This isn’t a Red Button blog, as it doesn’t deal with the future. It is more an examination of what we do now, and how we do it. It professes dangers and should shine a light on some cultural issues that persist despite some concerted efforts to reduce/replace them.
This blog came about after a conversation with a good friend, who just said, ‘Demand Mgmt., it’s taken over.‘ I replied, ‘Taken over what?‘ He then said, ‘It’s the new ‘performance,’ it’s all we think about.’
Unfortunately the conversation ended shortly after, and I had to leave, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and do you know what? He may be right.
This isn’t a blog about any particular force, or a group of forces, or about the College of Policing; it’s about culture. It’s about, ‘The way we do things around here.’ (For those who have read about the academic material on the subject.) It’s about conformity, and the need to be on bandwagons before finding out where they are going and what the condition of the wheels looks like. That conformity comes from somewhere, and how it then displays itself in the workplace is incredibly important. What is going on with our culture in the police, and is it actually positive?
Targets are dying a very messy death across the landscape of policing. The death rattles and gurgles are continuing way past the point of acceptable standards of drama, and are now encroaching on Spaghetti Western territory where full on monologues continue despite ten bullet holes in the soon to be deceased. If you know the evidence behind targets and their use, it is actually impossible to carry on using them. The unintended consequences far outweigh the results achieved and in the context of harm caused, they can be horrific. I have alluded to these consequences before so I won’t go over them again, but performance mgmt does not sit well in ‘non-algorithmic’ work. This means that unless you are sat on a production line fixing part A to part B, carrot and stick methods of management don’t work. And policing is light years away from any production line.
In my last blog, I mentioned some of the behaviours seen in the performance environment. The list wasn’t exhaustive, so here’s another:
“Toe the Line or Leave”
There has been much discussion on Twitter about this phrase. It’s all about conformity, and it is actually a direct attack on dissent and difference. Translated in a slightly more verbose manner, this becomes, ‘You will do what I say, when I say it, and you will not stray from it, or question it. If you do, you can leave of your own accord as you will not be accepted.’ If one were to ask for one of the best and brightest example of Command and Control leadership, this would be a contender.
Many reading this may think that this is fair enough, as if people don’t want to be part of a team, or do the same work as everyone else, then maybe the job isn’t for them. I would challenge this really heavily, as some teams become like packs in their behaviour, and they will hunt out and exclude anyone different because it threatens the way that they think and behave. I’m not sure it’s just small teams that do this, I think strong cultures do it…
This happens. It happens in every profession. What happens as a result of it is a matter of how ‘strong’ the demanded conformity is, and I suggest that you can evidence that by the consequences of what happens to those outside of the accepted ‘groupthink.’ Policing is rife with tales of different officers being hounded out of the profession, and whistle blowers are treated with disdain and often end up in expensive employment tribunals. The strength of the conformity is so strong, that without it, you can often be seen a freeloader, a hanger on, an unnecessary, a dissident, a ‘disruptive influence…’
So let’s go macro on this… What do commentators say that the cops are lacking?
- Creativity – Conformity to policy is one of the biggest causes of tabloid front pages in police history. As is, ‘Computer says no.’ You can’t have a creative workforce unless creativity becomes a valuable trait within the workplace. Creativity relies on autonomy (personal control and discretion), and as this is very, very low in the cop environment, you can imagine what happens to those that display it.
- Strategy – this has been criticised in the recent reports commissioned on senior leadership by the College of Policing. Strategy is all about setting things in place now, that won’t be realised for long periods of time. It often sets strong values and mission statements that guide whole organisations to constant, planned change. Strategy requires significant forays into uncertainty, it is usually grounded in evidence, but supported by constant re-assessments of what the future may bring. It fundamentally, is a creative process.
- Innovation – I watched a talk recently, where innovation was discussed as the constant and sought after breaking of the rules. It discusses that it’s really hard to get ‘real’ innovation from within the company, because a company’s sustainability relies on those rules being followed… Imagine those rules are so tight, that any difference is seen as a threat, and then try and innovate… If you want examples of Innovation problems, I.T. (although it’s doing some catching up) is a constant reminder of what happens when you react to here and now, instead of thinking about what is coming over the horizon.
Unsurprisingly, these areas of high critique, are where you will find unadulterated difference in the people that have their strengths there. People who think differently, approach problems differently, and deal with people differently. Using a lot of contemporary leadership study, these people like bringing others together, taking calculated risks, show regular dissent, and push for change by inspiring people.
These people may not flourish in a performance culture, and many may have left, or been so cowed by the current culture that they dare not whisper a challenge for fear of an imminent dressing down. To find these people we must look at empowering others and releasing the control of them. This means searching for answers from those working the coal face, and then giving them the influence to implement that change. Would it not be interesting to see what they could do, given half the chance?
