The truth is, not many understand where an Ombudsman may fit in a company’s organizational chart. Often, the role of the Ombuds is defined by the effectiveness of a company’s compliance and risk management programs. While the Ombuds may serve as an early warning system and as a source of unbiased feedback for the organization and the board, the concept is still wrapped up in layers of mystery.

Many industry experts believe that the Ombuds field has growth potential, but certain actions must be undertaken to turn potential into reality. A recent panel discussion at Columbia University examined this idea further. The conversation featured Ombuds and other experts representing diverse organizations including, American Express, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the United Nations and it highlighted the versatility of Ombuds who can work across the board in any organization. Other discussions focused on the role of the Ombuds in creating a culture of integrity and transparency and how the Ombuds can help employees make the right decisions to mitigate future risks.

The panelist agreed that Ombuds need to become better advocates of their value. They should:

  • Become better at demonstrating how they positively impact the bottom line and organizational climate;
    Columbia University discussion: An Evening with 4 Ombuds. Photo credit: Columbia University

    Columbia University discussion: An Evening with 4 Ombuds. Photo credit: Jennifer Geller

  • How they can help the organization constantly improve their conflict management skills;
  • They need to help people understand what it is they do since there is still confusion regarding the role.

Today’s ever-changing regulatory landscape and the use of modern technology has shaped the role of the Ombuds across many organizations and industries. The issues an Ombuds will face, according to the panel, are dictated by the type of institutions they work with but the personality traits of an Ombuds remain fundamental. Case in point: An effective Ombuds possesses the ability to remain calm in stressful situations, can listen without judgement and not take small details for granted, and have a genuine interest in the other person and curiosity. An open mind is also critical in the role because something that may appear trivial can be of significance to another.

“In this role it is important not to be rattled,” said panelist Wendy Kamenshine, Ombudsman, CFPB. “The capacity to listen and be approachable – a person that others feel comfortable speaking to is essential in this role.”

Happening now:

In his latest LinkedIn post, “Taking Stock“, Alex Dimitrief, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, General Electric (GE) discusses the importance of a corporation’s culture. In his recap, Dimitrief highlights recent conversations at a global town hall of GE Ombuds leaders and at Ethisphere’s BELA roundtable in Fairfield, CT. Dimitrief will be taking his ideas further at this year’s 8th Annual Global Ethics Summit. Click here to register.