IFA’s Ombudsman Program Delivers Impartial Conflict Resolution
HEYL: What do you see as the main goal of IFA’s Ombudsman Program?
VANDITTELLI: The program’s goal is to provide confidential, impartial and independent conflict resolution resources for franchisees and franchisors when working through challenging differences and disputes. The program is unique and innovative for problem solving using an informal and non-legal approach. Unlike mediation, the program does not require both parties to participate, which can still expand the possibilities for resolution and change the conflict dynamic.
The IFA Ombudsman can provide additional integrity by being able to speak about the broader franchise experience throughout the industry with a balanced perspective of both the franchisee and franchisor experiences. This can often normalize and de-escalate the situation, allowing a space for brainstorming additional “out-of-the-box” ideas. As a result, there is a resulting increase in trust and integrity between the parties, overall franchise systems and external organizations such as government bodies.
In addition to bringing parties together to help resolve disputes in individual franchise systems, the IFA Ombudsman program serves the entire franchise community by helping identify industry-wide franchise relations trends and common conflicts. Quickly identifying these trends leads to proactive prevention and the continued growth of the industry.
HEYL: Vis-a-vis franchise relationship bills, how do you see the IFA Ombudsman Program in reducing the need for such legislation?
VANDITTELLI: I see the IFA Franchise Ombudsman program as another independent and impartial resource for the franchisee and franchisor to work through any differences or disputes before the conflicts escalate to legal action, or worse, legislation, and before the dispute hurts both the parties involved and the franchise system as a whole.
A robust franchise ombudsman program that is managed with integrity is one less reason for the need for more regulation. There has never been a greater need for creative alternative conflict resolution and problem-solving models in business than the current times. The world has become very small and transparent with social media, Twitter and blogs.
The IFA Franchise Ombudsman program is an innovative process that can bring people and groups together and produce constructive dialogue. Traditional methods of communication and conflict resolution do not always work today, and at times they can escalate the situation unnecessarily.
HEYL: How long have you been the IFA Ombudsman?
VANDITTELLI: Since 2004. I have worked on four different ombudsman programs for franchise and workplace issues for the past 17 years.
HEYL: What is the most common complaint you receive?
VANDITTELLI: The primary concern that brings either franchisees or franchisors to request assistance from the IFA Ombudsman is a lack of dialogue between parties. One party may refuse to negotiate. Parties become concerned about the dispute escalating to unmanageable or expensive legal action and the parties may have reached an impasse. A non-traditional, creative alternative may be necessary to resolve the dispute.
Examples of common issues include lack of support, compliance with agreements, changes in the system, territorial disputes, and use of advertising funds and marketing strategies.
HEYL: What prepared you to be IFA’s Ombudsman?
VANDITTELLI: I am a certified ombudsman or COOP with the International Ombudsman Association and a chartered mediator. I have over 25 years’ experience in business and over 13 years as an entrepreneur in my consulting practice; over 17 years of ombudsman experience with four ombudsman programs and a degree in business. I regularly attend professional development courses and sessions in the area of franchising, ombudsman and dispute resolution.
HEYL: How do you measure success in resolving issues?
VANDITTELLI: I view an outcome as successful when parties:
- Have more options, resources and perspectives on their specific situation than they recognized before the call.
- Successfully negotiate their dispute with a win-win solution on their own after some negotiation coaching and guidance.
- Achieve a new understanding or agreement with the assistance of the IFA Ombudsman.
HEYL: What additional programs exist beyond those of the IFA Ombudsman?
VANDITTELLI: There are private label programs, wherein franchise systems can retain their own franchise ombudsman and either have a program developed through a private contract or with the IFA Ombudsman. This service is a separate program and is financed by the franchise system. If the system has an advisory council, then it is usually a good idea to have them involved as appropriate. A “private label” or “system” ombudsman may result in increased earlier resolutions, lessening the negative impact of a dispute on the system, eliminating legal costs in conjunction with the dispute, and identifying new trends in franchise-related disputes. One of the strategic values of an ombudsman program is to provide an early warning system for the franchisor without any identification of specific individuals.
HEYL: Where can you find more information about IFA’s Ombudsman Program?
VANDITTELLI: You can visit www.ifaresolve.com, www.franchise.org or call 1-888-452-0303. ⎯