Resetting diversity

Always one to dip my toes into controversial waters, this blog may read as quite challenging for some. It isn’t my aim to muddy those waters, or throw controversy out there and stoke the rhetoric, this blog is about getting back to basics.

What do we mean when we talk about ‘increasing diversity‘?

I mean, right back to basics.

  • What does increasing diversity do?
  • What is it aiming at?
  • Is what we are after going to do what it should be doing?
  • When we are ‘diverse’ (whatever that means), how will we know?

All of these questions are difficult to answer, but before we put any efforts into trying to improve diversity in our constabularies we absolutely have to understand what it is we are trying to do…

You may have heard about a number of initiatives in constabularies up and down the country that seek to address diversity based issues. They are usually lined up with figures, and these usually illustrate that forces up and down the country are unrepresentative. This term tends to mean that the proportion of employees that they have do not mirror the proportion of population that they have in the community. As an example, 30% of the community may be black or asian, but the proportion within the constabulary may be 4%. This is the usual framework that dictates discussion around ‘diversity’, and indeed many departments are actually created in order to deal with this issue.

Framing diversity in this way makes it a really simple idea. If we reach a particular percentage, then we are diverse! Yet, hold on… are we? Why do we have these figures? What do they mean? How do they ‘deliver’ diversity? What is it we are really seeking?

I argue when I’m speaking at events that there is real danger to be encountered when we reduce really complicated issues to ones of figures and sums. Systems Thinking approaches talk at great length about the measures that ‘define’ our work, instead of measuring them. Follow the targets and all you get is numbers, and you can bet that numbers don’t go all the way towards solving what has become the ‘diversity problem.’

To understand the problem a little better, you have to go back to when diversity started to become something that affected the police. It goes without saying that the police had entrenched practices that actually ironed out diversity for decades. Recruitment was very prescriptive, with height measures, gender disparity, and even lifestyle and income checks. There were restrictions on where to live and who to marry, where you could socialise and who with, and home visits from senior officers to check on the ‘decency and fit’ of the candidate’s social background. To see how far we have come, some of these were still in place when I joined (approximately 15 years ago).

So in context, we have come a long way.

There is some great research starting to emerge around measuring fairness in police forces, focusing in on race and background. One study in particular shows that senior black officers in the US have differing values to the rank and file, and this can result in conflict internally. In other words, diversity isn’t all rosy. Diversity can lead to conflict in the workplace, but this in itself can lead to improved decision making. Tension and disagreement in these areas force us to consider alternative viewpoints – a potent weapon in combatting groupthink (see Maskaly et al. (2017) for further).

The riots in the early 80’s, along with Orgreave, Stephen Lawrence, and Hillsborough began to expose some real issues with these methods of recruitment. They illustrated how tight the culture became, how much dissent was discouraged, and how pockets of really poor attitudes and behaviours were left unchallenged. Some of the recommendations from the Scarman and Macpherson reports addressed the uniformity of the police workforce – quite rightly pointing out that diverse views and thinking were distinctly unwelcome.

New Public Management then stepped up to the plate, and after a lack of progress on the recommendations, they obliged with a collection of targets and measures that began to represent diversity. Throw in performance culture, and everything that went along with it including bonuses and competition in the workplace, and a police officers job was reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet.

Diversity can not be about numbers on a spreadsheet. They may be a measure, something we consider that points us in the right direction or gives us extra information, but let’s be clear, diversity is not percentages.

My research indicated that during a single recruitment in Lancashire, 93% of recruits already knew someone in the police. Most of this 93% were friends and acquaintances. We know that jobs can often be spread through word of mouth, but it’s not just the awareness of the jobs, it’s the information that assists the applicant with choosing to apply and taking part in the recruitment process. If our current officers are helping their friends and associates out, does that make the majority of our successful applicants friends and acquaintances of the current demographic of police officers? My research would indicate that it does… And that has important ramifications for what we consider to be diversity inside our forces now.

Firstly, candidates who have no contact with existing officers are immediately, and unconsciously disadvantaged by the existence of a social support network that they can’t access. Our internal staff support external ones, and obviously these tend to be people that they know or share time with. Other research tells us that we are likely to socialise and spend time with those that have similar values and world views to ourselves – if you do the math, it tells us that we may be unconsciously closing the door on external applicants, especially ones whose communities do not tend to have much police contact. (There is supporting theory in Homophily and Ethnocentricity for further reading in this area.)

