Ombudsmanship and The Family Business

15 May 2011

In my “other practice” I just completed an 8 month-long “turnaround” of a small family owned manufacturing and distribution business.  Key to the final success was the smoothing out of a bumpy road at the beginning of the project by utilizing ombudsmanship with stakeholders by the owners. I’ve written in previous articles and defined “ombudsmanship”. Ombudsmanship is being asked for more and more in job descriptions and is similar to “sportsmanship” in that it’s a “soft skill” or quality that the individual brings with them and is aware of at all times in their functional responsibilities of their role or position.  Ombudsmanship is usually delivered “incognito” by the individual utilizing ADR style skills with individuals, teams, groups both intra or inter organization in terms of the individual and group dynamics.  In this business “case” I’ll go over some of the key methods and techniques where ombudsmanship was utilized as part of the engagement and was the “key difference” to success versus the absolute collapse and loss of a three decades old family heritage.

My role was as a business coach, consultant, ownership advisor and conflict management coach to owners. I’m also very aware, from mistakes I made in my “apprentice” years that focused only on the financial bottom line, that changing any business culture is more about conflict management than just business “metrics” and that focusing on conflict management as a priority in all “engagements” will get the metrics or results needed “indirectly”.  It’s a “given” that in any organization there is a culture with regards to the dynamics of intra and inter personal relationships that employees have based on their personality characteristics.  This is even more so for a family business operating for three decades.  So the balance to be struck is to use the inherent culture of the business and resulting conflict as the OPPORTUNITY to “shift the paradigm” towards a consistent “in the black” financial outcome while PRESERVING stakeholder relationships critical to function and revenue.

My point of contact was the oldest son with some ownership meetings with the mother and father who also worked day to day in the business.  The son had worked the business for many years and had an accounting degree, but now, parents had declared they wanted to “retire someday” and make the transition.  Unfortunately they made this declaration one full year AFTER the “economic collapse” began and the books started going “red” in gross revenue.  They tried for one year, all of 2009 to get back in the black, but couldn’t and turned to their son.  This “set the stage” for some real conflict and drama on a daily basis and is most likely the same for thousands of businesses today.  Armed with a business case history interview we began.  Some, not all, of the concise steps below:

  1. Put it on the table that there is going to be a shift in the culture of the company to “survive” and that there will be conflict in the chaos that will result in profitability IF “management” can apply new methods in functional systems CONSISTENTLY day to day.
  2. Map the organizational “dynamics” and structure for purposes of awareness in an informal internal family operating environment.  Recognizing that there are functional business structure as well as informal familial, age and gender dynamics evident where older employees and newer younger staff conflict (generations) where employees are treated as family; and where formal education is replacing informal apprentice style training and applying of skills, knowledge and wisdom.
  3. The map had intra-organizational structure of: son and both parents core administration, manufacturing and distribution department, marketing and sales with external road warriors and internal sales staff.  This map was typical in that manufacturing and sales rarely socialized or communicated “intra-department”.  Each employee was subjectively “assessed” for personality characteristics at the beginning and during ongoing changes so as to provide situational awareness and decision support regarding “status” and needed outcomes.
  4. The map had inter-organizational structure with partners, vendors, suppliers, stakeholders in the immediate community.  The “linkage” or nexus was identified again for purposes of situational awareness on identified potential conflict as changes unfolded.
  5. Provide conflict management information and coaching of the son as the new President and General Manager including keeping a journal of conflict events as they arise.
  6. Discussion of “applied” techniques and emotional support for management including identification of incremental successes, though they may appear to have a “negative” outcome.  This included KNOWING when to let events play out with employees, immediate intervention versus “sleeping on it” daily cycles and then observing over two week increments the decision results.
  7. A very favorable “ad hoc” look at results where several staff simply left the company in the exact departments and slots where the “next generation” of educated employees could fill gaps and form new “blended teams” with long established family business “members”.
  8. Key was incremental success with recognizing conflict is in the moment, to let it play out, identify employees who cannot adapt and work with them on “what they wish to do”. Identifying employees as “champions of change” and giving them influence roles. Adopt formal communication, cooperation and coordination cycles in the form of projects and monitor individuals behavior.  Getting confirmation from “parents” that the chaos has turned out well at various stages and the company is evolving while the bottom line returns to profitability again.  This provides “confidence” in the son to lead and was directly discussed and kept in focus with relation to “desire to retire someday” as a goal while demonstrating “real life” favorable bottom line outcomes.

