New Ombudsman Program for the Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS®
In my November 2, 2011 blog post, “Update on Recent Activities,” I discussed a new ombudsman program that I had served as the primary consulting resource to help establish. I am delighted to now announce that the Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS® [GAAR] has launched and has been operating its new Ombudsman Program now since late October 2011. The program is available as a neutral, highly confidential, non-escalating resource for members of the public to seek answers to real estate transaction questions and to seek information and referrals to other GAAR resources. It is also a resource for REALTOR® clients and customers to seek assistance in resolving issues and concerns with a real estate transaction, and for REALTORS® seeking assistance with issues involving a fellow REALTOR®.
The new program is designed to dovetail into and complement the existing alternative dispute resolution and professional standards processes and services, and provides a convenient one-stop point of entry into those services. The program is based on both the National Association of REALTORS® and the International Ombudsman Association standards of practice and codes of ethics.
Business Excellence Solutions’ consulting work with the GAAR included working with its key staff, Executive Vice President, and Board of Directors to develop virtually all of the materials necessary to help GAAR implement its Ombudsman program, including:
- A master program implementation plan and schedule;
- Ombudsman Program Overview and Considerations document package;
- Draft Ombudsman Program Charter statement;
- Draft policies and procedures to dovetail the program together with existing services:
- GAAR Board of Directors briefing package;
- A program overview presentation and program orientation for Board members, staff, and interested GAAR members;
- Ombudsman Training Program;
- Case tracking system “dashboard;” and,
- Coaching and troubleshooting throughout the implementation process.
The new program uses a cadre of volunteer REALTORS®, who serve as the ombudsman staff. As practicing REALTORS®,all of the volunteers are experts in real estate transactions and have also received extensive training in mediation and ombudsman practice skills through a twenty hour customized training program designed especially for the new program (there was also a four hour make-up session available to those who were unable to attend each session). The four-part training program focused on key ombudsman skills, including:
- Fundamental tenets of ombudsman practice: confidentiality, neutrality, independence, and informality;
- Ombuds visitor skills: listening without judgment, information gathering, connecting with a visitor and establishing rapport, and developing and testing options with the visitor to help him or her decide on their own best alternatives and approaches.
- Mediation and dispute resolution skills: bringing parties together, facilitating dialogue and problem resolution, framing and reframing, acknowledgement, the role of venting, and separating interests from positions.
- Issue and trend analysis, upward organizational feedback, and awareness of referral resources, and hands-on training on using the customized case management tools, such as the Visitor Intake Form (which is only used to track non-confidential information, such as type of issue, place of referral, outcomes, and similar data), and the Ombudsman Dashboard.
The training program brought together an outstanding faculty of highly experienced, practicing ombudsmen and mediators from the Albuquerque area, who served as instructors, coaches, and mentors to the training program participants. The training team had more than 150 years of collective experience as professionals in dispute resolution. We used interactive and highly realistic real estate transaction scenarios to provide the participants with relevant, hands-on experience, and to allow them to gain comfort and confidence that they were ready to work with actual cases and real visitors. Initially, each new ombudsman will work under the mentorship of an experienced mediator and ombudsman. Ultimately, each of the nine new GAAR ombudspersons will also participate in continuing professional development sponsored by the International Ombudsman Association, and each has joined the International Ombudsman Association [IOA] as an Affiliate Member. In addition to continuing their professional development as ombudsmen, as GAAR members they will continue their professional development as real estate professionals – thus being ideally suited to perform their GAAR ombudsman roles and responsibilities.
Although the new program only began the last week of October, as of January 6, 2012, its ombudsmen had already responded to 38 general inquiries and requests for referrals and had worked with 14 visitors in follow-up to their initial contact. When asked about how the program implementation went, the program’s coordinator, Deborah Davis said, “We are all excited that it is finally here … thank you for your encouragement and your experience that helped us understand that the obstacles we faced were fairly typical in starting up a new program such as this.”
One of the great features of the GAAR Ombudsman Program is its “Ombuds Dashboard,” which we at Business Excellence Solutions designed and provided to GAAR. The Ombuds Dashboard is a web-based tool, which, at a glance, will allow the Ombuds staff, the Board of Directors, and the GAAR Executive Vice President (its CEO) to instantaneously access trends, issues, type of resolution, referrals, and outcomes. (See a sample at right. Note: this is a sample and not real data.) Using an easy-to-use, custom-designed intake and case tracking form, this system will enable its managers and staff to quickly identify trends and patterns that will help the organization and REALTOR® community continuously monitor and improve the quality of its services and the experience of the public in working with REALTORS®.
The ability of the Business Excellence Solutions team to provide the depth and breadth of expertise necessary to provide such broad-spectrum support, which ranged from deep and specialized experience in designing and implementing a completely new ombudsman program, to providing a comprehensive training program, to providing the technical and subject-matter expertise necessary to design and deliver the high-tech Ombudsman Dashboard” highlights the adaptable business model we use. Rather than constraining ourselves to a formalized structure in which our resources are static and inherently limited, the Business Excellence Solutions approach is to maintain a highly fluid and adaptable network of experts that can be called upon as appropriate. Thus, in this case we applied the skills and experience of an entire virtual team of experts with hundreds of years of collective experience in the precise areas needed for this project. In other projects, our teams have looked very different and are designed to precisely meet the needs of the particular customer.
Special thanks to Deborah Davis, who worked tirelessly to refine and customize the necessary documents, such as the Charter Statement, Ombudsman Program Brochure, and implementing procedures for the new program. Without Deborah’s deep knowledge of the organization and its culture and procedures, and her own expertise as a mediator and expert in conflict resolution, the program would have undoubtedly never been fully implemented. Congratulations to the Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS® for its commitment to continuous improvement for customers and for the professional association! It was a pleasure and honor for us to help with this exciting new program!
For more information on the GAAR Ombudsman Program check out http://www.gaar.com/about/ombuds, call 724-3469, or email Ombuds@gaar.com