Secondly, our culture is wired to do this ^^^^^ We tend to favour internal routes to selection. If you want to be a cop, become a PCSO, a Special, a Comms operator, or a Custody Detention Officer, and the work your way in. I realise that this is tradition and that it pays to have established career pathways, but more complicated questions around these traditional routes must be considered. If we are constantly recruiting from our comms room, what is the knock on impact on resilience in there? How do we pay for the constantly rotating training and development? How do we develop deep skills and consistency?

Moreover, on the above point, they are very different jobs. I have worked with PCSO’s who weren’t really interested in community work, but instead were there to gather experience to become an officer. Does this really lend itself to problem solving and long-term relationship building?

And thirdly, we spend so much time talking about how our recruitment processes filter out 3% of candidates from other backgrounds at point B, but rarely do we actually address the underlying problem of a lack of applications in the first place. If we spend a huge amount of money ironing out processes and ensuring absolute proportionality in our operational exercises, what is the knock on effect if only 4% of applications are from diverse backgrounds in the first place? We may not ‘need’ to put effort into gathering more applications because each post is way over-subscribed, some have over 20 applications per officer role in some recruitment windows. Why on earth would anyone want more? Well, the answer to this question depends on whether it’s worth considering the value that could be brought to our constabularies by those that do not apply/are not aware/have no existing social connections with current officers?

 

Towards an evidence informed approach

Having spent a lot of time in this area of research, what can we actually do to make a real difference? The first is to take note of Einstein:

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We really need to step away from numbers as an outcome, and treat them as a measure. We need to address underlying issues with our recruitment strategies, such as the fact that the majority of applicants find out about constabulary jobs via word of mouth or by religiously checking the website. How do we reach those people who are fantastic advocates for their communities, but simply have never considered becoming a police officer because they’ve never been exposed to the profession?

The answer to this question lies in focused community engagement; the building of relationships in communities where we have little to no representation. Our staff and officers are role models, they are just often sucked into the system, with little time to invest in doing the more traditional police work of building relationships and cultivating trust. In many ways, this is actually a part of the evidence for the existence of neighbourhood policing. Building relationships in the community will create social connections, and these may lead to new lines of recruitment and new flows of information. In other words, if social connections are important for recruitment, let’s go and make some where we need them.

How do we look to address the value of information passed between our existing employees and potential candidates? This innocent practice has great influence on who becomes a police officer, and whilst changes here may be culturally painful, it may be time to totally rethink how we approach recruitment. The more we propagate existing recruitment strategies, the more value there is in knowing someone who has been through it.

And finally, we have to look beyond the numbers and look instead at why the numbers are there. The original problems identified in the Scarman and Macpherson reports centred around legitimacy; they were about fair treatment and mutual respect. They were about procedural justice, improved connection and communications between the police and our diverse communities, and they were about dialogue – making sure that forces actually listen.

We see departments up and down the country chasing increased percentages, whilst underlying causes like unconscious bias are left relatively unaddressed. We remove internal groupthink from the debate, and instead focus on whether we hit 6% or 7% in the latest round of recruitment. And finally, we fail to consider what success looks like. When we hit 7% do we go back and pretend like the ever-present issue of diversity is done and dusted?

The issues above are being addressed by the College of Policing and HMIC, and despite being told on many occasions that they speak a different language, they are persisting with issues such as unconscious bias and valuing difference. The problem is that these haven’t yet been linked up in the policing psyche. Diversity is about percentages? No, it’s legitimacy. It’s always been about legitimacy. It is what it was about when the conversation started, and despite being rudely hijacked by New Public Management techniques, it is still about that today.

It’s time to reset what we mean by diversity, and stop relegating important underlying causes like unconscious bias to the back burner, whilst we recruit from our own social connections and focus on spreadsheets. Diversity is far wider than numbers and it always has been, can we focus on what matters, instead of what’s counted?

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Direct Entry

This is difficult for me to write. I know that many officers will read this and feel angry. If you mention direct entry (DE from here on in), there is an automatic and visceral dislike that shows itself, even when some try to conceal it. Not everyone feels like this, but I would say that this is a majority opinion – and one that I held myself several years ago.

