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?

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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, EmbassyWorld.com 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.


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.


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.


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…


The Forces of Inertia, Ombudsmanship and Opportunity Trends

2 November 2009

To gain the clearest understanding for this topic it’s important to define two words first.

INERTIA:  Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change: the inertia of an entrenched bureaucracy.

Ombudsmanship is not a word, not in the dictionary, but here is what I’m after.

OMBUDSMANSHIP:  the demonstrated knowledge, skill set, personal integrity and practice of the principles of the profession:  the facilitator demonstrated true ombudsmanship during the meeting.

Once again I’m writing this from personal “inspiration” and observations from the perspective of an ombudsman and the potential application of the ombudsman role in contemporary societal and business issues.  I also ask you, the aspiring ombudsman, ombudsman professional or other professional that sometimes has to play an ombudsman role; can you see the trends that are manifesting in our world and what the opportunity is?

Without a doubt, the majority of the present day conflicts “we” are in is a result of normal human behavior playing out across a broad socially divergent environment in an attempt to gain or preserve personal resources towards survival, self preservation, stability and growth.  The world is split basically into the “haves and the have nots” and the failures and abuses of people in corporations, institutions, governments and other responsible entities is “quickening” conflict towards the goal of resolution.  The flip side of this coin that contributes to difficulties is that individuals themselves have made choices and decisions to leverage their earnings by taking easy credit for everything from credit card purchases to home buying.  The waves of chaos to order can be observed through the media, some cycles unending, some the Gordian Knot, and some end happy.  For people with power, status and resources under their control to simply go by the “path of least resistance”, “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”, “ignorance is bliss”, “my sovereign rights over human rights” and all other forms of “polarity” between the elite and the masses is no longer acceptable.  At the same time there are people who do make philanthropic decisions or control resources that can be distributed and portioned out to people in “hopes” they will utilize them efficiently and not waste or squander the intended benefit.  The Ombudsman is in a prime position to provide assurance and rectify the exchanges if called to do so.  If you accept this premise and understand the “trends” that continue unfolding, it becomes clear and the action to take is easily visible.  It just takes a deep breath and the courage to begin… overcome your own inertia, enter into the fray and make a difference if you see an opportunity.

By our nature, an ombudsman is less likely to be proactive and “take a side” and “enter the fray”; and we therefore “wait to be invited” into chaos.  It may be time though, to step forward as a professional, wave our hand from the back of the room, and at least offer our integrity and neutrality for consideration to the “powers that be”.  Since I made the choice last year to start my OO services as a branch of my corporate, business and organizational development consulting practice the opportunities that are coming to me are not about the “vertical ombudsman job” as I’d hoped.  I’m asked instead to keep my ombudsmanship approach as a project leader with clients and then to move forward and take an “undeclared” ombudsman role, leading from the middle and to preempt any barriers or possible derailments of projects.  The concern is that projects get off cycle, waste resources and get so conflicted people won’t “work” because of attitudes and emotions played out in a variety of ways.  In specific, one client is saying, “we don’t want you to be an ombudsman, but we like the approach and principles to be kept in mind as you proceed.”

This IS the continuing TREND now.  America and the world knows business, is educated, knows technology, is efficient and proficient in core business areas, these are yesterdays issues in business.  Today’s issue is restoring trust and confidence in all that we do “together”, more for the community and stakeholder than the shareholder though.  What’s been missing is something the law, lawyers, legislators, judges, policemen, federal agencies and regulators have attempted to mitigate, but are NOT always successful at stopping due to insufficient budgets, hours available in a day or policy positions.  If they do get the chance to intervene, bring justice, the end result is often difficult to handle in “terms” of economic loss, emotional damage and outright lives and businesses destroyed.  What is desired now is “honest, trustworthy and virtuous” people in business so as to have a “high confidence” that economic objectives advance to goals achieved and success for the group or community.  No one really, anymore, wants to resort to law suits for the multitude of misrepresentations and non-performance issues that unfold.  The trend is now, as I observe my world, is towards a trusted long term benefit over short term “burn” for cash today.  You’ll see more “employee owned” companies emerge for example.  I admit, there is an “assumption” here that we ombudsmen can be successful in educating and steering events “on the fly” with people who may have other “personal” monetary interests at heart versus say, economic benefit for a whole entity or community.  Nevertheless, this is the trend and where opportunity rich social and economic possibilities exist.

For us as ombudsman professionals our opportunities my not be a “uni-dimensional” or single mediation role, though opportunities abound.  Can “we” overcome our own inertia, “resistance” to changing ourselves and be willing to play the ombudsman role while acting in another capacity, perhaps different job title?  Can we be “multi-dynamic” and inject “ombudsmanship” into our projects, jobs, roles, communications, offices, teams, communities and entities we are engaged with?  Once “we” become “known” for this and the perception is set, credibility established, we are then empowered to create proactive change and restore trust in many areas in our immediate circle of influence.  People in our “networks” will inherently trust us and the ones that don’t, well, we might suspect less than ethical relationships in those instances and can take precautions and probably create a change of mind and heart as to how they approach their own relationships.  Indeed, if people have “gone as high” as they can go in their “appeals” and gained as much “access to power” as resources permit, Ombudsmen have the chance now to “balance” social economics and asymmetrical power structures like never before on the behalf of others in multiple ways.  Something to consider… now what possibilities surround you?


