Q&A with Ombuds Melanie Jagneaux

Baylor’s new ombuds, Melanie Jagneaux, joined the College earlier this year. Get to know more about her and her important role at Baylor College of Medicine.

What is an ombuds and why is it important for the College to have this position? 

An ombuds (sometimes called an ombudsman or ombudsperson) is a person who provides independent, neutral, informal and confidential assistance to people who wish to safely raise and promptly address concerns or issues in the workplace, fairly and at the right level. An ombuds always listens to understand. It is one of the most important things that an ombuds does. As an ombuds better understands the concerns, the ombuds can effectively describe the variety of options that are available and even offer a new perspective or help develop a strategy or action plan.

It is important for the College to have an Ombuds Office because it offers a safe and confidential setting to discuss any BCM-related issue, usually one-on-one but sometimes with two or more people. Ombuds are also helpful in developing effective communication and conflict management skills. Ombuds work to uphold a positive organizational culture and help people repair relationships.

Who may access ombuds services and resources, and what can they expect when they do? 

Melanie Jagneaux

The Ombuds Office is here to help one and all. As the BCM ombuds, I serve every member of the BCM community, including students, trainees, faculty and staff both on campus and in our affiliate locations. You have many resources available to you here at BCM – depending on the circumstances, you may talk to your manager, professor, principal investigator, someone in human resources, faculty affairs or reach out to the Integrity hotline. But sometimes you may not be quite sure where to go initially or how to explain your concerns. The Ombuds Office is a safe place to talk through any BCM-related issue when you don’t know quite what to do or are not ready to take a formal action.

I will meet with you privately to hear your concerns, and will keep our conversation and your identity completely confidential. (The only exception to confidentiality is imminent risk of serious harm, like risk to life.) I remain neutral – will not take sides, will not give legal advice or tell you what to do. Rather, I will describe the array of options that are available to you; it is up to you to decide the course of action you would like to take. The Ombuds Office is an informal option. I may assist you in developing a plan for effective resolution and may offer to intervene on your behalf but will never take further action without your request and permission.

What are your priorities and goals as the ombuds at Baylor College of Medicine? 

A priority of mine is to help people help themselves, if they wish to do so. When they do, they maintain control over their choices and actions. When you work with me, you may choose to take direct action because it is the most effective option and also because it leaves open a variety of additional options. Meanwhile, you gain insights, awareness and potentially strengthen skills in dealing with your own issues more effectively.

Another vital priority of mine is that of giving feedback to BCM leadership regarding organizational trends. While I primarily work individually or in small groups, I also have an overview of the whole organization and provide informal feedback of pattern concerns to leadership. I serve as an early warning resource by alerting leadership of critical issues. I also help surface new ideas and innovations and inform others of best practices as I hear them. By providing respect to all who come, by listening closely to all of the concerns, by offering guidance and information and confidentially sharing information with leadership about things going wrong, I may help improve the culture here, help reduce the costs of conflict and help preserve important relationships.

What drew you to this career and how long have you been in it?

I was drawn to the ombuds role when I was working to design an integrated conflict resolution system for a large corporation. In my research into what other organizations were doing, I learned about the ombuds role as an important internal resource that is well equipped to assist people in resolving issues informally and before they get out of hand. In my work as an ombuds, I have witnessed people develop effective communication and conflict resolution skills. I have seen people successfully manage their own issues and watched organizations make improvements that impacted positive change in the workplace. As an ombuds, I know that I am uniquely positioned to give real help to people when they need it most, and that feels good. It is equally rewarding to have a broader impact on the organization I work in. Over time, I gather data from cases and inform leadership of overall patterns and trends. In this way, I am able to provide early warning of issues that might not otherwise be made available.

I have been working in the conflict resolution field for nearly 20 years.

What is your educational / professional background?

I have a degree in law and am licensed to practice law in Texas, but as an ombuds, I do not provide legal advice. I have a master’s degree in business administration and am a trained mediator. Prior to my role here, I worked in industry for 25 years. I started out in the human resources department of the division office for the Coca-Cola bottler in New Orleans. I transferred to the corporate headquarters in Atlanta and served there in a variety of functions, from benefits to employee relations, to corporate secretarial (working with corporate governance and the board of directors), to dispute resolution. In my last role, I designed, developed and directed the company’s employment dispute resolution system (including conflict skills training courses and internal and external mediation, arbitration.) After that, I worked for Baker Hughes as the principal ombuds. In that role, I oversaw all aspects of the ombuds office’s operations and worked to ensure that the team I led performed effectively and delivered on its missions and goals.

What has impressed you and/or your favorite thing about Baylor College of Medicine so far?

I am most impressed with the love and loyalty for BCM that I have heard from so many of our BCM community members. In all my years working, I have never seen this level of devotion and commitment to an institution. In my first five months working at BCM, I have had the honor of working with more than 100 of you and have found my work incredibly satisfying and rewarding. I have often heard from people that they really love this place and want to find a resolution to their concerns to make their working or learning situations more fulfilling. It has meant a great deal to me when after working with someone and on parting, I hear such things as “thank you, this really helped a lot,” or “I’m so glad that Baylor put this office in place,” or “I didn’t know exactly where to go or what to do and now I have a plan.”

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I run a lot. I run races to set and keep goals. When I am registered for a race, I map out a calendar of running to keep my life in good balance and to improve my speed. While running, I leave my worries on the road. After running, I feel calm and peaceful. When I am training for a marathon, I run six days a week and put in lots of miles. I run the Hanson method, which means I ‘run on tired legs.’ In January, I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon for the fourth time and achieved my new personal record (PR) of 4 hours and 7 minutes and in March I ran the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon for the first time, setting another new PR of 4:04. When I lived in Atlanta, I ran marathons on Thanksgiving mornings, so I could eat all the turkey I wanted and cook as little as possible. The hardest marathon I ever ran was in 2013, on Surfside Beach, Texas. It meant running 26.2 miles ON THE SAND and combatting strong winds half the distance. At the turn-around point (having faced strong headwinds for over 13 miles and run over 16), I felt like I had already run a full marathon and had 10 miles left to go!  I finished exhausted, and yet somehow placed second in my age group. I also run half marathons sometimes. This year, on April 15, I placed first in my age group for the HEB Alamo Half Marathon! I still run for fun and not to compete against others. I compete against myself and love to see my times improve.