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?

Advertisements

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.


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…


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.


The New Ombudsperson: Corporate Business Abuses

1 May 2010

I don’t know what it is exactly, but a significant handful of my “independent” OO work comes from Canada.  Consumers, businesses and subjects of the Crown have no problem with emailing me in Tulsa and laying it all out on the table.  The common thread and trend is most often “unfair” corporate or institutional practices where the very rules and contracts that are suppose to be honored by “both sides” seem to be changed on a whim or ignored out of convenience; both in the USA and Canada.  This type of situation is very widespread and the more “powerful” prevail by making the rules and then punishing business customers without consideration for the economic downturn or demonstrating ethical practices.  In fact, I would question whether large corporations or institutions currently support consumers and small business interests or are they now more of a threat?  It’s very “brutal” out there right now and getting worse.  Indeed, my practice has been shaped by the “trend of the times” so as to be a truly “independent” entity in facilitating disputes and most often “advocating” for the disadvantaged consumer or partner in a less than ethical relationship with a more powerful corporate or institutional entity.

In a recent case early this year an auto repair business in Alberta first emailed and then called me about a dispute with their bank over their merchant card and POS (point of sale) equipment in their business.  The client had, at the beginning of 2010, made a change of location for their business taking a smaller repair facility than what they had previously.  They had rightfully made moves for their survival given the economy and future projections of a more lengthy “recovery” than government “propaganda” will admit.  Being a good and ethical business too they notified their “big bank” that they had their merchant services with, that they were changing locations, filed an online form to make the change, new business checks, the whole package.  Initially the connecting of the equipment to telecommunications lines for card processing continued without any problem and then about 60 days later a NOTICE came that their account had been reviewed and that they had broken the terms of their agreement and a new contract was to be signed immediately.  Nope, no collaboration, no phone call, nothing… we are all so familiar with this “method” as consumers… are we not?  The client initially did their best to try and determine which part of the contract had been violated so as to trigger the forced termination of their current 3 year agreement, of which they were 2 years into, and the warranted reasoning for a new contract for a longer period, with significant rate increases and no upgrade in services or equipment.  This went on back and forth for about 30 days and then “service” was cut off by “big bank” in Alberta.  To make a very long story short, we reviewed the documents/agreements, current online merchant offers and tried once again to engage the bank of which they refused us as having any LEGAL authority to engage them.  The client also provided a copy of an email where the “big bank” ombuds team “only considers complaints about consumer products and investments”, not merchant services.  Additionally, I could have guessed this part before calling, Ombudsman Banking and Investments for Canada did talk with us and the client in a conference call and “merchant services” are not under their auspices and they could give no other authority or alternative for filing a grievance.  This case yet again confirms “gaps” or areas of practice deemed off limits as dictated by corporate or institutional policy rather than having a policy to address any issue a customer or constituent may have.  This needs changed.

On a personal and rational level, what strikes me most often, is the “double speak” we hear in the media versus what is really going on.  In this case “big bank” had no problem cutting off the “life blood” of the business, debit and credit card transactions, in what was still technically a valid agreement.  It was at this point my OO services were over and I had to rescue a business using my years of wisdom in my “other practice” to keep them alive.  A solution was formulated and implemented in hours with  some built in redundancy and the client was back collecting payment for services rendered.  The case is still open and I told the client they really won’t press this issue until year 3 is up, but if they contact them further, contact me and then cooperate if they want the hundreds of dollars in used POS equipment back.  Don’t take it to them NOW, wait till the contract is up, keep it connected if you can.  And so it goes for now…

I have long said that to really be a good Ombudsperson in today’s world you have to first be very ethical and have a good level of courage to engage in a sort of modern day David and Goliath scenario.  The “external” organizational ombudsperson has plenty of “Blue Ocean” opportunity out there, probably won’t make the fee they would like, but can gain a high degree of satisfaction in their work.  I can report that I am working twice as hard as ever to make less income than previous years, but still, it’s rewarding to be “of service” to others.  Also, these “trends” are not over as the media tries to tell us and as a “Second Wave” of recession/depression approaches.  In my projections I predict this will continue for at least the next 3-5  years as the “common people” get pushed down and out and the “elite” as powerful institutions, continues to “consolidate power” in the newly identified “corporatocracy” and other supporting professional entities align with it.