In conclusion it’s important to note that the business related methods and solutions were not discussed here, but that the constant awareness for the potential for conflict in key functional positions would “trigger” emotional events.  We also gave owners the message to constantly motivate employees is that, “we have to do this or there won’t be a company anymore and thus a job either”.  I’m certain “variations” of this message were constantly given, including recommended “memos” with each employee signing off that they acknowledge the gravity of the situation in today’s economy.  Keeping this as the ‘prime goal’ for employees to focus on at all times, while monitoring conflict related to implementation of solutions that forever changed the organization resulted in 13 jobs saved, 2 new jobs (one in each department), 1 outsourced function, restoration of 4 figures “in the black” net profit monthly within 2 months of launch and new-found “confidence” for EVERYONE in the company as to what they achieved is a favorable end result… is it not?

The New Ombudsperson and The Quantum Activist

17 April 2011

In my own practice as a “progressive and innovative” Ombuds I listen for and “observe” my clients for opportunities to “transcend” or move their awareness beyond “duality, polarization and ego” so as to create the opportunity for a solution to their issue or conflict.  I don’t always get the opportunity to do this.  Indeed, I have used the “Matrix” movies as examples on occasion with clients so as to open their mind to the reality that “life is a drama” being played out and that we can make choices in a moment outside of societal conditioning and traditional approaches (legal).  I propose to them that when “conflict arises” it signals the opportunity to learn something; and personally and possible “grow and evolve” beyond the given paradigm they are in especially if they are in a repeating pattern.  I may also suggest reading material or other “media” if the client appears to be open to it and it’s fitting.  Thus, The Quantum Activist now also provides insight to the dynamics of life, creation, conflict and mention how a “mediator’ is needed from the “science” side of the mysticism and metaphysical “coin” of life and our existence in the Universe.

Amit Goswami PhD is The Quantum Activist. He discusses the subject of Quantum Mechanics and sprinkles his words of wisdom through out the film on topics relevant to “us” as Ombuds.  He speaks to conflict, need for mediation, duality, cycles of creation and pauses between cycles of conflict that do provide the opportunities for changing oneself and the world at the same time.

It’s my hope that you will view this film and that it will provided a “higher perspective” of awareness so as to keep us from possibly getting caught up in or even becoming “part of the problem” in our work rather than neutral, truly independent and suggesting solutions for both sides of the table with clients.  This is “empowering” of us to “enable” clients in their choices.

Keeping this post short, very busy nowadays as the economy struggles along, but I think this is an insightful and inspiring documentary pointing to the “high ground” our profession can take… above and beyond “man’s laws” and more in line with Universal Laws of Creation that acknowledge the cycles and CHOICES for harmony or chaos.  Enjoy.

On Netflix here:


YouTube Trailer here:

International Ombudsmanship: Diplomatic Channels

5 March 2011

Prior to starting my “formal” OO practice a few years back I would practice, what I’ve also blogged here before, “ombudsmanship” in my consulting engagements; most often to preserve financial resources, but in the following case to recover lost revenue.  The term “ombudsmanship” simply means practicing alternative dispute resolution in a functional role or external capacity from “formal” ombuds structure, but between “groups”.  In the following case one of the first “ripples in the matrix” that was telling me there are “serious financial anomalies” building in 2005 was where a client had provided “inbound wholesale travel and event” services to a very prominent UK banking entity and they simply put off payment for almost 8 months.  By December of 2007, the “ripples” had manifest as we all know now, but by the beginning of 2006 we were successful for our client in recovering a 180 days (plus) past due balance on a $100,000 contract for services. Here’s how it works and you can use this method too.

This engagement started while we were on-site with a client in a meeting and our new “inbound wholesale travel” client popped her head in the door of the office to ask a question. I was introduced to her by my current client, with accolades on work completed, and she said, “great! Can you help me with a large contract that I”ve lost a significant amount of money on?”  I said we could look at it with her later and set a tentative time.  It only took about 30 minutes for her to present her “paper trail” of faxes and email, copies of key documents and bank drafts and so we took the “package” with us to begin.  Basically she had delivered the project for “Big UK Bank” with an up front deposit of half the contract so as to provide operating capital to deliver the project.  To add insult to injury after the bankers left the famous San Diego Resort there were unpaid tabs left over too, of which the resort management was holding “wholesale travel” services company responsible for, which was correct, as her company name was on every contract, not “Big UK Bank’s” name.  I sorted out the communications sequentially between both entities to get an idea of what the barriers or issues were for “final payment” and settlement on the account.  My approach was then to simply make another “collections” attempt on behalf of my client, which went on another few weeks without settlement or even acknowledgment that the last invoice was still outstanding and past the net terms of payment on the original contract.