There are some great people in the police service, and I think they show a great deal of integrity when they say to direct entrants, ‘I don’t believe in the scheme, but I will support you wherever I can, because I would do that for everyone else.’ It’s difficult to intensely dislike a particular initiative, but then actively support the recruits that become the result of it. It takes courage, resilience, and an ounce of critical thinking that allows judgement to be suspended whilst a level of support is provided.

This aside, I’ve also heard stories of a physical lack of support for these recruits, and this includes those that enter the service under Police Now. This sets up the schemes to fail, as very tight cultures (and the police has a tight culture) can reject quite violently those that don’t ‘belong.’

Why is this ‘belonging’ so strong? There are many different reasons, but several really strong ones, and before I start to talk about them, let’s just go over the ‘evidence base’ conversation.

This is actually happening:

We don’t believe in this fad that is evidence based policing and to be honest we can function without it. We don’t need academics telling us how to do our job. It will pass.

*DE introduced*

Where’s the evidence base for this?”

And this is also bolstered by:

Direct Entry is progressive, and we can bring in new ideas and approaches using this new approach to recruitment.” With regards to Inspectors and Superintendents.

*DE introduced at chief constable level*

Where’s the evidence base for this?

I don’t want to cast judgement on this. What I can see though, is a desire for the rationale behind the changes that are happening, and I think that desire is justified, rational and deserved. Procedural Justice Theory tells us that the outcome of a decision is often not as important as the understanding behind the process of coming to it, and the sharing of the rationale and the ‘evidence’ behind it. Maybe officers and staff would be more accepting of these changes, if the rationale for them was shared and discussed in an open way?

So, why do we have Direct Entry? I can’t tell you what was in the minds of the people making the decisions, but I can possibly discuss some of the structural issues behind its introduction. Maybe this will help with the rationale part.

Police Employment

The police have a very strange employment arrangement. You can’t make a police officer redundant. When I speak to people outside the police, this is the strangest thing to them. Short of gross misconduct, illness or injury, or committing crime, police officers are set for their career, which is now up to and over 38 years long. If you are a cop and this is your normal, realise that this is anything but normal for everyone who isn’t a police officer.

This employment arrangement makes for organisations that have very static work forces (backed up by official turnover rates). When austerity hit, forces up and down the country had to cut higher percentages of police staff, because they couldn’t lose officers. Officers in turn often filled staff positions, as the function that was performed by those staff members was still essential. Officers are often a lot more expensive than staff, so this made for quite nasty efficiency figures in some positions.

Now, movement between forces is also quite rare. Transferee programs are often in short supply and carry low numbers. Freeze recruitment through austerity and this means even less movement. You are left with relatively large organisations that carry the same staff, for many, many years, up the same linear rank progression, who rarely leave their constabularies, and rarely receive perspective from other forces. To compound this, outsiders who transfer in are often returned to uniform constable and their prior experience disregarded – ultimately having to start again. Relationships are very, very important in this environment, you are working with the same people in the same surroundings for decades.

Leadership

What does the above tell us about the physical structure of police forces? It tells us that they are insular. And when you look at how officers learn to lead within these structures, this insularity is further reinforced.

Within the UK policing landscape, there is an under-developed leadership infrastructure. The MOD, the NHS, and Education all have leadership programs that are decades old, with bespoke academies, programs and career pathways. Despite the odd course, and a singular fast track, or high potential track that used to carry around 50 officers nationally per year, police leaders (by and large) learn to be leaders from current police leaders. And until you hit senior level (NPCC), the leaders you learn from are usually within your own constabulary.

If you also look at the custom and practice around police promotion, you will see that current leaders always hold the keys to the promotion of future leaders. This even includes ‘allowing’ officers to apply for promotion, and when you look into the training required for this responsibility, in most forces there isn’t any – at all. This is reversed at PNAC (Police National Assessment Center), when often for the first time candidates are externally evaluated – anyone looking at this structure from the outside could understand why PNAC was such a big deal, it’s often the first time that police leaders step outside their local leadership support systems. You need personal backing to apply for this too.