Some people believe all of these three above categories to be ‘buzz’ words, but in reality they aren’t. They are only buzz words because people like using them without the right meaning attached. As a good friend tells me often, ‘No-one understands what innovation is, they just use the word in meetings.’ Innovation is held to be a change in operations that offers a difference of over 30%… Think about that, a change so deep that a third of our work is totally changed forever… I can not think of a single time that this has happened in my policing memory. That time needs to be realised now.
Anyway, back to my original point and the point of this blog. The questions around demand that are now rearing their heads across the policing domain are almost performed in unison. ‘We are doing other service’s work! – This shouldn’t be a police job! – We must filter out what we are doing at Comms!’ There appears to be a huge lean towards stopping those asking us for help, because we are the wrong kind of help..? We are setting up departments to manage demand, and by the whole we don’t actually understand it enough to make any big decisions on it yet. Many forces don’t have a deep understanding, but the narrative is established around it and everyone is talking about it. Everyone.
Performance culture stopped us really talking about demand, because everyone was counting what was coming in, instead of proper critical thought around why it was coming in. Demand management is now stopping us asking some similar but very important questions, and it is also overtaking the narrative to the point where it is stifling discussion. We can talk about the percentage of calls coming in that are crime related, but how long do those take to deal with properly? Where is the thorough analysis of start-finish case mgmt times, the timings on mental health liaison, the timings on missing from homes. That approximate 20% of calls that are crime related coming in, they may account for 80% of police activity… If that were the case, many of our arguments are hollow and without meaning…
But hey, let’s cut the numbers of logs coming in. That will solve the problem of massive cuts in our numbers? Only it won’t, or even come close. This narrative, and it is a strong narrative, is stifling the real discussions that need to take place around designing a service that can weather and deal with more work with significantly reducing staff levels. We need that 30% change, a 5%-10% reduction through managing exceptional calls for our service out of our work lists won’t do it. We need to change the way that we actually police. Demand info starts that conversation but doesn’t come close to ending it.
Everyone is saying it, but who is really doing it? We need a return of trust, discretion, and more leadership behaviours (not just Management behaviours). We need layers of audit to go, and the frontline to become autonomous professionals without the spectre of risk averse internal investigations because they made an honest mistake behind them. We need the workplace to be a positive place where cops and staff enjoy turning in, with an atmosphere of inclusion where difference and dissent is encouraged and not trodden on. We need good technology to enable new ways of working and a CJS file and court system that is fit for purpose in a mobile world. And we need – we desperately need – an inspection regime and a Home Office that will support this change.
This, is where the 30% is. This is complex problem solving that requires collaboration, solid strategy and creative risk taking. At risk of a pun, salami slicing just doesn’t cut it.
I will finish on an example of what a strong narrative does to difference. The current narrative around stop and search is so stark on Twitter. There are educated people trying to chip in with things like research evidence and community experience, but they are repeatedly shouted down by the constant ‘stop and search works’ commentary. The evidence over the last few years shows that this link is tenuous at best. I need to labour this, people have studied large numbers of searches and their efficacy in the criminal justice system, and they have found that the link between stop and search and reducing crime is weak.
Officers with experience of using it have been told that it works for years, and may have caught people carrying before. It has been the established narrative that when there’s a stabbing, up the stop and search in the area. Cops believe this wholeheartedly, it is a well motivated belief, and I used to believe it too. I have seen the research now, and I understand the data, and it says my belief is wrong. I accept this, but some may attack the evidence because it threatens an established narrative that they believe – to draw a stark contrast, this is what happens with strong ideology in religion.
The problem with the strength of this narrative, is that it stops critical discussion. It stops us asking the right questions. If knife crime is going up now and everyone (I mean I don’t actually think I’ve seen a cop on Twitter ask these questions – despite there being many) immediately jumps to the conclusion that it is because stop and search is falling, what does that say about the ‘strength’ of our culture? What if the real reason behind the rising stabbing is a lack of policing legitimacy, rather than anything to do with stop and search? What if the issue is rising poverty and tribalism within stricken communities? What if the issue is that the drugs trade is hitting rates similar to that seen in places like Baltimore in the US? What if there is a rising threat of death as retribution within street level disputes, and this has nothing to do with stop and search?
All of those questions, unasked because we ‘know’ it’s stop and search.
Only we don’t. We don’t at all.
Why are those questions not being asked? Because that is the strength of the police narrative, the strength of assumption, and it irons out critical thought, creativity, strategy and difference. It has to stop, it’s dangerous.