At the time I was a member of several internationally oriented associations and used those connections and contacts to find a “name” inside the British Embassy in Washington DC.  Having been successful I made a single phone call, left a brief message with “references” and a call promptly came back the next day.  I quickly outlined the issue with the “diplomatic relations” officer. He requested a duplicate package of the key documents to the dispute and I “expressed” them to him with signatory receipt terms.

I waited and waited for what seemed like “forever”, anxious myself to hear some positive news or “reciprocal communication” to pass along to my client and nothing happened for approximately 3-4 weeks.  All of a sudden, out of the blue, my “wholesale travel” services client called me with an ecstatic tone saying she’d receive full payment for the balance of the contract and outstanding “bar tabs” left by her clients bank executives.  Apparently the British Embassy “officer” contacted “Big UK Bank” directly and “facilitated” payment so as to prevent further indignity.  I followed up with a formal letter of thanks for their efforts, the dispute is settled and full payment has been received.

If you are facing “cross border” disputes and time simply passes by without any resolution, you may also want to consider diplomatic channels by contacting the closest Consulate or Embassy linked to the offshore entity as a party to a dispute or complaint.  Keeping diplomatic connections via participation in “events” in the international community can prove, if needed, invaluable if dropping the sword on the Gordian Knot of complex or lax communications are not successful and all formal efforts in communicating have failed.  As a resource, provides a detailed list of Consulates and Embassies with direct linkage to the USA, but also all “country to country” diplomatic posts.  This single “tactic” can expand your practice and make you a true International Ombudsman outside of your domestic USA practice.

Ombudsperson ADR: “Money Changes Everything”

13 February 2011

I’ve chosen this title as the “theme” for one of the most critical types of situations that I’ve “engaged” for decades in business.  It also creates the most conflict, polarization and chaos in all types of business “personalities”; and it basically has to do with any type of funding to make the entity viable.  Normally I’d practice “ombudsmanship” if this were in my “other practice”, but this time I got a referral from a past client I coached on his dispute as an Independent Contractor.  In this scenario, money acts as a catalyst for change and is regarding the ongoing internal dispute between “owners” of a new start-up e-commerce company.  We handled this using ODR methods with the 6 C’s Of Sociocratic Peace Building process.  The outcome was very successful and it’s been over three months now without any recidivism. As I’ve mentioned previously, a vast majority of our work is “coaching” the dispute process asymmetrically, which continues, but this case was “traditional” and satisfying to handle.

The background on this is that one of the group was referred to me by a previous client and the new client is a 19-year-old “web developer” that has been “informally” participating with a group of about 6-10 guys, depending on the time of year, regarding starting a new web based e-commerce company.  He quickly, verbally, laid out his case as one of the “younger guys” of the informal group, where ages ranged up to the mid twenties.  Key to the informal group structure is that it shrank and grew in its informal membership, where no business plan had been developed, but they would have “lan parties” for gaming and informal pizza and beer meetings over the development of the new start up company.  When I asked how long this “idea” phase of the new business had been going on, my client indicated he’d been “in it from the start” and it has been sporadically ongoing for all of 2010.  What was making things so urgent now was that one of the guys was talking to a “rich guy” about funding their new e-commerce business and got a commitment of $300,000 cash in an email, with contingencies; and so they are all now “rushing” to meet requirements.  Indeed, from this moment forward, money changed everything as every type of dynamic between “business partners”, mostly bad, began to unfold.

To start I simply got my client to email everyone, have a meeting and present me as a person to help them “sort out” their conflict now that “cash” has corrupted everyone. Surprisingly, they all agreed, including more people than has been actively involved.  First step, formally define who’s in and who’s out.  Surprised me again when they had a roster within 48 hours.  Thus we discovered, to my clients elation as he was included out of all the “informal” members to date, a roster of 6 people total.  This process is also indirectly contributing to the planning they overlooked.

