Leadership: Surveys, listening, learning and changing

Earlier this year I had the privilege of being asked to speak to a group of officers in Northumbria Police about organisational justice and how future leaders might recognise the health of its organisation and people based on this model. I was approached by the lead for Northumbria’s learning and development area, Lee Gosling, and myself and the well being king, Dr Ian Hesketh, delivered a double act about the link between organisations’ sense of internal justice, wellbeing, morale and, in terms of outcomes – productivity and discretionary effort.

This visit came back into my head this week as a result of a number of factors I have caught on social media.
1: An article by Jim Hauden (posted by Helen Bevan) about measuring employee engagement and the importance of not seeing this as an end goal
2: The discussion concerning the results of the PFEW survey which described the serious issue with low morale affecting be British police
3: An article published in Policing Insight by the chair of the PFEW Steve White about doing leadership and recognising that it is not about rank
4: Both last weeks and this weeks planned @wecops debate about morale and leadership issues, where employee engagement featured heavily

There is no real need to highlight the issues with morale and policing. You need only look once a day at Twitter or speak to cops to know where it currently is. This is of course due to a number of variables which relate to both internal and external factors. This list includes but is not exclusive to: issues with change / reform that officers feel both uninvolved in and separate to, a blame culture which can negate innovation and creativity, changes to pay and conditions, negativity in the media and perceptions about a drive to reduce discretion / officer expertise and feelings about personal development and learning. Perhaps there is no other time like the present for ‘leaders’ within the organisation to get it right. How officers, at all levels, create an environment that their colleagues feel part of, included in and able to participate in is vital. That is doing active leadership.

Much has been written about the link between being happy at work, well being, stress, productivity and people’s willingness to go that extra mile. Interestingly it is not just the PFEW survey that is reporting on morale at the moment. The Police Dependant’s Trust will also present the official findings from their commissioned research by researchers at Surrey University next week at their anniversary event in London. This work focused on officer stress, mental health and perceptions of the support available for them as a result. We were very privileged at CCCU to have preliminary findings from both this and the PFEW survey presented at our conference on police stress in June and the results are shockingly clear. If the College of Policing are really serious about successful change and reforms to policing – there are other fundamental changes needed that extend beyond issues of training, education, codes of ethics and rank structure. Without good leadership and engagement with staff the success of any reform will be negatively impacted.

I think this is why the above articles and pieces of news over the last couple of weeks grabbed my attention. We hear the term engagement being thrown around all the time. The need to engage with staff, use meaningful surveys and listening. However in reality engagement can end at the ‘gathering of information’ stage. I rather like this definition of engagement:
Employee engagement is about ‘how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential’ David Macleod. Indeed it is a particular approach within a workplace that facilitates an environment where staff are committed to organisational goals, are advocates of their workplace, are motivated to do their best and have a strong sense of well being. And yet the PFEW survey tells us that:

67.3% of officers do not feel valued in the police
69.9% of officers would not recommend joining the service
Something is going wrong.

The article by Jim Hauden (http://www.inc.com/jim-haudan/stop-measuring-employee-engagement.html?cid=sf01001&sr_share=twitter) cleverly highlights how in some cases the tools used In organisations to engage staff become the end product. How leaders can visually show, once again through the joy of numbers (without context), how many people they have engaged with through a survey is not nearly enough. I really like the four C’s referred to in his article and they completely and simply articulate for me what good leaders at all levels should be using their tools of engagement to explore. Do my staff think I CARE, do I understand the CONSTRAINTS that limit change, am I really COLLABORATING and how can I be CURIOUS and interested in the main customers and delivers of my strategy. Surveys that can move beyond data collection into actionable deliverables can provide a method for leaders within an organisation to both health check their own leadership ability and make the changes required based on listening to staff and engaging with the findings resulting from that.

A staff survey developed by Durham University has grounded itself in principles of organisational justice whose theory clearly evidences how fairness and a real sense of being engaged with impacts on nearly all of the qualities that leaders need from staff to deliver their strategy effectively. It is not rocket science. It is why Ian and I chose to speak to officers in Northumbria, those recognised as future potential leaders, about the importance of surveys, identifying organisational health, making changes based on the findings and linking this to productivity and well being amongst staff. How very depressing then that during a @wecops debate hosted by @dedicatedpeeler last week that so many officers stated that surveys inside their own forces end at that – the survey.

Participatory leadership is so critical to effectively embedding any change. Communicate and involve staff in the planned changes, be curious about your employees perceptions of strategic development and change and ask them about how they are playing out in the field. Collaborate with them, utilise their frontline vital knowledge, allow them to be curious and try new things that might actually assist a with a strategy being successful. Trust them and do not point blame. Never have we seen a more change ridden time for the police and the public sector more widely. This stuff has to happen first for it to be successful.

Steve White’s excellent piece in Policing Insight nails it. We spend so much time equipping future leaders with what they need to be good leaders that we forget what others need. Leadership occurs at all levels and shouldn’t just be about a set of skills required to achieve the next rank. Embedding and developing a culture that encapsulates and welcomes all of the above vital issues should be a ethos within an organisation – not just amongst a few. Mentoring colleagues, collaborating on ideas and solving problems, trust and care occurs at ALL levels of the job. We need to nurture this, spread the word and not keep it as something separate and reserved for just the few. I wrote earlier this year about the crucial role of sergeants in this – who are in my opinion an under valued and under utilised resource for all of these issues.

Never ignore the power of a bottom up approach – use survey findings actively as a leader, at any level. Levels of leadership are not about rank but about people, the people required to deliver an EFFECTIVE service in a changing and demanding context. In order to focus properly on external service delivery to police customers – the public – the internal stuff and it’s staff has to be right first. Leadership is a mindset and the skills that are required to do it well are not exclusive to any particular rank. Let’s all think about how we can ensure our own abilities are reflecting this ethos by asking, listening, reflecting and making changes. Not simply counting numbers.

Emma Williams

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