A Thought About Culture from the Chief's View

The topic of organizational change is not new, given that Do No Harm is focused on the challenge of addressing and shifting “culture” I felt it was appropriate to talk about my professional experience with the transformative process of instituting organizational change in a police organization.

My experience with establishing change came early in my career when I became a front-line police supervisor in the late 1990’s. Although I had 10-11 years of experience before I was promoted to sergeant, I inherited a team that had even more seniority than I did; officers with fifteen, twenty or more years in patrol alone. As a new supervisor, I didn’t receive direction or expectations from my immediate bosses and my training to become a supervisor was basic at best. The challenge for me was to figure it out as I went along. Frankly, I could have done nothing and things would have likely hummed along. But I couldn’t do that, I’m not wired to ignore issues and problems.

As a new sergeant, I recall how the senior team of officers made their point that they were the kind of squad that did not require oversight, they were experienced, they knew the laws and policies and made good decisions. It didn’t take me long to see that this was mostly true, but I also noted unhealthy habits; behaviors that jeopardized their personal safety. The many real-life stories of tenured police officers making deadly mistakes based on faulty assumptions weighed heavy on mind; I cared deeply about their well-being. I recognized and acknowledged a degree of risk in our jobs, however I always guarded against unnecessary danger.

Years later, after a variety of experiences and leadership courses, I recognized the relationship between the challenges I experienced throughout my early supervisory years and my senior executive career. The challenges of winning hearts and minds, while simultaneously going about the business of forward progress, improvement, adjusting and changing the way things are done; this work never got easier, but I better understood the challenges.

Successful efforts are tied to the energy and continual demonstration of the leader’s best intent. In our book, we talk about the importance of walking the talk, staying above the fray and doing your humanly best to get it right. Leading by example is key in demonstrating the behaviors the leader is asking of his people.

As a leader, one must build a following while being true to one’s self, you must be consistent in your intent and your messaging. As you build toward organizational change, you must evaluate your current landscape and make serious determinations about where you want to be in five or ten years and just as importantly the toll it could take on your leadership position. It is Imperative to communicate and share the vision of the future state with those you lead and from there build accord and shared momentum to move forward. Engage your team! As human beings, we are wired to envision a future, a better place.

The plan must include consideration for the many members that are content with the status-quo and build into account their position and at times their resistance, even when the changes will result in an improvement of their working conditions. Understand that their struggle to understand may not always be readily apparent, you cannot underestimate a person’s feeling of loss, be it control, status or any number of unimaginable (and intangible) perceptions. Acknowledge the resistance, meet with those that support and those that oppose change. Always make room for their voices to be heard and be understood while maintaining a focus on the greater outcomes of improving the system and moving forward. You will build momentum through your team.

By including the member’s voice in the creation of plans, you build credibility in the organization’s strategic plan, the thoughts and ideas of the members are a part of the blueprint for the future, forging the stage for accountability and follow-through in the accomplishment of long-term goals. Plan and celebrate the success!

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