Now, if you couple the above paragraphs with the research around unconscious bias, which illustrates that we show preference for those that share the same values, opinions and behaviors as us, it creates a system for the propagation of leadership that looks like the current leadership… Without external influence, professionalisation in selection, or checks and balances, people will naturally gravitate towards supporting those that behave as they do, it’s what our brains do, it makes us comfortable.

In private industry, tight groupthink leads to organisational failure. Competition keeps organisations innovating and changing, or they are quickly left behind and become forgotten. There is a constant pressure to learn. In public service the operating model is very different, but the pressure to push to change is absent, there are no boards of shareholders eager for profit. There is a complex accountability system, and it does have the power to drive reform, but events that are playing out now show how difficult this system is to navigate.

Recruitment

My research (blog here) illustrates that there is a lot more chance of success in the police recruitment system, if you already have police connections. I am currently studying social isolation in policing for my PhD, looking specifically at the range and number of external connections that officers keep following joining the police. I can’t presume the findings of my research, but I can discuss my own experience.

I lost many of my external friends when I joined the police. A small number happened quickly, but the majority were lost over time to the shifts, and the cancelled rest days, and the tiredness, and ultimately the values that I had to uphold. Anecdotally, this is normal for many officers, and the job itself often becomes a ‘family business.’ I have worked with many officers who have had parents, siblings, or extended family in the job. The camaraderie, the support networks and the friendships made because of this are – I would think – unique, and very, very strong.

If you put the above two paragraphs together, the end conclusion is that recruits often know police officers, and police officers often have quite tight social circles. This can lead to a tight recruitment pool, that we may struggle to break due to the passing of information between tight social circles that sustain themselves passed the point of police recruitment.

 

Putting it together

When people ask for an evidence base for direct entry, one only has to look at the systems that maintain the profession. We have special employment conditions that ensure the longevity and stability of our workforce. Leadership within the workforce is developed through contact and development with the current leadership, rather than any external exposure or formalised career pathways/structure. And our recruitment is sustained by the tight social circles that we maintain through the nature of the work that we do.

It’s a potent combination of factors that create a unique brand of insularity.

Direct Entry directly challenges the above structure, ultimately breaking the insularity by injecting new experience into the leadership structure. All of the ‘learned’ leadership is challenged by an approach that is distinctly un-police – the intended result being forces that approach policing in a different way. This ‘different way’ may be down to behaviours, for instance the hiring of leaders who were not developed and created through a strict command and control based hierarchy, different world views, or it may be down to bringing in new skills and capabilities. The aim is to ‘add to’ the current police leadership offering, not ‘subtract from.’

Aside from all of the above discussion, it is very, very important for serving officers and staff to realise that their ‘normal’ is far from normal. Direct Entry isn’t direct entry in other organisations, it’s just normal. People can re-train and apply for any job they want, at any level of experience that they want. It doesn’t mean that they will be successful, but it does mean that the opportunities for change and external challenge are open. Continuing professional development allows access to progression externally, and this weakens the strength of existing social ties and the gathering of ‘backers’ to traverse gateways that just aren’t there (or are considerably weaker) outside the police.

Police rank is a structure peculiar to the police, and the way that we see the world is filtered through the epaulettes that people wear. Direct Entry challenges this construct, and linear progression, and time served, and those are 3 incredibly established pillars of our culture. The challenge to these structures challenges the way we see the world, and that results in that pit of the stomach unease when schemes like these are discussed.

 

Concerns

There are some fundamental philosophies behind direct entry that bother me. I’m passed the concerns of safety or risk, I just can’t see any officer accepting an order that they think is unsafe without challenge. Direct entrants don’t exist in a vacuum, and there is a large system around them that they will learn from quickly, and also receive feedback from. I also understand that bringing in new experience, world views and skills can benefit policing. There is a fundamental assumption however, that the employment market is one of the silver bullets for culture change – and I think this under-estimates the efforts needed to bring about impactful reform.

I think Direct Entry challenges the police world view, I think it exposes the police to elements of competition and challenge that have been present in almost every other labour market for decades. But, I don’t think that the small numbers on the scheme can overcome the leviathan of stability that represents police culture. This puts the entrants at risk, but it doesn’t presume failure. With significant resilience and internal support, candidates can do great things, and I personally hope that they do.

