The New Ombudsperson: Career Choice And The MBTI Instrument

28 October 2010

I have the distinct pleasure this year, several times, to talk to many individuals contemplating becoming an Ombudsperson.  Some were offered a volunteer position of some sort in elder care, others recognize they have played a similar role consistently in their previous or current job; and still others are simply curious.  To help evaluate this personal decision you may want to consider taking the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI to determine if your innate personality characteristics are suited to the profession.  This is but one step to help come to a decision; and could assist with guidance towards any type of career consideration.

I bring this into the equation because in my “other practice” in 2009 I had bid a project and then was asked to take the MBTI online and submit the results for purposes of “team makeup” they said, which I did.  I’d also taken this, as many of you also probably have, as an undergrad in college where requirements to be a “lab rat” to graduate were also required.  What I noticed is that in the approximate 30 year time span from my original MBTI and the 2009 “test”, I’d kept consistent with my “assigned category” from then to now, which can be good or bad depending on how one wants to look at it.

Below are some raw links to further investigate for yourself and even take the “exam”.  It can also be administered in person professionally, please Google for yourself to explore dozens of resources online:

https://www.mbticomplete.com/contents/learnmore.aspx

http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/take-the-mbti-instrument/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

To spike your interest even further here is a table of personality type categories below:

And if you’ve stayed with me this far, nope, didn’t win that bid, but rediscovered “why” I took the degree program I did 30 years ago and “why” I continue to be what I am today.  I hope this helps everyone select a potential new career for 2011 that is in alignment with your “core” disposition; or confirm your present career choice. Oh, and in case you are wondering… INFJ.

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The New Ombudsperson: Asymmetrical Dispute Coaching Trend

9 September 2010

In continuing to look at and compare 2009 to 2010 trends in our OO practice it’s clear that the majority of new intakes end up being Conflict Management or Dispute Coaching from “one side of the table” so to speak.  I have also been able to be more selective about the types of engagements I take due to increased volume and less time to handle everything that comes.  My “other practice” contributes equally with my OO practice towards identifying opportunity and offering services to others in need.  Fees have stayed consistent and volume is good compared to trying to get agreement to mediate from both side of the table.

The types of conflicts or disputes we get involved with vary widely, but all have current economic “deterioration or erosion” themes to them.  We take only organizational or business entity type cases where there are either “internal” issues between principals or “external” B2B/B2C issues over products or services; and partnership issues.  Individuals are “getting divorced” in business or seeking justice and fairness from a business or corporation that has taken advantage of them.

We are getting more email about large corporations seizing cash in bank accounts and then closing them up with no method or recourse. The client has “no notice” from a bank for example. Add insult to injury and the financial institution is inflating fees, creating new fees and forcing people into collections over fees they issued before even having a customer service person provide assistance.  You’ll read these stories in the news… I’m advising people to call, write, email their Congressional Rep.  There is more, but this is typical.

Another instantly agreed upon point with our clients is that they are in consensus with us and take a position where the objective is to resolve the issue without “financial damage” to the extent it’s going to collapses or kill the business entity off.  In the case of small online businesses, there is often not a lot of capital or insurance “laying around” that they can lose, unlike Fortune size companies who pay it out and then pass it down to their customers later.  We do see some “sense of entitlement” from individuals looking to score a “settlement” with large and small companies and advise with full ethical considerations taking extra time to “present perspective” from how the “they” view it and then sort out what’s equitable.

Our skills in “business valuations” and “intellectual property valuations” or determining the “value” of work in a contract have given us the basis to assist principals in breaking up a company, sorting out ownership, preserving resources and “rights” and then moving forward into their individual interests as quickly as possible. Yes, time is a motivator to get things resolved in this case.  I also tend to point out how fortunate they are to even be able to have something to divvy up in comparison to what is happening nationwide since 2007… they too agree.

