If I Were Running A Company…The Ombudsman

Eight years ago when I was applying for an NPR internship, the application asked, in order of preference, what department you want to work in. My obvious first choice was HR because that’s in my field (and got the internship). I did put in a second choice: the ombudsman office.

I was intrigued what the ombudsman does. I did some research about the position and thought this is the most unique position in an organization. In summary, the ombudsman investigates  and hear complaints from customers/fans and gives an opinion on issues surrounding their organization in public. You mostly heard of the term in journalism and government. We need that position in business.

Here are the ombudsman’s duties:

  • Hear internal and external complaints about the company.
  • Investigate the complaint through interviews and eyewitnesses.
  • Gives an independent opinion on the matter at hand in public.
  • Gets paid to have an opinion.

Emphasis on independent. The ombudsman is an independent employee. It is not a consultant, because while a consultant can influence a business decision by action, the ombudsman only gives recommendations. and it’s up to the company to execute the recommendations. In addition, the ombudsman can say all the nasty stuff you see in social media from friends, but the difference is when people write nasty stuff in social media without consent or your co-worker saw your status, you will likely be fired. The ombudsman cannot because that’s his/her job.

You would imagine that the ombudsman is an easy position because they give opinions and that might be true, but the position has to be neutral as well and you can’t have an agenda. Look at ESPN’s hiring of Robert Lipsyte for ombudsman. In the past, Lipsyte used write columns to take down ESPN’s coverage on sports, and at times, snarky. However,  Lipsyte mentions he has to cover on a case-by-case basis since each situation is different and he can’t be that snarky since he is now an ESPN employee.

Also, the ombudsman is asking for tons of experience in the industry. This is not necessarily a young person’s job since everyone has an opinion, but the questions remains if they have experience is can they be objective and have the wisdom to know what’s going on? Dealing with the business side, the ombudsman needs to know about the business infrastructure plus the industry they’re in. Think of the ombudsman as a shadow CEO.

The reason I would want an ombudsman in my company is because they keep their companies on their toes. The ombudsman should have no repercussions when having an opinion. Although the company may disagree with the recommendations, it is important that both sides would want the company and industry to be accountable and successful down the line. It is always good to hear a second opinion.

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