Ombuds Day – October 11, 2018 !!

Well – it is “official” !!!  The American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section (voluntary association of attorneys) has designated October 11, 2018 as Ombuds Day!

There was much talk of Ombuds Day at a recent Ombuds Committee meeting at the ABA Dispute Resolution Section conference last week in Washington, D.C. Here’s a photo of the group with Roy Baroff, NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds (on the left facing you in the back row).

Look for future information for both local, state, and national celebrations.

It’s nice to know that we ombuds finally have our very own day!!

Set Your Next Meeting Up for Success !

 

We all go to meetings and some are better than others.  What makes the difference? While  using someone to serve as meeting facilitator that’s not part of the group can be an excellent way to free everyone to fully engage in the meeting content, many groups don’t have such a resource.  (I sometimes serve as facilitator in my role as NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds.)  What’s a group to do?  The answer is to come up with meeting guidelines.  I prefer the term guideline (it’s like the Pirate Code from Pirates of the Carrifian – “they’re just guidelines) to ground rule; however, many in the meeting facilitation field use the latter and here’s one skilled facilitator’s take on meeting ground rules.

Roger Schwartz wrote “The Skilled Facilitator” back in the mid 1990’s and has continued his work in the field including work on the concept of Smart Leaders. He suggests the following – (excerpt from “8 Ground Rules for Great Meetings” by Roger Schwartz, Harvard Business Review, June 2016)

1.  State views and ask genuine questions. This enables the team to shift from monologues and arguments to a conversation in which members can understand everyone’s point of view and be curious about the differences in their views.

2.  Share all relevant information. This enables the team to develop a comprehensive, common set of information with which to solve problems and make decisions.

3.  Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean. This ensures that all team members are using the same words to mean the same thing.

4.  Explain reasoning and intent. This enables members to understand how others reached their conclusions and see where team members’ reasoning differs.

5.  Focus on interests, not positions. By moving from arguing about solutions to identifying needs that must be met in order to solve a problem, you reduce unproductive conflict and increase your ability to develop solutions that the full team is committed to.

6.  Test assumptions and inferences. This ensures that the team is making decisions
with valid information rather than with members’ private stories about what other team members believe and what their motives are.

7.  Jointly design next steps. This ensures that everyone is committed to moving forward together as a team.

8. Discuss undiscussable issues. This ensures that the team addresses the important but undiscussed issues that are hindering its results and that can only be resolved in a team meeting.

Hope you have a great next meeting and let me know if I can help!

IOA Board of Directors Election Results

 

The International Ombudsman Association (IOA) recently provided Board of Director election results. There were 6 seats open with a slate of 9 candidates. The candidates elected will step onto the Board at the IOA Annual Conference in late April. The newly elected Board members include Roy Baroff, NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds.

The full list, plus one other candidate who was appointed to fill a recently vacated seat, includes three academic, three corporate, and one government ombuds:

Roy Baroff CO-OP                            North Carolina State University
Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg               Brown University
Jessica Kuchta-Miller CO-OP         Washington University in St. Louis
Sana Manjeshwar CO-OP              Chevron
Reese Ramos CO-OP                      Sandia National Laboratories
Elaine Shaw                                    Pfizer
Ronnie Thomson                            Halliburton

Congrats to all!

Impact of Ombuds Office Highlighted

 

The NC State Faculty Ombuds Office was profiled in a recent article jointly published by The Journal of the California Caucus of College and University Ombuds and the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association -“Ombuds and Conflict Resolution Specialists: Navigating Workplace Challenges in Higher Education.”  The article explores various ombuds practices and impacts on an organization based on research conducted by Nova Southeast faculty member Neil H. Katz and two of his graduate students Katherine J. Sosa and Linda N. Kovack.

The researchers identified three primary functions of an ombuds and/or conflict resolution office including (1) addressing constituent issues, (2) educational outreach, and (3) system review. In each area the ombuds sought to positively impact both the individual and the institution by providing ombuds services within a framework of independence, confidentiality, informality, and impartiality.

Overall the impacts were seen as positive and the researchers conclude that institutions that support ombuds and/or conflict resolution programs “are implementing ‘best practices.'”  It’s certainly the goal of the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds office to support constructive engagement around conflicts or issues of concern. And, doing so, may help all utilize best practices and promote a vibrant workplace.

 

 

New Year’s Resolution = Conflict Resolution

 

It’s the end of 2017 and, of course, it’s time for 2018 resolutions!

What are your plans for 2018?

Here at the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office, we are working on our own resolutions (drink less coffee, eat a more balanced diet, get more sleep, help people solve more problems – the list goes on and on!!) yet there is one resolution we can make together.

Let’s choose an issue in our work life that’s causing us some difficulty and let’s do something about it!