So, it used to personally “distress me” a bit that I couldn’t get “both sides” to the table at the beginning of this year and instead I just roll with it now.  I have never had the other party come to the table late, they seem content to work it through on their own.  I often work “incognito” with my clients and do not try to provide intervention immediately myself.   I often take any statements or email from “the other side” and use to to bring perspective from, instead of a “point of conflict” view my client has, to a “point of neutrality” and objectivity for them based on what I can glean or gain through insight.  It’s proven successful over and over this year to do this type of Ombudsperson ADR.

Good luck in the “blue ocean” and I hope everyone is able to make a difference, bring peace, preserve resources, maintain dignity for all parties.


Ombudsman ADR: “Factual Context” Technique

22 August 2010

Normally, by June or July, I like to do something on trends for the year and 2010 trends are something very different from 2009 and all my my previous experience with dispute or conflict management “internally”.  Contacts with individuals is up, but actually getting to the table or taking an engagement is down considering the ratio of contacts to intakes.  There is a variety of contributing factors, but I’d like to take this moment to focus on something to help anyone in our “craft” keep a handle on the turmoil and chaos they may be experiencing with “potential” clients.

It’s no secret by now that there is a lot of economic chaos happening as we speak and this adds exponentially to individual and group stress resulting in conflict.  My projections for small and medium sized business at the beginning of the year, unfortunately, are proving to be even more serious than I could have “existentially” imagined.  Large corporations are another situation all together currently, with both positive and negative impacts on individuals and communities “they serve”.  It’s tough, it’s hard for everyone, even the “elite” are complaining they didn’t get their full “due” when they had to step down, getting only half their millions instead of all that their interest was worth two years ago.  Currently, as I’m contacted, the issues revolve around “survival” of the business, employees as “family” now, while maintaining some, I repeat, some level of courtesy and decorum.  Regarding partner relationships between contracted employees, long time customers or supplier companies they had contracts or agreements to do business with, these are simply dissolving rapidly.  As I read the news and “listen” to what comes in, clearly there is a split down the middle and the normal bell curve one would expect to reflect the middle class income bracket is now inverted, but it’s more than just a “dip” in the road.

Our frustration has been to communicate clearly, get a good intake, listen carefully, but invariably emotions, anger, tension are more at the “surface” of what someone may have to say about their struggles and establishing any form of “factual context” concerning what basis they have for a complaint is exaggerated, embellished and misrepresented oft times.  Continued “cycling” with a focus on “lesser emotional struggling” and pointing out that perpetuating the “struggle” will not get to a goal they want.  I find myself, in trying to be altruistic and proactive for them, becoming more of just a “listener” while refusing to take the role of “anger management” counselor.  Keeping with “factual context” can circumvent the individuals emotional struggles, anger and even depression and provide the context to focus on their goals as a solution to the problem and establish again or learn to “own” an ethical approach again.

As a technique towards a “permanent” solution, it doesn’t always work, but to cut through the emotional chaos of the moment, we find the following has helped:

  • Frequently remind them in the interview that we need to document the factual context of the dispute.
  • More patience is required at this moment, but they can speed things up if they can just relax and focus on our exchange.
  • If I hear something potentially out of context, make a note and check it again after some time has passed.
  • Ask them to slow down and “reflect” on their statements and determine if they “ring true” or is something else happening.
  • Can they produce any material that supports a factual context versus their emotional declaration in the moment.
  • If detected in the “cycling”, ask them to check themselves to see if they are reverting back to “emotional struggling” again.
  • Asking if they see themselves contributing calmly to a solution and even questioning if they want that or something else.
  • Creating “factual context” list as their constant reminders prior to “shuttling” and/or them contacting the other party.
  • Ask them to meditate or contemplate in quiet, their situation and then contact us again after 48 hours.

Yes, I’ve written about the “blue ocean” of opportunity many times and it’s certainly over flowing currently, not just on the OO side, but in my other business consultancy also.  I have to admit, as busy as things are, it can get or am overwhelmed lately and for the first time I have to watch my energy, not get drained or let “burn out” take over.  I have to watch my own “tensions” with family and friends more, how about you?  Focusing on and firmly addressing and discovering the facts about their issue related to the context of their situation has proven a good technique or method to help keep a sustained focus; thus bringing “order from chaos” as best as possible.  It prevents excessive levels of “complexity” being introduced also, because often individuals want to discuss more than what can be handled and go out of “context”.  I hope these trend observations and discussion will help all who read it here as we are going to be more challenged than ever in months and years ahead to “make a choice” to peacefully resolve disputes/conflicts or polarize and damage personal, business and economic relationships; possibly beyond repair.