There is something distinctly neoliberal about direct entry: Expose the police forces to the labour market, and the market will provide the reform through increased competition…’ There’s a big assumption there, a BIG one. It presumes that external candidates will have the influence to really break that insularity. It is possible, that the tight insularity – which let’s face it, may actually be necessary for mutual support and wellbeing – will simply absorb Direct Entrants into the functioning system, with all those external skills and capabilities rendered powerless by social structures that are hugely entrenched.

 

The Future

I would point out at this point, that insularity does not equal poor performance. But, there are some ideological discussions to have here. ‘The Police are the Public, Public are the Police’ perspective would state that in the case of employment – the police are very much the police. Again, this doesn’t presume that we do a better or worse job, but in terms of some of the fundamental bed rocks of UK policing, we are out of kilter with the public’s employment model. Who’s to say this isn’t necessary? Not I, but I would open my mind to having it tested – which is essentially what DE is.

I wrote this blog because I understand that people will want simple answers to why direct entry is here. There isn’t a simple answer. There are reports into senior officer misconduct, several notable policing scandals, poor diversity, and an employment and leadership system that develops very tight views of the world. All of these contribute  to the environment that has led to changing the structure of police employment.

Can we prove it ‘works’ before doing it? Well, this is a good question, but the answer is a resounding no. You can’t prove anything like this works without doing it. There is no test constabulary, where we can drop external candidates in and see how they perform in comparison to control groups. There is also an abundance of evidence that it works elsewhere, with forces across Europe and the world using their version of direct entry over many years. Let’s face it, it is the employment model used by almost every other occupation, so it is highly likely that it will ‘work’ to some degree. However, the evidence for this change doesn’t lie in whether they work, but why it was considered that this change was necessary.

The question should not be, where is the evidence that this will work, it should be what was the evidence that led to this becoming an option. This in turn leads to questions about whether DE will go some way to solving, or contributing to wider solutions that work towards mitigating them. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I do know that the louder the service protests the changes, the more it evidences the insularity. There’s a fine line between appearing defensive and insular, and raising worthy concerns whilst keeping an open mind.

I for one don’t think this protest will stop, slow or even affect the instigation of further reforms in this area – only very different approaches to the way we police, and a concerted effort to reform ourselves may do that…

Identity challenges ahead…

I’m beginning to do some heavy reading about the way that we interact and ‘fit in’ with each other as the basis for my next stint of study. Having been a police officer for quite a while now, questions of how I fit into the organisation have persisted since I first joined. They are still there, and the questions around what ‘fit’ means, and what it does and doesn’t do, to those who may or may not ‘fit’ has driven this personal area of research for me. This is just me sharing some thoughts on the changes in perception of policing off the back of my reading.  

 

My last blog here discusses the fact that the service may be selecting new recruits that have active exposure to the organisation. So, the bulk of the recruits come from specials, PCSO’s, staff and people who already personally know police officers. The research already done into this suggests that a lot of what is going on is just information sharing between people who know each other, but this information holds value in the recruitment processes, and in turn the use of this information then provides overly robust competition for those without it.

So… an example. Many people in my family for their view about policing by what is portrayed on television and online. They are always happy to discuss the latest episode of ‘Interceptors’, and are often quite disappointed when I mention that fact that that work represents a very small part of policing. The ‘cops and robbers’ story is one that as a society we know well. Films, TV, books and online communities discuss the chasing and catching of bad guys like it’s the holy grail of policing, indeed, a lot of officers feel that way too.


When I speak with my family, I often break this perception, and discuss how the work actually is. It isn’t like those programs for most of the time. In fact, most of the time its quite tough emotionally. But those 24 hour shifts have their benefits and it’s not as scary as people think, and you always have back up close by and an emergency button, and you’re one big team and you look after each other… this conversation is important,  because it breaks their preconceptions about the job, and ultimately it informs on whether they would ever see it as a potential career. Without me having this discussion, it’s all about fast cars, fighting, and kicking doors in.

The research tells us that a lot of police work is actually very boring and party to high levels of emotional labour. What does this mean? It means that for every bad guy that gets caught, there are hours of generally pointless patrol/graft and lots of time spent dealing with upset victims of crime and administering process. That 5% that you see on TV, that reinforces and develops a lot of the police ‘story’, the cops and robbers, the heroes and villains,  the romantic saviour and macho fairytale warriors… all of that is woven into the fabric of society, and people believe it to be true.