Next step, get a one page narrative on the WWWWHW’s (who, what, when, where, how, why) including their role, contributions to date and description of what the conflict is from each individuals perspective.  Again, surprised, all email contact information and cell phone numbers were provided to me and I sent these out… all came back completed within days.

I then did quick 20-30 minute phone interviews with each “member” of the new entity for purposes of building consensus and determining how adaptive each guy would be to formalizing the business structure. I also did some preemptive discussion where I detected an intractable ‘position’ by relaying my years of experience and wisdom in such situations and the “worst case scenarios” I’d witnessed through the years, thus cautioning them all, individually, that if they can’t “play nice in the sandbox”, everyone will be impacted and the financing opportunity they have in front of them would be over.

Everyone agreed that things got “really serious” when the “letter” from the investor offering $300,000 was circulated and this triggered greed and selfishness rather than the continued “fun and teamwork” they had all been demonstrating for a year.  In a conference call I related my previous experiences where the worst I’d seen in my career was a group of  “grown men” who broke from “formal” agreements, business plan and slit throats practically for their own gain over everyone else in their yet to be funded company.  I then asked them, “do you wish to all do the same?”  Verbal consensus quickly came, thus providing the common point of focus to cooperate and continue to have them develop a document that they all sign and agree with so as to have structure and boundaries of membership in the face of potential protest from individuals who are now excluded. Again, I’m surprised, as everyone agreed with roles and titles with responsibilities in the new company based on the “concept” model of the business as discussed.

I then simply laid out, from the interviews, written and verbal, where the “points of conflict” potentially were, got consensus again for a solution as to what would be best based on my business development experience and venture finance, in various areas.  One key point I made was that, “the money is not yours” that you are getting, it’s the funds for the new company as an entity and they are stewards of the money and accountable to each other and their benefactor. It happens in every case I’ve ever had for over two decades that the common misconception is that the beneficiaries think the funds are theirs now.  This fact further stabilized perceptions and brought some order from chaos over “money” issues.

The second common “theme” was that everyone was, in their own way, maneuvering and holding each other “hostage” over “ownership of contributions of Intellectual Property” to make the enterprise run.  Everything from one guy hurrying to register the domain name and then charge everyone thousands of dollars to buy it from him, to another guy wanting royalty payments from his programming of the financial interface on the website as money came in from transactions.  There’s more, but again, once it was pointed out that they were “holding each other hostage”, polarizing the group in to “me versus them”; and not cooperating they began to see more clearly.  At this point I simply asked each person, live in the call, “do you want out now or want in for the long-term?” so as to get intentions out in the open for all to confirm.  In addition to this, the solution everyone is to follow through on their commitments, contributes as they said they would all along and then in reality, for a start-up, revenue sharing of net gains improves as the company performs and does well.  If anyone holds back, it affects everyone.

In the end they completed their “terms of consensus” memorandum as a prelude to their business concept and planning.  I reviewed it for completeness from gathered information, they all signed, I have one on file, and they are now moving ahead with a new company and the understanding that before it’s over, more conflicts will inevitably come up and they now know how to resolve them.  Once again, my previous experience and background go hand in hand as I’m in my second year formally as an OO and referrals now come… a pleasant surprise finally.

OO Blog: 2010 Review

9 January 2011

OO Blog statistics; and open dialogue with readers, for 2010 gave me some interesting insights regarding our broader “OO community” of readers.  So, in case you “missed it” and would like to catch up, here is what we have per blog statistics for our first full and complete year.  There is also a “trend” silently splitting the broader OO community of professionals.

According to WordPress in comparative ranking with all other blogs we are ranked: Awesome!

We posted 15 articles with over 4,100 views or hopefully “readers” for the year.

Tom Kosakowski’s Ombuds Blog was the leading referring site and Organizational Ombudsman came in second.

The most viewed articles for the year were:

  1. The New Ombudsperson: Per Se, Pro Se & Economic Austerity
  2. The New Ombudsperson: Google Voice Technology Review
  3. Ombudsman Career Focus
  4. Ombudsman ADR: The 6 C’s of Sociocratic Peace Building
  5. The New Ombudsman: Esotericism and Ethics

If you’ll notice, we switched from “Ombudsman” to “Ombudsperson” as the header to many article titles.  This was a result of a very tactful and “reminding” email from a “lady” in our profession pointing out my “conflict” by simply asking me to “define” and make more clear my “true progressive” stance about the profession and “lexicon” for being “inclusive” more consistently.  I couldn’t agree more, you know who you are if you read this, thank you.