Ethical “Disconnect”: Corporate Business Models, Universities & Student Plagiarism

2 August 2010

What I’m about to set forth here is my opinion based on years of business experience, being a part-time university instructor and more recently an “independent” ombudsperson separate from any formal affiliation with “institutions”, be they universities, corporations or government.  I sometimes, not frequently, get propositioned with e-mail and phone calls to participate with college students by mentoring, tutoring, expert opinion interviews, mock ADR sessions etc.  I also get requests to take online tests, complete homework papers, make capstone or thesis proposals and other forms of “cheating” and plagiarizing of course work.  I also recently took an anonymous call from a student who’s on campus ombudsman office, due to policy, would not “take the case”, but they seemed “guilty” as charged because they had difficulty disclosing details while engaging in anonymous guidance?  It’s this last call that’s prompting this article.  As the fall school cycle approaches I must point out, more than any other situation and issue facing America today, this is the most critical and damaging to all areas of our society, especially business, the economy and commerce.  Here’s why…

I have had, on occasion, the opportunity to bring up the topic of cheating and plagiarism with associates and colleagues and to my own astonishment, the topic of discussion is quickly diverted and participation “shunned” and even warnings or caution given not to bring it up again.  In fact, this moment, I’m well aware that the only reason I can discuss this here in my own blog is I’m not employed by an institution that would most likely view this content as politically incorrect; and I’m ethical and confidential about my “sources” at such times as this.  Nevertheless, here is just a tiny pinch of interesting Internet and media “discussion” I’ve picked up so as to have my perspective and some background on this issue IF you’ve been lifting the rug and sweeping it away yourself.

In a recent study by the Center For Academic Integrity it was discovered that cheating by university students is a “pandemic” at this time.  Some highlights of the study:

  • 90% of students surveyed said they didn’t believe cheaters would be caught.
  • 85% said cheating is necessary to get ahead
  • 75% of students admitted cheating.
  • 90% of foreign students at New Zealand universities admitted plagiarizing work in an anonymous pole.

Here’s a story and video about a university “pulling degrees” ad hoc after investigating “complaints” from employers.

Here’s a CNN story showing how the Internet enables plagiarism and the International listings for thousands of on-line libraries of papers for students and custom writing of papers guaranteed free of plagiarized content… clearly the definition of plagiarism has a new liberal shift.

You too are probably familiar with the very early Harvard Law School and University of Virginia media publicized scandals and I won’t detail those, but there is a lot happening now that the Internet enables the “seamless” work group business model between students, professors/instructors and corporations.  I researched these and others and discovered that back then, like now, this moment, the majority of university ombuds offices will not take any case where there is a dispute between faculty and students regarding “unethical” test or homework practices.  They have to stay politically correct while the reputation of individuals and media scandals “damage” the innocent and honest students that worked hard to maintain the quality and standards of their alma mater and employer, not to mention their own self-esteem.  A huge gap here in ethics, morality and doing the right thing.

Some of the attitudes I’ve run into, not from a handful, but dozens of MBA and Ph.D educators is very lax and liberal to say the least.  I’ve heard of and watched them doing work for students on-line, believe it or not, under their own names when the obvious thing would be to create a “pseudo” personality to do such unethical practices.  To them it’s “okay”, they give a variety of “rational” arguments, my favorite is that President Clinton “redefined” what sex is and isn’t, they realized that applies to other “ethical” areas also.  No harm done they insist and in this economy they say they need the income if they are unemployed.  For me personally, in these conversations, I refuse to “breach” my personal ethics and take a steadfast “death before dishonor” stance.  With one person I argued back that this was all fine until one realizes that the new CPA had their exams and tests taken by someone else and the law shields them from liability between their client and the government.  Or how about the engineer that builds in a design flaw on a new car or worse yet and aircraft resulting in recalls, waves of financial loss and even crashes that kill people by the family or whole plane loads… disgusting.  This last week a scandal regarding FBI agents cheating on a “legal knowledge” test is also adding to my personal bias now in getting this post out.  Again, this is just the tip of it all and I lose more “friends” this way…

