Demonstrating Value to Key Stakeholders During Times of Transition and Virtual Ombuds Offices

Image of Sana ManjeshwarImage of Elizabeth Hill

By Elizabeth Hill, Associate Director, University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office & Sana Manjeshwar, Global Ombuds Manager, Chevron

We hope you are all staying well and resilient during these uncertain times. Since March 2020, our ombuds community has faced unprecedented challenges and recognized a heightened need to demonstrate value to our stakeholders. This article aims to illuminate how two organizational ombuds programs, Chevron’s Global Office of Ombuds (CGOO) and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Ombuds Office (UCBOO), continue to show their value to visitors, key stakeholders, and other internal and external audiences during these transient times. While our industries may differ, we have identified three effective steps to remain visible and impactful.


Step One: Revisit your value proposition to your organization

"We recognized that we needed to share trends and data more frequently to be more impactful with plans to support our workforce in this pandemic."

The CGOO and UCBOO strive to provide effective support to visitors while demonstrating value to the organization as an effective means of alternative dispute resolution. In March, both offices took a fresh look at their value proposition to ascertain whether adjustments and adaptations were necessary.

Chevron: The CGOO value proposition includes the following goals:

  1. provide a safe and confidential place for employees to be heard, provide conflict resolution and to brainstorm options and ways to raise work-related concerns at an early stage;
  2. to facilitate constructive dialogue and provide timely feedback;
  3. to reduce costs by resolving disputes prior to any formal processes including litigation;
  4. increase employee engagement, productivity, and job commitment; and
  5. to provide early warning of potential issues and trends analysis. 

The success of Chevron’s Ombuds program is measured by several factors, including the awareness of the ombuds services to employees, serving as an early warning system for any concerning trends beyond the employee surveys, and utilization rate of the Ombuds services by employees. The value proposition did not change for Chevron’s Ombuds program; however, we recognized that we needed to share trends and data more frequently to be more impactful with plans to support our workforce in this pandemic. For example, we attended weekly touchpoints with groups dedicated to supporting employees through this pandemic including the Regional Pandemic Response Teams and Return to Work Committees and helped support working parents juggling online learning and work.  We also identified the need to tailor our webinar topics and host them more frequently, and globally, to remind employees of our services.  We held presentations globally on topics more relevant to recent issues such as “Tools for Open Communication in a Virtual World” and recorded a podcast in collaboration with the Office of Global Diversity to help people engage in courageous conversations about race and to speak up if they experience prejudice in the workplace.

University of Colorado Boulder: Upon revisiting its value proposition, UCBOO confirmed its value proposition was as follows:

  1. healthy conflict engagement,
  2. early coaching, guidance or intervention,
  3. help navigating a large and complex organization,
  4. serve as a strategic campus partner,
  5. provide credible insights,
  6. identify trends and systemic issues,
  7. facilitate dialogue,
  8. foster ethical cultures,
  9. help repair and restore relationships,
  10. mitigate reputational harm to individuals as well as the institution,
  11. complement and enhance compliance efforts,
  12. mitigate liability,
  13. provide informal mediation,
  14. work to improve effective and fair organizational systems,
  15. reduce financial and human costs,
  16. build trust,
  17. promote a healthy work environment,
  18. increase morale and productivity, 
  19. increase the likelihood of reporting to the appropriate channel, and
  20. diffuse unnecessary disruption.

The UCBOO also determined that during this time it would be more important than ever to stay connected to the campus community, be as transparent as possible without identifying visitors or breaching confidentiality,  be available to all stakeholders (support staff, students and faculty as well as the organization), and seek feedback. 