This cops and robbers theme is apparent within policing. Commendations go to people fighting with violent and unpredictable people, people risking their lives, and those who deal with horrific calamities. All of these people, are of course especially deserving. What you rarely see, is the reward for exceptional empathy with a traumatised victim, a lengthy and protracted partnership initiative, or the dogged pursuance of that case that everyone thought was dead. The balance is out. The vast majority of very difficult emotional work is under valued and under rewarded, whilst the slight minority of bravery based incidents receive worthy plaudits.

Now, I shall repeat, as often is the case when these blogs are read, someone caught up firmly in the cops and robbers story will say this is about belittling bravery or some other such nonsense. I’m not decrying what we do, I’m decrying what we don’t do.

The future of policing is not policing as we know it. The fairytale version of crime is diminishing, along with the crime types that propagate it. More exposure was given to projects/comments about burglary in the media this last week than the rise of modern slavery and hate crime. We like what we know, and we know cops and robbers. Crime is becoming more complex, the emotional labour for officers is rising, and people who are sold on the story of catching bad guys and keeping people safe see the rising tide of mental health incidents, social problems, and complexity approaching. It’s not comfortable.

So what about cultural fit? The service has to begin asking itself if its image reflects its future demand. Are people joining the service ready for the content of the work that they will be facing? How are we changing what we do to meet these changing needs? What are we doing to build a ‘new story’ about policing? Where in the media is the team following a community officer as they work through the very difficult social problems that they deal with? Where is the story of broken police officers caught under high emotional strain, and receiving amazing support from the organisations where they work? Where is the story of accepting new skills and backgrounds into the service without constant references back to a time when we were hiding in back alleys and catching people carrying swag bags? Where are the stories about supporting and developing and empowering the vulnerable?

I know that people don’t like change. Right now we are in the middle of a seismic period of it. Austerity has ripped capacity away to the brink of reactive capability. Our terms are creaking across the service, from back office to frontline blue light response. One thing hasn’t changed though, and that is the story that accompanies policing. There’s a big question here around cultural fit… what does and did that ‘fit’ look like? How has it been propagated? What amazing things did it bring to our workforce?

But with changing demand looming (sorry, it’s not looming, it’s here), what would a change in ‘fit’ look like? What would it require? How will people wedded to the story of cops and robbers face that impending change? How do we change the perception of those attracted to or who are joining the service now? How do we have that conversation as a profession? How would we select for a new ‘fit’? Do we need one?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I just know that the present service is creaking, whilst in many cases firmly wedded to a demand profile that is changing rapidly.

Is the answer that there is no ‘fit’ anymore? Or is it that there is a new one being developed? Whatever the answer to these questions, the police identity is in turmoil and settling upon a direction (whatever that may be) will require huge cultural shift efforts from forces up and down the country. This is against the backdrop of hugely reduced capacity, creating stress and rising threats to officers’ mental health.

Whether cops and robbers, or protectors and guardians, the future predicts an identity conflict. Whatever the eventual answer, the journey through that conflict represents a huge challenge…

Is policing a closed shop?

I’ve been quite worried about posting this, as I watch as other good people on Twitter take abuse and nastiness for no other reason than they represent something different. I’ve been through it, and I pretty much ration my time on here because it’s not worth the angst. This stuff is important though, and it scales up from the smallest processes, right into organisational behaviours.  The reason that it is controversial, is that the shop being closed is a pretty comfy way of operating. There’s less conflict, people maintain existing strong familial and friendship based relationships, and we always do what we’ve always done.

This stuff needs discussion, because it lifts the lid on some of the micro interactions that shape the service. It illustrates some of the need for change, and it also prys open the lid on all the speculative conversations about representation in the cops.

Before I start, this blog rests on the assumption that increasing diversity in policing is something worth achieving. I wholly believe this, but the reasons for that belief probably don’t stack up with the ‘accepted’ reasons. Chasing particular strands of diversity to reach targets that have little meaning is counter productive  (in my eyes). Encouraging difference as a means to challenge group think and bring about dissent and change? That’s my bag right there.

