The New Ombudsperson and The Quantum Activist

17 April 2011

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

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

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

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

On Netflix here:

http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Quantum_Activist/70138491?trkid=496624

Website: http://www.QuantumActivist.com

YouTube Trailer here:

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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.


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.


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.


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.