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Being an Ombuds is like being a Bandaid

I was recently talking with one of the owners of a company that I have been contracted to work with, and he was asking me about the benefits of hiring an Ombuds. Besides all of the regular and most common reasons, he unexpectedly asked, “if you would have to make an analogy about being an Ombuds, what would that be?”  

My answer was quite simple; an Ombuds is like a Band-Aid.  

I imagine that many of my Ombuds’ colleagues are frowning, screaming, yelling “say what?”… and so on. I still stand on my analogy, being an Ombuds is like being a Band-Aid. If this analogy makes you think as a Band-Aid as treatment for symptoms instead of causes, take a step back and see the multiple utilities of it. I hope to show you how Band-Aid/Ombuds can be creative and unconventional. 

Everything we stand for as Ombuds is to make othersfeel safe, open, and willing to change and evolve. As Ombuds, we have a very important role, which is not used as much as it needs to be. This is either because people don’t know what an Ombuds’ role actually is, or because people maintain the ignorant, old mentality of “why fix it if it’s not broken”. For me, the most important role of an Ombuds is to prevent conflicts from happening, not to fix them when they arise. Yet, I feel as though I am getting into that “fixer” role more often than not. How about my fellow Ombudspeople?

Hence, where the “Band-Aid” analogy comes from. We are just like a Band-Aid that we put on our feet after buying new shoes. We are the Band-Aid that preventsthe blister from happening, that allows us to keep pushing forward, that brings us safety from harm. When we use a Band-Aid, we have the ability to walk around and  “show off” our shoes and to stay productive all day. Moreover, by preventing a blister we will be comfortable, not crippled, next time we wear a pair of shoes. 

How is that related to the Ombuds profession? As the Band-Aid, our profession prevents conflicts from arising or escalating, it makes people feel confident and at ease as they do their best and move forward, it helps companies and organizations “show off” their employees’ productivity, happiness, and determination to come to work. Moreover, the Ombuds role, like the Band-Aid, may make people be uncomfortable in the moment while trying to prevent conflicts, or blisters, but in the long run will make the entire system work effectively and fairly.

Finally, after I told the owner of the company my analogy he looked at me and said, “I went out without putting on Band-Aids before, and certainly I got really hurt and uncomfortable, now I am smarter and the Band-Aid will be there, as my Ombuds”. Whenever companies realize how much harm blisters can cause, they will start opening more Ombuds offices. 

**This was also posted at the Member-Only International Ombudsman Association Blog [The Independent Voice], and I thought would be important for everyone to have access to this opinion.



Core Values of an Ombudsman

I am describing about the four core values of the Ombuds Practice, which is a very important role that is vastly unknown and misunderstood. As the map below demonstrated, the Ombudsman have as core values Independent, Neutral, Informal, and Confidential, and the Ombuds is part of an organization, or government, and it is advocating for the health of the whole system. 

In the exercise of her/his duties, an ombudsman is independent in structure and function of all the organization/company’s organs or officials. She/he has direct access to the Top Officials, or at least they should have access in order to make significant improvements.  

Neutrality and Impartiality:
An ombudsman is a designated neutral person, and does not take sides of any party in a conflict. An ombudsman does not make decisions, create or change policies or mandate actions. An ombudsman reviews each situation objectively and treats all parties equally.

An ombudsman, as an informal resource, does not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure relating to concerns brought to his/her attention.

Confidentiality: (I think is the most important value)
An ombudsman does not keep records for the organization/company or any other party. S/he does not disclose information about individual cases or visits from employees without permission from the employee, and cannot be compelled to testify about concerns brought to her/his attention. (The only exceptions, at the sole discretion of an ombudsman, are when there is imminent threat of serious harm to someone or oneself.)

These principles are based on the Code of Ethics developed by the International Ombudsman Association