This research relied on some theory that was around in the 1970’s. The studies were on the labour markets of professional, technical and managerial jobs, they essentially studied how people got into those areas of work and why. Mark Granovetter was one of the pioneers in this area, and his research showed that people got work in these areas via knowing someone who worked within them already. He makes a distinction between ‘Strong Ties’ with the profession in question (family etc.) prior to joining,  and ‘Weak Ties’ in the form of friends and acquaintances. He found that in those particular areas of work, friends and acquaintances represented the ties that got people jobs. In other words, organisations often recruited through personal connections with people that already worked there.

I took this method of research, and used it to analyse the last period of recruitment in my Constabulary.  Just under half of the people (about 1000) who applied filled in the survey, and this means that it’s pretty good to generate some conclusions from. The results showed very clearly that the Theory of Weak Ties from Granovetter transferred over into policing very well, with Ties proving very significant in the success of candidates.

In total, only 8% of successful candidates had no prior ties with policing. The testing of the stats showed that the difference between having at least one tie, and having none was highly significant. For the remaining number of candidates, the below was found to be the case:

The orange bars are the successful candidates,  and you can see the difference in proportion between those that applied, and those that were successful by looking at the differences between the blue and the orange bars. The survey proved that Weak Ties were very significant in police recruitment. 

In other words, if you know a cop socially, you’re far more likely to be successful during the recruitment process.

I don’t want to get into discussing the technical aspects of the research as this is a blog and is meant to be readable for everyone. For this reason I’ve left out some important detail that researchers may want to ask questions about (happy to be contacted if so).

What are the implications of this research? It all looks a little abstract doesn’t it? Well in reality it raises some very important questions about the profession. Are current cops more likely to socialise with each other? I would look at previous research on culture and guess that that is the case for a large number of reasons. This will mean that they will have quite a close circle of friends and acquaintances, and in turn this means that cops mix in circles often populated by those in the same social strata.


This makes sense to me. I can’t associate with any one who commits crime, including the taking of drugs, I struggle to interact with people who don’t work my shifts, and there’s a peculiar pessimism that follows cops around wherever they go. Cops are often comfy with very strong childhood friends, or people that they meet through work (this is my experience talking, not my research – yet). If we take the ‘social isolation’ evidenced in other cultural studies, it suggests that the ties that cops build, may not actually be very diverse themselves.

The science also tells us that your close friends, often have the same close friends, and they lack what are called ‘bridging ties.’ These are ties that allow you to access another area of life experience, like those in very different jobs or communities. These bridging ties are very important to job hunters, and the research above tells us that they are important for the police.

What does this research lead me to think? 

This research leads me to think that the police suffer from something called ‘ethno centrism,’ fancy words for the ethnicity of your employees, passing information to people of the same/similar ethnicity, which in turn holds value in recruitment processes. Examples of this would be a serving officer having a conversation about the assessment center with a prospective candidate, or passing information about the current priorities of a particular force to a candidate. This information holds value, and it allows prospective candidates to prepare far more rigorously.

As someone who has conducted recruitment interviews, you can spot the person with officer contacts immediately, they are savvy on the new areas being discussed in the force and use the right structure for answering the questions etc.. The various coaching companies that offer advice to prospective candidates take advantage of this benefit that particular information brings, and that is then accessed by candidates too – usually off the back of advice given by a current serving officer who has used them themselves.

This is all very fancy Gareth, but what does all this mean?

There are some who would say, ‘It makes sense for someone to get all the right information about a job before applying, the advantage is a result of their hard work.’ This is to some extent true, but the big question remains: ‘Does everyone applying have equal access to that information?’ If the answer is no, then we have a system that relies on current ties with police officers to select its recruits… and I would suggest that this is why there has been no step change in diverse recruitment for many years.

Of course, this isn’t the only answer to the issues faced, there remains a huge list of issues that also need research, but the knock on effects of the above results could be very damaging, and create questions within communities as they are disadvantaged unconsciously by the current recruitment system.

What can we do about it?

This is a good question. As a researcher,  the first answer is ‘more research.’ I am currently looking at exactly what kind of information is passed, and why does it make the difference that it does within recruitment. There are however two things that could take place to tackle this:

  1. The recruitment system within forces is changed to prevent the passage of this information holding the value that it does for prospective candidates.
  2. The information that holds value is given to everyone at the point of application.

