Decision Making – Take the whistle out of the ref’s mouth !

With the soccer World Cup starting in a few days (I’m a fan) and with the US not in action, I’ve been giving some thought to the larger context of the situation. I played soccer in high school, college, and beyond and have also served as a referee. And, as I think about the larger context of the Cup, I’ve also been giving a good deal of thought to some of the issues that are coming my way and how to place them within a larger context.

I’ve now had several faculty and staff members bring issues to me as a result of actions and decisions made that impact them, but, from their perspective, were decided upon without their input or a full awareness of the situation.  Visitors to the ombuds office claim that there was no effort to contact them, to get “their side of the story,” before a decision was made.  Or, I hear – “why wasn’t I consulted about that issue? I think I could have helped fashion a better result!”

In these situations, the overarching concern seems to be that decision-makers are acting too quickly or acting with only one “side” of the situation and without complete information. Of course, I don’t really know if the visitor perception is accurate (I typically only hear from one perspective); however, this idea of acting fast or first and then asking questions later, is something to consider.  How can decision makers determine that complete and accurate information is on hand? That all perspectives have been considered?

Let’s borrow an idea from the soccer referee – take the “decision making” whistle out of your mouth and put it in your hand!

The whistle in the hand is how soccer referees work (I’m a certified ref). The idea is that as ref you see “something” and the split second or two from the seeing, to bringing the whistle to your mouth, gives the ref that instant to think about the situation. Was there really a foul or, even if there was a foul, does the team with the ball have an advantage and instead of blowing the whistle and stopping play, I should let the play continue shouting – play on! This is quite different from basketball, football, and other refs who officiate with the whistle in their mouth. They don’t have time for consideration. They have to blow first with no questions asked later (except for certain replay aspects that now exist).  I think people making quick decisions or decisions without various information inputs is like having the whistle in your mouth. No time for thinking.

Instead, give yourself a moment to reflect on the situation from all points of view. Create an opportunity to pause, to make sure information, all or enough, is on hand or identify and ask additional questions.  Maybe even reach out to multiple individuals impacted by the situation, get their input, and then make a decision.  Take a step back and think about the situation from all possible perspectives. Is each one covered in some manner?  If not, don’t blow your whistle, hold off on making your decision, and give yourself the time to make a fully informed one.

Now let’s see what happens at the World Cup! Let’s all hope the referees make good calls!!!

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!

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!!