After almost 2 full years of blogging I’ve exchanged some very enlightening and stimulating conversation through email and phone calls.  I’ve been interviewed several times, participated in “mock mediation” and provided “business insight and coaching” to help individuals get started, which is in alignment with my “other practice”.  Most of these were from the USA, a handful from as far away as eastern Europe.  The one key observation I’ve made is that the profession is “splitting” in “exact alignment” with what is happening in the US economy ie. “elite versus the common man and woman” in terms of the continued dominance of the legal profession and related professional organizations.  A handful of you have contacted me with this observation also, very observant indeed.  There is a “gap” that could be filled to provide balance because the strategic direction of key organizations is “institutional alignment” rather than “social and community” alignment.  There is little or no “linkage” between Corporate Social Responsibility and a corporations ombuds office.  We will have to see how this plays out, but after decades of strategic analysis in my “other practice”, the “course and direction” have been set anew since 2008; and the shifting of “internal politics” whereby many of the leaders in the profession are no longer in a position of influence; rather… positions of “institutional affluence” will now, like in contemporary politics, continue to provide a “caste system” in the profession.

I wish everyone the best for 2011, it’s going to be a very “wild” ride…

Ombudsperson Due Care: United Way 211 Services

9 December 2010

In as much as I keep promising myself that I won’t do pro bono work anymore, I’ve done, once again, a fair amount of it this year.  An email or phone call comes in, I open the intake document and before I know it my “little voice” is telling me to take the case anyway regardless of payment.  In any case though I believe “we”, as professionals, are obligated and have a duty to follow through and provide additional due care that often extends outside our ADR procedures.

The definition of “due care” has legal, moral and personal safety terms in it, check your local dictionary.  During intake we are alert to personal safety issues at all times and so even after our diligence is complete, the obligation may not be over.  In such circumstances I recommend United Way 211 Information and Referral search engine to assist you, the ombudsperson, in the role of personal coach, advocate and facilitator to assist “impacted” clients.  This is a very effective role, as a third party in an advocate role because the gate keepers for services and resources will cooperate more fully than if the distressed client is representing themselves.  The UW 211 Service has been very effective and helpful to me as a “one stop” resource for any community in the USA where community services are now needed to help stabilize the “aftermath” of failed negotiations or life threatening event.

In my most recent case where I used United Way 211 my client had no computer, but had contacted me to assist her and her 3 children regarding eviction.  My decision to help was sealed when I was able to confirm her story with the FBI field agent in charge of her case where Citibank and Chase Bank employees are charged with mortgage fraud.  She gave me his number and he returned the call in minutes confirming she’s a material witness in his case.  After she lost her home she found expensive housing near her sons local high school and took it to try and keep his life stable too.  The results over the last year is that the stress of everything crumbling, like for millions now in the world, is she ended up losing her job as a Certified Physician Assistant and went on Social Security Disability.  To make a long story short we faxed “permission” to be an advocate for her with the property management company.  Negotiations lasted 3 days, which is all I was willing to spend, as they took the tactic of participating in conference calls to negotiate freezing her rent and avoiding any increases till June of 2011 when her son graduates high school and they can move.  No answers were ever given, though we could tell they were sending the request through channels.  In the end the property management took the position that “the going market rate” for her 3 bedroom apartment was actually higher than the increase.  I couldn’t leave the conversation without pointing out that the only reason they could do that was that they were ignoring “extended family” and “multi-tenant” rules of the property where more than one bread-winner occupies the unit.  Negotiations failed, eviction notice pending in 3 days.

What followed was half a day of consoling the client who was now extremely distraught.  As soon as I verbally and firmly assured her I would not “leave her behind” she settled down and began to focus with me; we got to work.  I told her I needed some time to put some things together.  In some cases I simply refer people to United Way 211, but in this case, she had no Internet, only a phone and was so emotionally impacted I had to lead and support her for a while.  Within one week we had her a new apartment under a state subsidized program and by her son’s high school.  We had move in funds from a local charity listed in UW 211 saying they specifically provide that in emergencies.  We also secured her a refurbished used computer from a Christian Ministry in the area.  She’s also applied for food stamps and disability is now approved through 2011 given “letters” we obtained to prove her case.