In a program I present called “Conflict Leadership” I ask participants to think about how each of us approaches conflict using a framework developed by Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilman (Thomas Kilman Inventory of Conflict Styles) that includes five approaches – avoid, accommodate, compromise, compete, collaborate.  All have merit and are absolutely good choices depending on the circumstances of the situation and the outcome desired.  At the same time, we often don’t stop and think about our choices – we don’t anyalyze and think strategically about what our choice should be –  we have a default preferred style and we go with it even if it doesn’t really fit our situation.

And, as you probably already know – the most popular conflict style is to avoid it! Again, this can be the right choice when the issue is trivial or it needs time for folks to calm down or if given time it will resolve itself.  So, I’m not “anti” avoid; however, when we avoid work place issues these can grow to much bigger and more impactful problems.

Thus, make the following resolution for 2018 – pick a “smallish” work place issue that you’ve been avoiding, think about it, and decide if there is a way to do something about it – preferably to resolve it!

And, if you want some help contact the faculty & staff ombuds office and we’ll work on this resolution together!

 

What Happens When you Visit the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office?

 

How does the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds office do its work? I often get asked – “What happens when someone comes to the office?”  Well – let’s pull back the curtain!

Let’s start with scheduling. People can call, email or sometimes meet the ombuds in person – (note that email is not a confidential form of communication) and based on case data, Faculty initial contact is 51% email, 45% phone, and 4% in-person, while for Staff, contact is 28% email, 63% phone, and 9% in-person.  However the contact, we set up a time that works and I usually host people at the Faculty & Staff Ombuds office that is located just off campus – 112 Cox Ave., Ste. 212 & 213 with parking available. I’ve also met people at other on and off campus locations.

When the meeting time arrives and the location is my office, there is a knock on the door and I greet folks at the entry. We enter and sit at a small round table. I offer coffee or tea or water and have chocolate strategically placed on the table!  I introduce myself and explain the role of an ombuds – to help individuals, groups, and the university – solve issues / concerns while adhering to four core principles of ombuds practice – independence, confidentiality, informality, and impartiality.  Our office uses an Ombuds Role Disclosure  form to share and review this information.

Then I usually invite people to introduce themselves, their role at the university, as well as any other information they wish to share. Usually this also includes their concerns and why they’ve contacted the office. Once issues / concerns are shared we then clarify aspects as needed and I seek to understand what’s most important to the person (the interests behind the presented situation) and what they are seeking as an outcome. Then I work with the person to explore options.

We review as many different options as we can think of together and I share information about existing University resources that might be able to assist. Once options are noted, these are reviewed with the person to try to match options to the underlying interests and outcomes noted earlier in the discussion. This is where I particularly remind people that while the ombuds supports people, I don’t take a “side” in an issue or serve as an advocate for the person over another person or the university – I hold the middle.

At the conclusion of the conversation, there are usually several options to consider and even try out going forward. There are also times when the ombuds may take on an active role to help facilitate a conversation or may make an inquiry to get additional information. Sometimes the one meeting completes the ombuds service while other situations call for additional meetings and follow up conversations.

That essentially outlines what happens in a visit to my office. I don’t keep records with identifiable information yet I do track types of issues / concerns and aggregate data to spot trends. And, when appropriate, I’ll reach out to various levels across the university and share trends and/or surface issues while protecting the confidentiality of the source.  I only share this type of feedback with the permission of the person or if the issue can be shared in a manner that does not disclose the source (and I always talk to the person as to both whether and how this might work).

Hopefully this description demystifies a visit to the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office and let me know if I can help you.

Best wishes for the holiday season.

It’s all a matter of perspective – Going South !

 

I recently attended a gathering of NC ombuds and we had an excellent meeting with far ranging discussion. These are great meetings for ombuds to share ideas and ask for input on issues and ombuds processes.

At one point we were talking about how each visitor to the office usually comes in with only their own perspective and that part of our role is to help folks consider multiple perspectives. While we’ve all heard the phrase “there are two sides to every story” I’ve decided that this is not correct and that there are more like 6 or 7 even with only two people involved! And, as I’ve said many times in my mediation career, when asked about a situation, the answer always depends on which chair you are sitting in.  Thus, I think from the start of any visitor meeting that for each issue, dispute, or conflict there are multitude points of view and my hope and effort is to help people gain broader perspectives on the situation.

And, while we were on the topic of perspectives at the NC Ombuds meeting, someone brought up the use of the term “south” as in “things going south.” This is a phrase most are familiar and generally holds a meaning that things are not going well. We wondered why those of us who live here in the south, don’t instead say “things are going north”!!

I did a little research (not very scientific) and the thought seems to be that “things going south” as a negative statement is fairly recent in origin coming from business settings where a chart showing a decrease was headed down, the same location as “south” on a map; hence, “things going south” connecting with bad news.  Apparently in England, the phrase was “things going west” for a time although “going south” has made its appearance.

In any event, as we ponder how we consider a situation, including even language choices, an important step for those seeking to resolve issues is about shifting perspective or at least examining a situation from many vantage points. When such shifts occur people remove boundaries from their thinking, the constraints come off, and solutions may appear.  One significant perspective shift is the idea that the issue is not me versus you; instead it is “us” against the “problem” and together we can move forward.

