Working in Change in Policing

Apologies for writing a personal blog, but it’s been a while and it felt like it needed to be written. There’s little research in this, so apologies to the die hard EBP’ers 😉

 

I started working in change about 18 months ago. I am nearly 13 years into my career as a cop and am still firmly placed in a duty level rank. I have spent 90% of my career on the frontline, working mainly on Response and Communities. I spent a short time as a trainee detective working in Burglary/Robbery and Force Major Incident Team on a murder, but that 18 months is the extent of my investigatory experience.

Whilst a uniform officer I spent many years working high risk football matches, attending and supervising public order events like EDL marches/protests, and spent my last ops experience at NATO in Wales. Lots of people on twitter seem to think that I’m a ‘died in the wool’ office dweller; nothing could be further from the truth.

I led the arrests board on communities for many years, held the highest number of ASBO’s and CRASBO’s for the entire force (as an individual officer), and pulled together the first double ASB House Closure in the country. I’ve arrested SOCA targets (after chasing them pro-actively for many months), many drug dealers, murderers and CSE perpetrators, but I’ve also done the hard stuff like taking children off parents, dealt with many mental health/self harm incidents, and offered lengthy support to vulnerable people on my ward (one of the four worst wards in the country). I was nominated for regional POP awards and also put some real effort into developing my people, who won several awards all the way up to national level.

I’ve made some bad decisions when managing staff, but I’ve made many good ones. I’ve learned fast, and sometimes slowly. I’ve suffered PTSD, stress and struggled with close family member’s mental health whilst working 24-7. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a cop, sometimes that happens at speed.

Whilst in service on uniform I’ve done my second degree, my first Masters (at the amazing Canterbury Christ Church Uni) and am currently half way through my second Masters at Warwick Business School. I spent the first half of my service representing the country on the British Karate Team, and that was immensely difficult to maintain whilst working in this incredibly demanding job. Above all, although a lot of extra responsibility, I have two young kids and a wife, who I love spending time with 🙂

 

None of the above – not even close – has caused me as much stress as working in change.

 

I requested to go and work on the National Leadership Review after seeing the advert. I wanted to develop my strategic knowledge and I’d studied leadership before. The first few months were nothing short of amazing. I travelled to many different companies and organisations, seeing how they saw the concept of leadership and talent management. I then had to bring this research together with desk based research from the academic world. My favourite visits were to the MOD in Shrivenham, and the NHS Leadership Academy – those people were really up on their shizzle.

This experience changed the way I view my job. I saw how under-developed the concept of leadership in the police actually was. I also saw a real lack of consistent leadership training, especially at the duty level. I also saw real career mapping – people had ten years plans with moves all planned in – and real succession planning – people were matched via aptitude with particular areas of the business and grown on purpose to fill people’s shoes when they moved on. HR had a massive role in some of these places, driving talent schemes and doing most of the selection.

Anyone who has worked in the police will know that HR usually gives advice on and manage processes from arm’s length. They don’t do any driving of the organisation, and senior (sometimes junior) police officers tell them how to do their job regularly. This means that leadership selection and development is the domain of senior officers almost exclusively. They are the same people who hold the keys to promotion, yet most have no training whatsoever in unconscious bias, recruitment or selection, or what potential/talent looks like. This doesn’t make their decision making bad, it just makes the whole process subject to biases that people can’t see or feel.

After this short (and amazing) period, the really difficult job of consultation began. I visited many forces, and held/attended many workshops where officers attended to feed in to the themes we had discovered. There was some really heavy resistance to some things, and we had meetings where there was just no give in some of the people listening. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t just come half way, they wouldn’t even move. Educational requirements was one such emotive subject, as was advertising vacancies across forces (???) and the reduction in ranks.

The subjects aside, this wasn’t easy stuff. It was landing hard on social media, and people knew that I was working on it. I became the target for a lot of the ire, and as such I felt the brunt of the personalisation of change.

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I didn’t really know about how people start to personalise change when it happens, so me being me, I went to learn about why it happens. The theory is all in psychology literature, and it makes pretty hard, but quite enlightening reading. The reaction to change isn’t often rational, it’s emotional, and when you get emotions coming to the fore it often isn’t pretty.

