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!

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!

 

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!!

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.

Weeks – Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution

 

In a previous post, I referenced Step 5 “look to the future, then learn from the past” from Dudley Weeks, Ph.D., “Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution.” With a new semester just underway, Weeks helps us think about resolving conflict as a partnership.  Here’s Weeks approach to resolve conflict while preserving relationships. Happy Fall Semester!

Step 1 – Create an Effective Atmosphere – “The atmosphere is the frame around the canvas on which we paint how we will agree, disagree, and build an improved relationship.” (p 71)

Step 2 – Clarify Perceptions – “If we perceive something to be a certain way, even if we are incorrect, in our minds it is that way,  and we often base our behavior on that perception.” (p 89)  Weeks process asks us to clarify “perceptions of the conflict, or the self, an of the conflict partner.” (p 90)

Step 3 – Focus on Individual and Shared Needs – This is one of those simple yet important ideas as people should think both about their own needs (not wants) and the needs of ones conflict partner.

Step 4 – Build Shared Positive Power – Focus on self, partner, and shared power. Weeks encourages us to think in positive terms.  “Positive power seeks to promote the constructive capabilities of all parties involved in a conflict.” (p 151) My preference is that people in conflict are not parties, they are people!

Step 5 – Look to the Future, Then Learn From the Past –  “Even though the past does indeed matter, we deny our own power and the power of development and change if we allow ourselves to be defined by the past, to be trapped in perceptions that use past patterns to limit present and future possibilities.” (p 165)

Step 6 – Generate Options – This step “can often break through the preconceived limitations we bring with us into the conflict resolution process.” (p 183)

Step 7 – Develop ‘Doables’: The Stepping Stones to Action – “Doables are (stepping stones) specific acts that stand a good chance of success, meet some individual and shared needs, and depend on positive power, usually shared power, to be implemented.” (p 204)

Step 8 – Make Mutual-Benefit Agreements – “Instead of demands, the parties focus on developing agreements that can meet some of each party’s needs, accomplish some shared goals, and establish a precedent in which power is defined as positive mutual action through which disagreements can be dealt with constructively.” (p 224)