Contact the Faculty & Staff Ombuds office if you want to consider how you think about a situation and then we’ll head south for a good outcome!!

The Third Way – 18 Camels

 

I met with a faculty member recently who shared a situation and how they responded. It was explained that when X happened, then the only choice was to do Y. The faculty member was upset, angry about the situation, so I listened. I then summarized what I’d heard to make sure I had the various pieces and to acknowledge the faculty member concerns. The faculty member visibly relaxed (they were heard) and then I said: “Let me make an observation and ask a question. When you shared the situation you framed it as X and then Y, as either or – what’s the third way?”

I have long stated that the idea that there are two sides to every story is wrong; instead, there are six or seven (even if only two people are involved)!  We all carry multiple perspectives within and these show up when we are in conflict. As I think about our multiple sides to every story, I recalled the work of William Ury, one of the authors of Getting to Yes, who has more recently talked about the Third Side of conflict resolution. Ury has an excellent Ted Talk – “The Walk from No to Yes” on the subject where he shares the story of 18 camels.

Here’s the story:

“One of my favorite negotiation stories is about a man who leaves his herd of 17 camels to his three sons as their inheritance. To the first son, he leaves half the camels; to the middle son, he leaves a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he leaves a ninth of the camels.

The three sons get into an intense negotiation over who should get how many, because 17 doesn’t divide by two, or by three, or by nine. Tempers become strained, so in desperation they consult a wise, old woman.

She listens to their problem and says, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want, at least you can have my camel.” Now they have 18 camels, so the first son takes half of them, or nine camels; the middle son takes his third, or six camels; and the youngest son takes his ninth, or two camels. Nine plus six plus two adds up to a total of 17 camels. There is one camel left over, so the brothers give it back to the woman.”

As Ury explains and as I asked the faculty member visitor – what’s the third way to consider the situation? Too often we think in either/or, we polarize situations, and don’t consider some other path.

Thus, next time you are stuck or better yet, before you get stuck, visit the ombuds – let me help you find the third way.

Case Examples

 

People often ask what kinds of issues, concerns, or conflicts come to the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office and I’ve added a page to the website providing some faculty focused case examples. (I’m planning a similar page for Staff issues.) I define a “case” based on a faculty or staff member contacting the office for assistance.  Sometimes there is a specific issue or often multiple issues or sometimes its just to share a more general concern. Check it out – Case Examples

Additionally, as I think back on each case, I believe one result of talking with the Faculty & Staff Ombuds is that the visitor to the office has a better understanding of what brought them to the office in the first place. And, based on this better understanding, there are typically more options to be developed and considered.  These are the two primary ombuds process goals I seek for visitors – a better understanding of the “problem” and potential options for engagement and resolution.

What can the Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office do for you?  Contact the office for assistance.

Thinking about the next chapter – all win retirement planning ??

 

Retirement can be both an exciting opportunity and challenging concept for any NC State Faculty member and perhaps for any and everyone!  The twofold opportunity / challenge dichotomy rang loud and clear in an Office of Faculty Development (OFD) program where several recently retired faculty shared their experiences. My purpose in attending and interest in learning about retiring from a university is based on several faculty ombuds office visits where I heard from some faculty members who had concerns about the retirement process.  The question on my mind was, and still is, how to create an “all win” situation where a faculty member can phase out of a successful academic career while also meeting the needs of a department – this would be the all win!

At the OFD program, one faculty member explained that they spoke with their department head about a year out and came up with a plan that worked for all involved. This was indeed an all win! On the other hand, I’ve heard from faculty that did not feel comfortable saying anything about retiring for fear of being isolated from their department, or for “losing” control of ongoing work and plans for finishing up items, or from feeling that nothing was owed due to current treatment. They gave their department a minimum period of notice and, while they put as much in place as possible, they also left it to the department to figure out the “what next” in many areas.

Additionally, for faculty members, their professional and personal life is often so tied together that the idea of leaving the university is fraught with fear of the unknown.  Thus, there is a range of support for faculty and staff who are thinking about retirement including a great Ready to Retire program here at NC State that goes over the nuts and bolts of retirement.  And, while the logistics matter, I’m still more interested in the the planning and really the potential for “joint” planning that could go on between a faculty member and their department head. And, while there can and are “legal” issues that could arise around a retirement discussion, it also does not need to be that type of conversation. Instead, could a department set up a joint retirement planning process that would seek to meet the needs and interests of a faculty member along with the department?  Can there be a way to normalize conversation about retirement so that it works for all concerned?

So, I’ve posed the question and I believe the answer is in the experiences of faculty that have or are in the process of retiring. What is your story? How did it go? I’d like to collect retirement (and leaving the university) stories to find out what folks believe are the best practices so that these can be shared with a broader audience.

Give me a call and share your story!