King Richard found themselves in need of ombuds services. It seemed they were’t getting along and needed a confidential, informal, independent, and impartial resource to help sort things out. Enter the ombuds! The session was done in “fishbowl” style with “actors” playing the roles while attendees jumped into the scene as ombuds. Teresa and Adam facilitated the start/stop action and It was both hilarious and serious work to help this band of merry folks. There was some excellent demonstration and discussion around ombuds strategy and tactics.

Another outstanding session was a plenary talk by Dr. Laura Crawshaw who founded and leads The Boss Whispering Institute that focuses on research, training, and coaching of the abrasive leader.  Dr. Crawshaw first defined what she means by an abrasive leader as “any individual charged with managerial authority whose interpersonal behavior causes emotional distress in coworkers sufficient to disrupt organizational functioning.” And, then she proceeded to explain why folks act in this manner, how they often don’t know they are perceived as abrasive, and how they can be coached and change to become better leaders and workers. I think King Richard, Robin, and the Sheriff could have used her help!!!

Finally, a highlight for me both professionally and personally was that I joined the IOA Board of Directors after being elected earlier in the spring. The IOA Board includes members from across the US and the world and we got right to work with a Board development meeting and interactions with members throughout the conference.

While there are even more highlights, I’ll save them for a later post. In the meantime, as two ombuds from a federal agency that will go unnamed explained – When you are not sure where to go, Go ombuds!