I’ve also talked with university students that told me it was the unspoken yet accepted “culture” in certain circles in the university to work on projects that a professor was project lead for that a corporation was outsourcing to the university for because it’s cost-effective in that the “donation” made to the institution is tax-deductible, they get the results needed for their next product innovation and funds for R&D have dried up and are not tax-deductible or have policy limits.  This is fine, a competitive strategy indeed, but passing down work this way and then “making issues” or holding the student responsible is a the typical negative end result.  In this “power structure” the student is at a severe disadvantage. The students then describe the “pressures” from professors if they don’t produce, effect on grades and so they know they can go “outside” and on-line to get published “ideas” AND employ the Web2.0 model linking to anyone globally that can do the work.

The corporations themselves want to be profitable for shareholder quarterly earnings statements, if public, or if private, stakeholders in a joint-venture have a lot of power and “outsourcing” of jobs cuts labor costs to bring projects in on-time and on budget. Unfortunately students have told me that this business model and philosophy is well learned by students who “outsource” their own work, once they learn how, on basic subjects that they can’t do too because they don’t have the time or skill to learn or do the work, but have plenty of money for from student loans, scholarships, family trusts and even under the table stipends that are more linked to college athletics in the media than what we are discussing here.  Mixing up “priorities” gets in the way too of proper decision-making and is another factor I see personally.  Additionally, there’s a huge “ego” problem as students go to their party and brag how their work is being done as they speak, they outsourced it, just like the company they want to work for when they graduate.

To wrap this up, from my “arm-chair”, it’s already too late and it will take “ethical individuals” establishing a reputation that differentiates them from the majority of unethical student/university/corporate society to “make it right”. Surely such ethical individuals will soon be scapegoats and become disenfranchised quickly as they go against the grain of the “accepted cultural practices”.  Add to this a VORTEX of increasing or doubling of tuition to prop up faculty retirement funds from recent Wall Street loses, raising or holding to large salaries for existing faculty or corporate executives, no job for them “as promised” after graduation because it’s outsourced; and the corporate, university, government sponsored capital all link together in “cycle” to keep the status quo at tax payer expense in a severely economically contracting market.  NO ONE has the answer or is facing the reality of this mess because we compromised our educations choosing immediate gratification today over quality and delayed gratification based on honest work, ethics and true merit.  We wonder how Intellectual Property is “lost” to a foreign market?  The answer to that question, though outside the subject of this article, is also answered in this same relational business education “corrupt” model.  This is the conundrum.  This is the critical “big picture” mess everything is in nowadays and it’s embedded in the ever closer relationship between individuals and institutions linked directly to compromised educational and corporate business values at ALL levels of society.


Ombudsmanship & Successful Contract Negotiations

19 July 2010

Over the last six months I’ve been working on a long-term “contingency” project, something I said I’d never do anymore, but this time I just “knew” I could provide experience and skills needed to solve a long-standing deadlock.  In addition to that, a conservative modeling of the contract projected gross earnings of $2,000,000 the first year had a significant influence too, not to mention new jobs and filling a recognized gap in corporate communities nationwide.  The client contacted me and for about an hour at the beginning of 2010, she laid out a long and winding road of cycling back and forth over decisions between her and a Fortune 500 company seeking her organizations Wellness Program services.  She “knew” she didn’t have “control” over the situation and was perplexed as to how to get out of the whirlpool of wasting time, energy and resources and find a mutual solution for both sides.  Not to keep you, the reader, bored with all the background details, I’ll just say that after 12 full months all terms have been re-negotiated and the contract signed as of this month.  Success… here is what made the difference and you can consider it too.