I sincerely hope that you are “inspired” to make a difference, be proactive on a media story, and grapple with “the right thing to do” in your choices in your own practice; ethical, courageous and altruistic for your clients… it is sorely needed.


Ombudsman ADR & Online Dispute Resolution Technology

28 April 2010

If you’ve been following the OO Blog since inception you know “we” are just over a year old into our formal practice, which is a “spin off” of our other two-decades old consultancy.  So after just a little over a  year we are right in line with how we envisioned the delivery of services as an extension and “leveraging” of our long established “internal” capacity and in alignment with the current and future demands of the consumer.  We have long been able to easily roll out improvements for any function, process or procedure for most businesses by moving in tiny incremental steps in the development.  More and more though, the Internet and web based applications are providing great “value”, enhancements and cost savings with simple customization of forms, templates and content to achieve very good functional outcomes and at a reasonable cost.

All of our clients to date have engaged us via the Internet to do ODR or Online Dispute Resolution, which is now a pretty standard and accepted industry acronym.  ADR too, or Alternative Dispute Resolution has gained wide acceptance and more inclusive terminology is being adopted and adapted currently to better fit the Ombuds profession.  I’ve stressed the difference and tried to define Ombudsman ADR verus legal ADR too and specific meanings with regarding the term “mediation”.  As we pick up the pace our own proprietary solution to do intake and sequentially process steps for dispute resolution have worked just fine for the majority of our cases.  We are though, fortunately, just after one year, considering ODR Technology or Applications as a next step now in our own progress.

As with any business process or practice the real value of Web2.0, Group Ware and other team based collaborative applications is that it provides a standardized set of processes and procedures for communication, but proprietary processes need vertical applications or extensive customization.  By adopting ODR web based application technology you have a built in checklist from intake to settlement that insures everyone is participating fully, technical detail and steps are not forgotten and best practice compliance is built in with every step of the process.

Of all of the current ODR applications I’ve considered, I like Juripax currently because of it’s emphasis on proper preparation at the time of intake and focus on ethical and transparent  procedures that are built into the application.  There is also the de-emphasis of legal terminology in this package because as participants engage each other in the ADR process I’ve noticed that many times, even breathing a wrong word about “legal alternatives” can be explosive and I have had to coach clients to take care less they wish to escalate in the wrong direction.  The Juripax ODR solution is perfect for streamlined “non-legal” processes that are standardized by default for quick assessment and for a variety of types of complaints in B2B, B2C, institutional and community scenarios.  The platform guides you through the process and easily keeps you on track with where you last left off and with who.  Terminology and content are in alignment with currently practiced Ombudaman ADR “lingo” so as to be able to “facilitate” informal discussion and log it all the way through formal legal mediation if the case needs a “hand off” way down the road.

I won’t labor the benefits and features in detail other than to say this package is perfect for a newer practice that is in their second or third year of the business cycle and more formal business practices are now needed to have quality assurance, best practice and now technology to handle higher intake volume.  Regarding key strategy and still evolving “general practice” versus specialization for handling types of disputes, the package handles it all and does not lock you in, but rather adapts as your need to.  Very important as the external environment shifts year to year and you have to align with opportunity as it presents.

So with all of the changes in terminology in the profession that still being hashed out, much of the time with a big or little “e” in front of it… my take now is ADR and ODR will be locked in and accepted by our industry from now and into the future.  ADR and ODR are the means and method for the most efficient, practical and modern formal process to handle local to national and even global disputes in all industries utilizing the Internet to deliver their products or services and where disputes about something serious invariably pop up.