In closing, the “due care” process in my experience often extends beyond handling a case and in many cases the political and corporate “wranglings” that go on to delay critical decisions for the client go on into perpetuity.  Time is most often on the side of the larger more powerful entity in such situations.  You therefore should develop contingencies, make it part of your “best practice”, in your own practice to assist clients who are often emotional and severely “impacted” by slow bureaucracy that may just be benign about assisting or employees are “bound” by policy and procedure that takes years, if ever, to process.  Additionally, if UW 211 has gaps in resources needed, simply Google a list of non-profits by zip code for the case at hand and see what pops up.

Happy Holidays too to all…

The New Ombudsperson: Per Se, Pro Se & Economic Austerity

28 November 2010

In the last quarter of the year everyone, from individuals to the largest corporations take stock of the current year, put at least some thought into tax obligations, but also budgeting is now more important than ever; and for once “holding to it” once set.  It’s the time of year where our clients often make a formal or casual call to get our take on what’s ahead and how they can continue to survive given what I am monitoring and seeing is a severe continuance of current economic conditions.  This provides both opportunity and a demand for dispute or conflict resolution services in 2011 for all ombud’s working with individuals, groups and small organizations

The trend is going to continue and has already begun exponentially escalating where complaints and grievances from lower and middle-income Americans need a voice with government and corporate entities.  The paradigm shift from expensive and damaging formal legal services to ombudsman ADR is well underway and beginning next year we will see more formal groups and structures advocate and develop access for informal mediation. We are experiencing and observing a flood of legal issues people are facing as attempts over the last two years by governments, state and federal, to provide a system to resolve economic hardship issues failed or there was never enough capacity in the system to provide equal access.

In my own recent conversations, where corporate America and government continue to demand payment and use their coffers and legal staff to force their will and redefine the law and policies “on the fly”; individuals are screaming for someone to help.   It used to be that legal aid offices would provide legal services for anyone qualifying.  Now, what we are hearing is that many legal aid offices have cut staff and some will close in 2011 forcing individuals to represent themselves.  Indeed, for a few clients I’ve found myself contacting the court on behalf of a defendant to see if there isn’t some other venue to resolve the issue.  Court staff have commented to me that they are taking more and more “legal aid” type calls where gaps in services are rapidly appearing.  The issue now though is will a court empower self-representation including providing pro bono court mediators or allow a case to be dropped if the plaintiff will agree to informal mediation.  Usually, once in “the system”, the case stays in the system.  Given economic conditions and the increased intrinsic demand for self-representation in circumstance where no assets are available (house, car, job gone) the courts seem to be quietly ignoring “non asset” related cases and keeping asset based pleas.

The result is a good level of systemic chaos and dysfunctional limbo as complaints and cases overwhelm the legal system from people with no means to pay for services.  This means individuals will either find an attorney to legally coach them through their civil case or find a system informal and external to the courts to resolve “guilty” issues.  While local government and private benefactors may have provided financial support for legal aid the clear shift must now be to shift efforts to funding and developing local networks or groups for referral by the courts where a quick and “audible review” will allow plaintiff and defendant to have an “informal hearing” as recommended.

To do this, again, it will take courage and foresight in that if you are contacted by a plaintiff or defendant you could advise them to include in the plea or answer a request for an ombudperson to handle the issue.  You would get agreement, consensus, and then contact the court thus taking proactive initiative.  I know this is not traditionally accepted, but if change is to happen and stability and economic well-being restored, we must recognize we cannot depend on government alone.  How this is to be paid for requires the same collaboration that’s taking place now for “recovery” and that would include soliciting the court for partial payment, while possibly seeking grants from foundations and other corporate institutions.  At the same time, where individuals are seeking “debt relief” concerning unsecured assets or lines of credit, this should not be open season for “junk debt collections” and only “real assets” where loss of a business or family are in jeopardy and are a priority.  For “collections” cases Pro Se coaching is the most effective and efficient method as individuals need and seek “relief” to start their lives over.

And finally, IF you are a corporate, legal or university institution and currently not at “capacity” per the charter of your organization, why not consider expanding your scope and doing community outreach, be of service to others “outside” the organization and at least take some temporary initiative during these austere times.  Coach, mentor, consult, advise, call it what you will… it’s needed more than ever and provides a great “social responsibility” opportunity to at least help individuals represent themselves or sponsor a move to resolve their issue informally though your entity may even be party to the complaint.  Change is here… it has to happen…