First, I took an “asymmetrical” approach and to save even more time I simply offered to work day by day with her on whatever issue popped up and we would look at it and find the solution.  Key to this was COMMUNICATION and having complete open channels and reciprocity between us at all times.  I chose this approach after doing a case history and realizing the company was good at serving the end customer directly, very knowledgeable and skilled, but not at all familiar with partnering or sub-contracting to a larger entity.  All of the principles of The 6 C’s of Sociocratic Peace Building were also applied between “our team” and their entity.

Second, we re-established communications with the Fortune client on the basis or “excuse”, that it’s a new year and “whatever happened to our contract discussion from last summer” and within 24 hours an “invitation” came back indicating they’d like to pick them up and begin again IF some substantial changes could be made.

Third, the “terms” came over and an analysis began. In “corporate speak” there is a lot of talking, but no communicating and the “terms” I read indicated that I had a client that didn’t “speak the language” and her Fortune client knew what they wanted, but didn’t know the “how” to get it and this is the “unspoken” path to success… if one can “sense” it and see it.

Fourth, we replied with a proposal and began to negotiate the terms.  The “key word” that really opened things up and caused an immediate “surge” in activity was to propose a “pilot program” lasting 90 days.  This offers “both sides” the opportunity to discover if it’s going to work or not and then a decision is made.  We are now, the moment of this writing, PAST the pilot program point and a full open end contract was awarded.

Fifth, if you see “gaps” in terms between the two entities one side has to come forward and break the dysfunctional cycling of “talk” and demonstrate “substantive” solutions.  This has a cost attached, always, and for the first time, yet another barrier was over come because we put actual costs in a proposal.  In the closing rounds the Fortune client tried to get into a position so as not to have to pay for custom operational and administrative infrastructure required to manage the partnership and this took the longest time of back and forth discussion and providing substantiation of costs.  There’s a danger in this at this stage, but I won’t go into that to keep short here, but let’s just say there are “levels” of disclosure towards the objectives and goals as long as you keep pointing them out and repeating them as needed.

Sixth, the “compass” or guiding principle I gave my client in the beginning was to always answer this question in your own head at any given moment and stage of negotiations. “When are you in adversarial, neutral or consensus mode with your customer/client/partner?”  The practical answer to this question is that at any given time one never really knows, but you must “sense” where you are and RESPOND appropriately to keep a once stalled process moving forward.  You could be adversarial about points in the contract and communicating from a neutral stance and be in consensus on intentions and you have to constantly contemplate all of these dynamics.

In closing, most of “our” work is ad hoc to some situation, contract, relationship “gone bad”, but as I’ve written before and in this case specifically, you can provide “intervention” during the process of coming to terms between entities without lawyers and other “polarizing” traditions.  The minute you say, “I’ll have my lawyer look at this contract before I sign it”, you just performed a “mea culpa” that you may NEVER get an opportunity, as a party to an agreement, to bring to favorable outcome.  In this case my client never did this, but rather stayed neutral and kept a diplomatic position enabling and empower everyone to later move forward once communicating details of every single point was covered and substantive demonstrations of the capacity to “perform” were provided. This provides “confidence” on both sides to “get married” and begin a mutually beneficial, job producing, health preserving program.  For me personally, my “formula” for combining ombudsman ADR during a business activity as an ombudmanship skill continues to be viable and therefore substantiate my work in “the blue ocean” of opportunity.  Good luck in your endeavors too…


Brief Analysis: Wallstreet Reform Bill Has Ombudsman Provision

25 June 2010

Again, OO is following, as best possible as we are busy, the Wall Street Reform Bill developments as they unfold. In this Press Release Update on AGREED provisions in the Bill as of this week, an Ombudsman would serve as part of yet another new agency in the Investment Advisory Committee.  My immediate analysis is that once again this will NOT be effective for consumers at all because individuals called upon to serve will continue to be pulled from the ranks of the Washington “elite” in government circles of influence.  What would have been closer to meeting the needs of consumers would have been the empowering and enabling of the private sector to represent consumers to the committee from local, regional, state and organized consumer interest groups nationwide.  Instead, “independence” is lost and any “virtuous” alternative to really engaging in and creating fair and accountable policy for consumers is lost before it even begins.  Consolidation and centralization of all decisions on the behalf of the public, consumers and constituents continues without any clear perspective from lawmakers.


