Transformational change: Rhetoric or Reality
I’m not going to start the blog off by going over old ground to describe our current situation using phrases such as ‘unprecedented’ or ‘seismic ‘. Combine austerity measures across the sector with evidence suggesting that police work is becoming increasingly complex and we can hopefully all agree that what got us to here most definitely will not get us to there. If we can’t then that’s a debate for another day perhaps.
What got us to here isn’t, despite what some critics would have us believe, all bad. In a crisis the British police service are about as good an outfit as you’ll find anywhere in the world and we should be proud of this history and track record. Aside from the high profile cases that dominate the debate we all know that every night of the week we are dealing with situations that require extraordinary courage, initiative and compassion. But the world has changed and is changing every day, requiring us to respond ….I’d suggest we transform.
Speed is the issue, volume of data is the issue and accountability is the issue. How we develop and equip our people so that they can excel in this new environment is surely our priority yet many change programmes, faced with the pressure to save, pay insufficient attention to their people. They risk losing the one thing that British policing values more than any other asset – extra mile effort or to put it more technically ….discretionary effort. Policing is a high discretion job, nobody can manage you to such an extent that you are forced to stop a car with 4 on board at 3am, nobody can force an FLO to keep in contact with a victim’s family for years after the crime.
New Public Management has had it’s day and must be replaced by a focus on understanding what the public value. We may be surprised at the answer to that question, but we aren’t asking it so ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’.
To function in this new environment requires us to think very differently about how we lead, how we design work and how we shift our culture so that we encourage autonomy, turning common sense into common practice. Before anyone says ‘that’s how it used to be’ I’ll suggest it has never been like this. Fond memories of the past are often cited with little evidence to back up the feeling that we once had discretion but we removed it. I joined in 1991 and most of the discretion I witnessed was very unhelpful, which is probably why we over-compensated and have over-managed ever since.
So, the area I’m interested in exploring is the idea put forward by bloggers like Celine Schillinger on www.weneedsocial.com . ‘Systemic issues require systemic change’ is something I agree with 100%. Her experience of mobilising others using social engagement techniques accords with my own experience of engagement over the last 3 years. The approach can be applied externally (e.g. as in understanding public value) but let’s stick with the workforce- our people, first.
We have found that there is a huge appetite for engagement without fences, totally different from the old top down communication which nobody reads anymore. People in the service, in different forces and in departments and teams are already doing this and our opportunity is to find innovative ways to establish ourselves in their space instead of trying to drag them into our official space.
We have put huge effort into our engagement activity resulting in 1.6 million hits on our forum in 12 months (and we employ under 6000 people). On average we get 2000 hits per day. Most recently our fast time pulse-rate survey got over 2500 responses. These are still very traditional ‘provided’ networks though and Schillinger urges us to explore more contemporary options such as Yammer. We are trying that out as we speak!
The purpose of all this?
We must free up our people and give them the green light to exercise judgement and discretion because they are the ones closest to the information. This isn’t ‘nice to do’, it’s an operational necessity in the world we now police. Ultimately it saves lives and protects people from harm. It’s also good for the soul and makes us happier in my experience.
To do this our people need to trust us and be clear on what our intentions are i.e, the ‘why’ question. Discretion without values is a return to some bad practice from the past.
To trust us they must genuinely feel involved and listened to. To listen we need to think completely differently because people are networking faster, more flexibly and on their own terms …not ours.
So we need discretion to be used with integrity and being very clear on what our purpose is (not hitting a % point) and then allowing well trained, well equipped creative people to get on with it must be our goal.
Andy Rhodes – Deputy Chief Constable (Lancashire)