So where does the real connection begin? It begins when the change affects you. If it doesn’t affect you, and you won’t have to personally change, then you can often weigh up the pros and cons of it happening in slow time. If you haven’t read ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Kahnemann and any of this stuff interests you, pick it up. ‘The Chimp Paradox’ is good too by Steve Peters. Basically, if you can feel your emotions kicking in about something, the chances are, you are not thinking clearly. This is quite difficult to manage, because when you are passionate about something, your emotions will often take the place of your cold, hard, logic computer in your brain. Stressors have been repeatedly shown to impair decision making, so when you hear something that affects you personally, and it means change, all sorts of twanging happens around your emotions, that make the weighing up of evidence really difficult.

I saw this first hand, with senior officers turning puce when discussing the possibility of introducing educative standards for leadership. We were told it had no value, and that people were perfectly good at doing their job now, why do they need to learn any more? This isn’t actually a bad question, and it was important to manage our own emotions when hearing the feedback. I personally tried everything in this area, discussing studies, discussing other organisations, discussing the possible benefits to  the public, discussing staff surveys, discussing the things we do now that cause harm… I could go on, but these things fell on deaf ears (unconsciously) because the subject just made people mad. It tugged on their identity, it made them feel uncomfortable, the arguments didn’t matter.

I don’t want to discuss this particular subject here, as I have moved into working in change back in force. Yes, I am a desk jockey, and yes, I’m working in a strategic role, but I will tell you something, I’m working some long hours, and I’ve never burnt as many brain cells. You need constant self-reflection and self management.

“Did I say that in a non-confrontational way?”

“Have I spoken to everyone I need to speak to before I send this email?”

“How can this email be construed?” (You may think, why would you worry about such trivialities? I’ve seen entire nicks panic after single emails from HQ, you have to be really careful.)

“How does someone ask me questions about this?”

“What if I have this wrong?”

“What if this doesn’t land well?”

“How can I involve people who don’t want to be involved?”

The list goes on and on, and it means that everything you do becomes conscious, because it all has ramifications. I’m currently working on promotion and selection re-design. The new process will affect people’s lives. If I’ve got this wrong, many, many people could be personally destroyed by it – at least in the short term.

This keeps me awake at night.

Just like the removing a child from parents, just like getting seriously assaulted, and just like carrying awful complaints.

You might say… how can you compare the two? Well, you know what, these are my colleagues. There’s been no promotions for five years in the ranks I’m working on. There has been some unfairness in the way that temporary promotion experience has been handed out, and some people may not get through the process, despite working very hard and for several years in the rank to which they are applying. Some people stand to lose £10,000 a year if they don’t get through. That can cause serious problems in any family, and ultimately I need to know that what we put forward is fair.

That’s on me.

When I was on the front line, these sort of decisions just came naturally. I’d make them everyday and feel pretty good about them in most cases because I was sure I was doing the right thing. The thing is, with working in change, that certainty is never there. You don’t know what’s coming, you can only look at the evidence that you have, weigh it up in slow time, and use the best level of reasoning that you have. There’s no APP to draw on, and there’s usually a load of rebuffs coming your way that sit at the bottom of Graham’s triangle:

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In all my experience, it is really rare that arguments come from the top of the triangle. Very occasionally, you get some great counter-arguments that border on refutation, but it’s really hard to find solid arguments that totally refute what may happen, because it hasn’t happened yet. You live in uncertainty. It’s not an unpleasant place to be in terms of where your head sits, but the bottom of the triangle can get pretty heated. It’s really hard to stop yourself taking them personally, but I’m lucky to have some guidance on this stuff and there are people that are very good at it.