Integrity “Inside-Out”: Brooksley Born

2 June 2010

As I watch Warren Buffet testify today and defend the credit rating agencies for their role in the economic meltdown, I’ve had this article in draft for awhile… it’s time; and it contains another perspective on “fault” for the crisis we are in.

I am a firm believer, that most often, change, comes from the “outside-in”.  If one studies events from out in the cosmos down to and through the sub-atomic particles whipping around under electron microscopes, we notice that change is exerted by any number and types of “catalysts” operating freely and independently of structure and bodies so as to create change.  I’ve written many times that the foundation for such individuals who exert change or acts as a catalyst  in our profession; they need, more than technical certification by their “club”, they need to be ethical if not fully embody integrity.  You can simply look back through historical biographies and pick out those who posses integrity and then determine if they were operating as part of an organization or entity (inside) or operating externally (outside) in relation to the entity they impacted.

I am passionate about this topic because I “know” ethics and integrity are  in fact the key to changes in society that need to take place; especially in terms of social systems and structures including government, corporations, universities and communities in general.  It is personally alarming to me the incremental steps being taken by many organizations and in government towards consolidation of power and wealth as a means to preserve the status qou at the expense of customers or constituents they are supposed to serve.  You may, for yourself, want to take a moment to observe and reflect what’s really going on in America today and realize that wherever and whenever integrity is left out of the model towards developing a solution to critical problems… it fails to have the desired outcome; even if everyone seems to be well-intentioned.  I’ve even recently listened to “talking heads” in the media say that if you can’t review information objectively and with ethical integrity, the cost and capacity to make informed decisions  “gets lost”, to me this sounds like almost every major institution in America today.  I’ll leave this here at this moment by just saying that our own profession is trending towards dangerous outcomes if it does not restore integrity as part of the standards and principles we practice by.  It’s so easy to “mouth” this, do we do it or are we continuing to shore up and protect ideologies and paradigms long needing a change?  Are we genuine, inclusive, enabling and empowering or are we continuing to be “self serving” and thus ignoring our very own standards and principles we apply to others?

And now for the inspiration behind this months post, Brooksley Born and The Warning PBS Frontline documentary.  Once, a long time ago, a mentor of mine, when I was a young man, used to talk to me about the “disenfranchised” in society.  At the time, I didn’t really understand, not like today, what he was trying to tell me.  And so, I can tell him now, “I get it”.  I stumbled across this PBS Frontline documentary “The Warning” about how we came to this economic meltdown, which by the way was an eye opener for me, the “meltdown” is not over and my other communications reflect this; we are in for more turmoil ahead.  Brooksley Born also states this clearly and you can watch and see integrity first hand in the 55 minute The Warning documentary.  We’ve all read, watched and listened to news stories about “could it have been avoided” from 9/11 to the Challenger space shuttle and now, to the current economic crisis, name it what you will, recession, depression or whatever.  In my business practice and ombuds practice I am frequently pointing out “what ifs” and consequences for apathy or ill intentioned choices and even flat-out power grabs and greed… I’ve seen a lot of it and do my best to try and “temper” the situation and make a difference.   In this documentary Brooksley Born “acts” from the “inside-out” in the US Government’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission to try and be a change agent, a catalyst to protect and serve the American public and in the end is “disenfranchised” for it.  She’s not only working correctly “inside-out” in her authority and role in service to the American public, but she embodies “inside-out” ethics and integrity as the foundation to confront “political culture” at its worst.  If you are on the “outside-in” trying to do this, you would be labeled a “rogue” or even “social terrorist” or “activist” if taken to extremes, for even attempting to bring influence from outside the “red ocean elite” power structure.  As you watch The Warning, there are a lot of “talking heads”, but whenever Brooksley Born is speaking, pay close attention especially towards the end, when all the context of current problems, pending financial reform legislation and our future is at stake… she knows what she’s talking about, but really… are we listening?