An ombuds... What? The challenge of bringing ombuds magic to Argentina

By Jacqueline Berzon, former corporate lawyer, current mediator and aspiring ombuds

How do you sell a service that nobody knows? How do you sell a service without being able to demonstrate its positive results? How do you sell a service nobody thinks is needed? How do you sell a service no one has experienced before? It is hard.

My name is Jackie Berzon. I'm 43 and I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am a mother of two boys, a spouse, a lawyer, a mediator, an organizational coach, a foodie (this is not a minor detail!) and lately a lunatic promoter of the the organizational ombuds role in Argentina.

For more than 20 years, I worked as a lawyer for large law firms and for multinational companies. I had a successful career, but I was not happy. When the last company for which I worked as legal director closed its offices in Buenos Aires, I decided it was time to seek inside myself and find out what I really wanted to do. It was not easy, but after almost two years, I realized that (1) I wanted to remain linked to organizations and (2) what I liked the most was to help people walk through their problems. Some people run away from those who suffer. I like to stay. I like to accompany, help, encourage and sustain. It was good to have something in mind. But the question now was, whom did I wanted to help and how?

While in my last job, I had a personal experience that made me realize that, when an employee has a problem, his/her organization is the one that suffers the most. And this is worse in countries like mine, where the labor law encourages employees to file legal claims against their employers for any reason and with great chances for employees to win them. As a result, when an employee has a workplace problem in Argentina, in addition to lowering their engagement and productivity and probably quitting their job, they will surely also initiate a legal claim that their employer will most likely lose.

Besides becoming aware of the costs that workplace problems cause to organizations, and how emotions have an impact in workplace conflicts, my personal experience also made me realize that employees tend not to speak or report their conflicts but, if they feel that someone wants to hear them and help them, there is a big chance for them to speak up. And I personally experienced that.

These understandings made me realize I wanted to help organizations help their employees resolve their conflicts.

I became a mediator and afterwards got trained as an organizational coach. When I started researching about preventing and resolving conflicts in organizations, I learned about the role of the organizational ombuds and about the IOA. I found it incredible to discover that what I wanted to do already existed -- it had a name and that there was an Association that had a lot of information, materials, resources and formidable contacts to whom I could reach out. So, I signed up for the Foundations Course and for the Annual Conference that would take place a few months later in New Orleans. I think I was the first Argentine to ever attend the Conference.

Once in New Orleans, I was fascinated by all that I saw and learned and those I met. Much of what I was taught in Foundations I had already learned in my conflict resolution courses, but meeting people who were so open, so generous and so kind in sharing their experiences, lessons and knowledge was extremely enriching. I spent six intense and exhausting days in NOLA between Foundations and the Conference, and I could have stayed six more days. I enjoyed it and took advantage of it!

Back in Argentina, I prepared and launched my website, created my social networks and started writing. I write a lot, and I publish everything in my networks. I decided to send an article to the most prestigious newspaper in Argentina on the challenge that organizations currently face as a result of everything that happened after the #metoo movement and the positive role ombuds have to address these new challenges and opportunities. The article was published the following week. After that, I sent a second article about organizational silence to the most recognized economic-political paper and I received confirmation that it will be published in the next few weeks. I am also starting to have meetings with potential clients, which will help me confirm how much interest these matters generate and also the resistance that HR and/or Compliance may have towards the role of the organizational ombuds. I am learning a lot from each meeting.

It is not easy to undertake something from scratch, much less to do so in a very unstable country like Argentina. And even less so when one offers a service that it is totally unknown. I feel like Steve Jobs when he launched his totally innovative devices and generated a need that, until that point, did not exist. I am doing the same. Slowly. Step by step.

I don't know where this road will take me. I may end up working as an organizational ombuds for some organization. I may end up providing some other services related to conflict prevention and resolution. Or I may end up doing none of these and going back to my very well-known legal career. At the moment, I only know that, for the first time in my 43 years, I feel passion, fulfillment and comfort with what I do. That I love it, that I enjoy it, that it connects me with my being, with my sense and with my purpose. Regardless of what others believe and of the difficulties and challenges that I face, I strongly know that helping people to address their problems more positively and thus, to live and work better, and also helping organizations build better cultures where people feel listened, contained and valued, is what I want to do.

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Comments on "An ombuds... What? The challenge of bringing ombuds magic to Argentina"

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Ronnie Thomson - Wednesday, September 18, 2019

What an encouragement you are to me! Thank you, Jacqueline. Reading your story reminded me of my own and why I love this calling to an organizational ombuds. Never give up! You are creating your legacy. All the best to you. Ronnie Thomson (oh, and others who have experienced what I provide have titled it "magic" as well.)

Roy Baroff - Friday, September 06, 2019

Jacqueline - thanks for sharing your ombuds journey! We met briefly at conference and how exciting that you are bringing the ombuds role to Argentina! Good luck and best wishes, Roy Baroff

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