As CGOO stated above, in order to effectively deliver our values, stakeholders must be aware of the ombuds office, its tenants of practice, the services it offers and how to reach us. When the pandemic sent most of the University staff, students, and faculty home in March 2020, it required a shift in how we conducted business. While our services did not change and our value proposition remained the same, we realized we needed to adapt our approach to remain visible, relevant, and connected to our community. Accordingly, we quickly moved all our services online:

  • updated our email signature blocks, website, and outgoing messages to inform constituents we were fully functioning and how to contact us;
  • forwarded calls to our program administrator during normal business hours to conduct intake as usual;
  • set up protocols to schedule all visitor consultations by phone or Zoom (strategically using available security features and providing visitors with Zoom meeting IDs at the time of scheduling);
  • adding feedback surveys to our website;
  • establishing a Microsoft Teams account to facilitate team collaboration and allow for instant synchronous communication throughout the day by chat, audio, or video; and
  • scheduling daily morning video check-ins and weekly team video meetings.

We seamlessly transitioned our in-person office to an effective and fully operational remote team. Upon settling into our remote workspaces, we turned our attention to outreach. We created an office Twitter account to provide timely information, increase visibility, and engage our constituents; launched a weekly Lunch and Learn series named “Small bites. Big impact.”; created a YouTube channel as a repository for our recorded Lunch and Learns; published more frequent blog posts; and orchestrated a six-part webinar series titled “Staying in Conversation About Racism.

The UCBOO Lunch and Learn Series “Small bites. Big impact.”, covers an array of topics. In the beginning, however, we focused on content intended to aid employee transition to remote work including, “Building Trust Online: Four Ways to Boost Trust Among Remote Teams” and “Practicing Self Kindness in Our New Reality.

Similarly, the Ombuzz blog posts provided relevant tips and strategies on many topics including:

  • “Two Keys to Virtual Communication”
  • “Effective Ways to Maintain (and possibly improve) Productivity While Working at Home”
  • “Supervising a Remote Team (for the first time)”
  • “Be Kind to Yourself During These Challenging Times”
  • “Virtual Communication Guidelines for Teams”
  • “Be Intentional Through This Transition”
  • “Establish Rituals to Start and End the Workday”
  • “Zombies, COVID-19 and Anxiety: Tips to Help with Anxiety in This Uncertain Time”
  • “Foster Trust Among Your Remote Team”
  • “Internal Resistance”
  • “Practicing Self Kindness in our New Reality”

Our services also required adjustments. While scheduling one-to-one visitor consults via Zoom seemed easy enough, we attended online mediation training to ensure we were prepared to effectively conduct mediations online. This resulted in establishing office and participant protocols to cultivate a positive experience for participants while adhering to our Standards of Practice.

Finally, we established undergraduate walk-in hours during Spring 2020 and Fall 2020, offering 15-minute Zoom consults on a first-come, first-serve basis during a two-hour window. In our experience, undergraduate students don’t typically require a full 90-minute consultation. They often require straight forward information or seek help identifying and navigating resources. If a student’s situation requires more time, we schedule an additional 90-minute consultation.

Step Two: Align the Ombuds Department with the Organization’s Core Values and Mission.

Chevron: In addition to revisiting the value proposition of the Ombuds program, we also needed to review our department goals to ensure they were aligned with company goals and diversity efforts. Chevron’s Ombuds program was founded over thirty years ago and focused solely on conflict resolution. However, over time, Ombuds services have evolved in alignment with Chevron’s values and goals. Today, Chevron’s Ombuds program is known as an independent, impartial, confidential, and safe space to be heard, completely off the record. Chevron Ombuds empower visitors with the tools they need to overcome any work-related concern and have a positive experience at work. While conflict resolution is an essential component of our services, we have also enhanced our services to support our strong diversity and inclusion values. 

In light of recent attention to racial injustice, many corporations have renewed their commitments to Diversity and Inclusion.  One of our department’s goals has always been to support Chevron’s diversity and inclusion efforts by providing outreach and workshops to Chevron’s employee networks and capturing data (excluding any identifiable information) on visitors. We also experienced an increase in demand to provide guidance to have courageous conversations about race and promote an inclusive work environment. In addition to providing webinars on the topic of speaking up and tools for open communication, our Ombuds have served on employee network panels to foster open dialogue on sensitive topics to provide more awareness on topics of race and how to promote inclusive behaviors at work.

University of Colorado Boulder: As members of the University of Colorado Boulder we agree to The Colorado Creed:

  • Act with honor, integrity, and accountability in my interactions with students, faculty, staff, and neighbors.
  • Respect the rights of others and accept our differences.
  • Contribute to the greater good of this community.