So, to the ad hominem attacks that reveal some facets of our culture… If anyone has done the strategy/operational merry-go-round, they will understand this. There’s a peculiar thing that happens in the cops when you stop working on the frontline. For some reason you become ‘less’ of an officer. If you go for a move or a promotion board whilst in a strategic role, you will often get the feedback that you have been non-operational and need to go back on ops, whereas the opposite plays out just as often. For some reason, the 11 years I spent in front line roles would be reduced to ‘of no value’ because I was working on some really difficult project that required specific knowledge and ultimately developing new skills and gaining understanding… (I’m not by the way, but this is how it works.) There’s also this feeling that you need to be kicking in doors to be a cop (not true), or that you need to fight regularly to prove your worth (totally not true), or that ‘strong’ decision making is always fast decision making (just dangerous)… Leadership is a complex beast, putting labels all over it (and macho ones at that), serve to cause division and create unfairness in the service. It’s bad sauce and it needs to disappear.

This aside, I said that this was a personal blog and it is. If you want to test yourself, plumb depths of self doubt that you have never experienced before, lose some sleep, but find those corners of resilience that hide in the darkest parts of your brain, then go and find a job working in change in the police. My conscience on twitter: @Cate_a_moore adds almost daily to my feelings of self doubt, but this is so immensely important, because:

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And if you don’t test your own assumptions and beliefs daily – yet you sit in a leadership position – you may be missing out on all the mistakes you may be making. She describes it as “Working in change in the police is as close to self harm as you can get.” In many ways, this is startlingly accurate (unless you are a psychopath/sociopath). Working in change means that you must sit, daily, with your self doubt, meet it in the canteen, speak with it on twitter, listen to it on the phone, and read it in your inbox. It would be easy to work in change and be a narcissist, because you’re always right, the criticism is never a problem. But, if you care, and you really want to make a difference, you best ready the personal resilience, because you need it every day.

This is not a request for pity, but it is one for understanding. And understanding of the self is more important than any understanding of the issue under debate. It may not be about the logic behind the decision, it may be about the emotion that is driving a particular logic behind the decision… If a part of change feels bad, then why does it? What is it about yourself that is driving that feeling? Is that a rational belief? Has it been through the ‘logic wringer?’ Are you suffering confirmation bias, where you select the bits of the argument that fit your emotions because it feels better? Have you properly considered the relative weight of the counter argument? The list goes on…

It is only when we do this, that we are actually able to drag those emotional hijacks back to where they belong, and see the problem with new eyes.

If people are working within change in policing, trust me, they care. It is not easy, and they will in all likelihood be suffering. They could be suffering from the weight of the culture, or the constant criticism, or the frustration of having all that understanding from the research, or the reduction in perceived self worth. Change is not easy anywhere, but it’s certainly far from easy in the cops. Just bear this mind if you feel the emotional hijack kicking in, because we are all human, and empathy is bloody important.

On a final note, this isn’t a blog about how change is done, it’s about the fact that in the current climate it has to happen. People have to work within the departments, and solutions to society’s problems are part of our jobs as cops. We as a service must regularly mirror gaze too. I heard a cop muttering about academic jargon the other day, and although the complaint about complicated language is totally justified, we as a profession are just horrific for using jargon… I’ve sat in meetings where people have identified huge issues with our culture and leadership, and then steadfastly refused to say anything positive about any of the solutions put forward – whilst simultaneously failing to make any suggestions as to how new solutions may be reached… And I see – on a daily basis – the barracking of bosses and sometimes a total distrust of senior leadership, but absolutely no willingness to get their hands dirty and step up to either challenge those assumptions, or work to improve them.

All of these above examples sit within the realm of personal responsibility. We – as a service – must take change as something that is uncomfortable, difficult and complicated. As a critical commentator (of which there are many – and I am addressing the reader if you fall into this bracket), what are you doing about the problems that you are identifying and how would you work towards solving them? As a direct example of this challenge, I will finish with some exposure:

“The leadership is poor, bosses couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, and they don’t care about the staff. Things need to change.”

***Work begins to look at developing leadership for the future***

“Why do we have to change? I do my job fine right now. All this stuff is the latest fad and I don’t want to do any extra training/education.”

One could argue, that this is the personalising of change in action, but look at the level of dissonance… Change is tough, watch out for your personal emotional hijacks, and try, and try to think about the people working in it as people that care about policing as much as you do. Because…

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Accepting change has to happen is easy; actually personally changing, well that’s a different story altogether.

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