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John Zinsser: An ombuds program is a cost effective mechanism to enhance global compliance

Those posters and coffee mugs in the home office challenging employees to “Speak UP! We are ALL Ethics” don’t have much impact in field offices eight or ten thousand miles away.

But some companies have found a way to encourage and support employees in the far-flung field offices and just down the hall — an organizational ombuds program. Baker Hughes, Eaton, Mars, and AMEX are among them.

The organizational ombuds function supports employees of all levels to raise issues, consider options, and manage challenges. Whether by being a thought-partner, navigational tool, coach or facilitator, an ombuds biggest role is enhancing communication in the organization.

An organizational ombuds program operates by four defining characteristics: independence, neutrality, informality, and confidentiality. These qualities mean the relationship between the ombuds program and the organization differs from that of the formal functions such as: Compliance, Legal, HR, and Health & Saftey.

Well-designed and executed ombuds programs are aligned, embedded and integrated within the organization as part of the leadership and the business lines, with a dotted line to all. That means the ombuds office is never positioned under any one segment of the business or support functions.
An ombuds program is a supplemental alternative to formal mechanisms and is never a “place of notice.” A concerned employee can contact the ombuds to talk through what he or she knows, sound out the things that are unclear, and consider various ways to respond to the situation.
This conversational process never removes the employee’s responsibilities. In fact, it empowers him or her to act: with information, options and choices. An employee who wants it has access to the navigational assistance of the ombuds and an additional and protected layer of anonymity.

When there’s an effective ombuds program, the employee remains in control of the response to the issue while gaining an increased capacity to take responsible future actions by working with the ombuds.

Across the globe, organizational ombuds programs are already making a positive difference in managing issues of all types for both the companies that deploy them and the employees who contact the program.


John W. Zinsser as Co-founder of Pacifica Human Communications, LLC, drives positive change that makes work places collaborative and inclusive environments with higher individual engagement, ethical behavior and organizational performance. Clients headquartered in Asia, Europe and the U.S. rely on Pacifica to design, execute and assess leading-edge interventions. Learn more about John through his Linked-in profile, which includes his TEDxCharleston talk Navigating from Storm to Agreement. Connect with John here.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. When you say that the program is not a "place of notice", since this is a part of the organization, what are the grounds, the authority for this statement?

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