The university’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative reinforces these values defining its identity as respect for diversity and inclusivity.

After the killing of George Floyd, UCBOO’s six-part webinar series “Staying in Conversation about Racism” was one of the first efforts on our campus to help people embrace these challenging, and often emotionally charged, conversations. The objective was to furnish our campus community with a nonjudgmental space to learn the skills and strategies they need to hold courageous conversations.

In addition, we added a “Standing Against Racism” tab to the ombuds office website to align with the university and streamline information and resources.

Step Three: Identify Specific Collaboration Plans for Target Groups.

Continuous collaboration is especially important to demonstrate the effectiveness and raise awareness of Ombuds services. One of the risks of a completely virtual ombuds office is the lack of visibility and the potential emergence of silos. 

Chevron: Before the pandemic, Chevron’s Ombuds program was emerging as a truly global program for the first time in our history, with our first Ombuds outside the U.S. located in Perth, Australia, and an additional Ombuds role in London to cover the EMEA region.  We had plans to continue traveling globally to provide support to employees, but that all changed with the pandemic. Instead of seeing this as a hindrance to our outreach, we viewed it as a golden opportunity to connect virtually with more people globally without dealing with the logistics of travel and meeting rooms. We continued to host quarterly meetings with the Employee Assistant Program (EAP) and the Hotline and Employee Relations (ER) to share issues and trends; presented at the Human Resources (HR) Leadership Team meeting; set up quarterly touchpoints with the Chief Human Resources Officer; and set up meetings with every President and HR Manager globally to review the Ombuds Annual Report. Ombuds collaboration with these formal channels resulted in the following: (1) continued awareness for Ombuds services, especially in times of transition; (2) formal channels having a better understanding of the IOA Standards of Practice; and, (3) a demonstrated value long term by elevating systemic issues in a timely manner and collaborating with these channels to address workplace concerns.

"Continuous collaboration is especially important to demonstrate effectiveness and raise awareness of Ombuds services."

University of Colorado Boulder: At the University of Colorado Boulder, the ombuds office continuously strives to collaborate and partner with all university stakeholders. Our efforts include quarterly meetings with leaders, annual meet and greets with select campus stakeholders, participation in campus events, annual reports, aligning ombuds office data gathering with other campus units’ data gathering to provide senior leaders with a more consistent and substantiated overview of campus trends, co-facilitating trainings, and workshops with human resources and faculty affairs, and cross-promoting events, activities, and trainings with divisions and units across campus.

Recent events also spurred opportunities for collaboration with faculty. The “Staying in Conversation About Racism” series mentioned above gave occasion for our office to join forces with faculty of color who have expertise in facilitating dialogue about racism.

The new Title IX Regulations presented an occasion to collaborate with the University of Colorado Boulder’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. The new regulations required new policies and procedures. We were invited to review the changes and submit feedback. The ombuds office was also invited to observe the mock prehearing conference and hearing. Watching this process firsthand bestowed insight to more accurately describe what complainants and respondents might expect from the new Title IX process.   

Finally, the most important way to demonstrate value to your organization is to demonstrate exemplary self-care and empathy. This fosters comfort for our visitors and results in referrals for others who might be feeling lost, stuck, or stymied.  Visitor awareness of our office and the services we provide has increased since our programs went virtual despite pandemic challenges.  The greatest value Ombuds can bring to the organization is helping people at every level of the organization remain focused and empower them with the tools they need to remain healthy and productive during these turbulent and uncertain times.

"The most important way to demonstrate value to your organization is to demonstrate exemplary self-care and empathy."

Share this post:

Comments on "Demonstrating Value to Key Stakeholders During Times of Transition and Virtual Ombuds Offices"

Comments 0-15 of 2

LaCrisia R. Gilbert - Wednesday, December 02, 2020

This is an excellent article! Looking forward to using some of these approaches.

Elisa Enriquez - Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Thank you so much for the clear and specific approaches we can use within our organizations. This is great! Elisa

Please login to comment