The New Ombudsman and The Blue Ocean

20 August 2009

If you are a “regular” with the Organizational Ombudsman Blog you’ve noticed I weave the term “new ombudsman” into much of my commentary.  Within the context of my topics, my intent is no accident, as I am working to define new “Ombudsman ADR” in differentiation to what consumers perceive as traditional mediation, or legal ADR.  I’m “pro choice” and believe we need the legal profession to bring justice in applicable circumstances, but with the increased conflict and misery in the vast majority of societies globally, 7 plus billion people now, there should be an alternative for individuals seeking PEACE AND STABILITY versus material greed and punishing vengeance for less than criminal issues.  I could write forever on all aspects of this topic, but instead, let’s keep it to clarifying the definition of the “new ombudsman” and the “blue ocean” we can swim together as peace builders for groups of individuals in our organizations and communities.

First, the “new ombudsman” is a progressive philosopher and an eclectic thinker.  They are most likely a “boomer”, born of the 60’s movements and now, today, wise to the ways to not only live peacefully, but able to articulate, “practice what they preach” and technically translate education, knowledge and wisdom into a “new profession” to the benefit of others.  Yes, some are lawyers, some are psychologists, some are social workers, teachers, retired from the profession they now “mediate” to; it’s an “inclusive” mix of professions and people.  They didn’t know it, but looking back on their career and life they were using “ombudsmanship” all along and now want to make it their calling.  They are technologically savvy, can grasp and get a handle on complex (Gordian Knot) circumstances and issues, they can do mental analysis faster than a computer, they are skilled “generalists” in their life and profession, their degrees and certificates are “translatable and applicable” in terms of value towards peace making regardless of what “others” tell them and they know it and are not deterred.  More than anything else, they can “see outside the legal box” and let themselves guide clients to resolve conflicts in “their own self directed paradigm” with their own goals, values, morals, “relativistic” ethics and terms as the only basis that matters.  While this is highly idealistic the process helps “synergize” the exchange of culture, ideas, “different from mine” perspectives and thus provides the process for change and understanding.  In the end, the case may never reach the “consent” stage in The 6 C’s of Sociocratic Peace Building and the “new ombudsman” may never have “personal validation”, but in the end the “measure” is the practical outcomes or results of the process; or at least the cessation of conflict where they had the courage to “give it a try”.

As New Ombudsmen we will always have opportunity and clients everywhere we go, we are, capable of neutralizing opposing polarizing actions in formal “informal” processes, incognito and helping to harmonize life wherever the opportunity presents itself.  In Buddhism the first Noble Truth of the Four Noble Truths is:  life is suffering.  Indeed, there are all forms of suffering, some beyond our control, but what the Zen Buddhist knows, “if you see him”, is that we mostly make our suffering with each other.   In psychology my favorite “master” is Maslow because he was the only guy in the field to study “happy people” versus “anomalies and mental disease” that consumes practitioners to this day.  He discovered happy people get their needs met in his hierarchy of identified basic and optimal human needs model.  In our role as “new ombudsmen”, we might want to keep this in mind, you’d be surprised how this can reduce “suffering” if we can mediate with clarity for the employer and the employees, for example, or the corporation and the local community.  These types of issues don’t need “the law” to tell us what the solution must be.

When I wake up each day my job is to look at “The Blue Ocean” in my local community and through the “Windows” of my computer globally for my own practice and my clients.  Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant is a Harvard Business School published book by W. Chan Kim and Renee’ Mauborgne.  The contrast to the Blue Ocean in the book is the Red Ocean.  The definition is complex and ever evolving but basically Blue Oceans are markets, opportunities and as yet undefined industries that are evolving and “paradigm shifting”.  In Red Oceans, these are the traditional industry segments, clusters, targets, products, services that have a life cycle and are “controlled” by government and big business.  If you want to “contrast” this first hand for yourself as it relates to “our” industry, I STRONGLY recommend you read the Blue Ocean book AND Making Peace Making Money: Economic Analysis of the Market for Mediators in Private Practice  (January 2009) by Urska Velikonja a member of the Red Ocean “legal elite” and the Harvard Law School.  Her analysis is complete, accurate, concise and 100% valid for legal mediators… but I don’t swim in that ocean and the new ombudsman does not either.  I live in the Blue Ocean, the symbology of the color is very relevant for me personally and the vastness of the opportunity for all of us “new ombudsmen” is needed for decades to come in service to others who do not have “elite” access.

Lately, the new ombudsman in the “blue ocean” faces “establishment” challenges.  There are plenty of “traditional institutions, agencies and organizations” around to tell them “you don’t fit and you are not qualified”.  To get even more critical about it, the “red ocean sharks” would say we are equivalent to “quacks” in the medical profession… they too told “alternative medicine” for decades, “your methods are not valid, not approved or tested, not based on the laws of science and are against the law”.  In the handful of cases I’ve had so far in my new practice the last 11 months I had to “first hand” face a lawyer as a “party” in a complaint.  The lawyer was “mediation certified” and loaded with degrees and had “tried and tested” experience.  The “new ombuds” must be prepared and have the courage to face such scenarios towards peaceful resolution of disputes where legal practitioners get “entangled” or even instigate everyday “suffering” and “polarizing” as the legal, social and economic landscape shifts for “common people”.  These are just a very few examples, but this is going to go on for decades and makes up a small segment of the “blue ocean” for the new ombudsman.