Both of these solutions do of course require the information that is within the forthcoming research to be wholly effective, but steps can be made right now that are practical and relatively easy…

  • Questions that measure current knowledge of force priorities that are not competency based should be reconsidered, as the likelihood is that they measure access to information and not any sort of personal quality.
  • Strict ‘policisms’ and jargon should be removed from all internal application processes.
  • Increased use of psychometrics and evidence based situational judgement tests should be considered to replace application forms.
  • Interview questions should be non-police scenario based.
  • The selectors of recruits should be thoroughly trained in unconscious bias and recruitment and selection – and this is time dependent, if the training was 15 years ago, it really needs looking at.

The above suggestions are not exhaustive and can easily be built upon, because underlying this research is an internal bias that we don’t know is there, that we can’t see, and that we are convinced is objective and fair. The research shows that this bias is present, but how we choose to then deal with this information is wholly within our control.

Is policing a closed shop? In this example, 8% of candidates would illustrate that the door is slightly open. The question that now needs answering,  is how much more do we need that door to open to prepare us for the future?

I would suggest it is a little more than  8%.

Diversity of thought: a challenge to group think.

There is a phrase doing the rounds in policing. The phrase is ‘diversity of thought.’ I think I first heard Irene Curtis discuss it in one of her Superintendent’s Association speeches. When I heard it, it pulled chords in me straight away. It’s one of those phrases where you say, ‘Yes!’ the minute you hear it. Since then, I’ve used it a lot. Sometimes it is thrown in a blog, sometimes a talk, sometimes it’s in papers I’m writing. More recently, I’ve had cause to start to research some of the policing identity (jargon buster – concepts, beliefs, qualities and expressions), and it has began to point me towards asking some questions about what diversity of thought actually looks like in the policing context.

So, what does it look like?

I think a lot of the discussion is an indirect critique of ‘group think.’ What is group think? It’s where people within organisations or teams share a common identity that is very strong. It results in consensus quickly when decisions need to be made, limits debate (as there is nothing to debate!), and reduces conflict in the workplace. If you think about these things, they actually seem pretty attractive for any CEO.

Groupthink = less conflict, more consensus, speeds up decision making? Sounds pretty good to most leaders!

I think that this is the stuff that causes most of the problems with diversity in the police. As someone who sports a lot of tattoos, the amount of times I hear – this is me being honest here – comments that amount to bigotry around tattoos is mind blowing. A little story:

I was once at Bramshill before it closed, when a senior leader (ACPO) singled me out, walked up to me and said, ‘You will never be a leader in the police. Look at your tattoos. You will have to remove them. There is no way you will make it.‘ The look of disgust on her face was palpable, and it made me feel about an inch tall – for a second or so. I made my excuses and left the conversation. I’m normally happy to have discussions about my tattoos with anyone who asks, and my neck and hands are clear (and will remain clear) in case I need to look smart (for my wife, generally :-D). I wasn’t quite ready to have the conversation that I should have had with that individual.

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So what is happening here? Well, technically I’m being judged on my leadership ability due to what amounts to colouring in on my skin. Yes, I made choices to have that colouring in, but none of it is in any way offensive. They’ve dropped far more barriers in my service as I must have had hundreds of conversations with people young and old about what they mean and why I’ve had them. They’ve actually diffused incidents, and opened up conversations with some youngsters who were pretty difficult to talk with (from a cop perspective).

So what is going on? How can colouring in on my skin bring about such disgust in senior leaders? I know that conversations around tattoos go on up and down this country, with the defensive label of ‘standards.’ It’s like my ability to work suffers because my forearm has a picture of a rose on it??! How can I possibly be suited to leadership if I have a swallow that is visible? Some members of the public may make negative judgements about me because I have them? Possibly, but then we enter the realm of arguing that the police should be the ones visibly promoting the removal of stigma, instead of reinforcing it. It’s estimated that one in five of the UK population has a tattoo, and one in three of those under twenty-five. That’s a pretty big group to be carrying huge preconceptions about, isn’t it?

Now this is a VERY tame example, and I can hear people saying that one person could be an anomaly. Only, they aren’t. I’ve seen these discussions at high levels, and heard immediate consensus from large proportions of those present. “Tattoos are bad. They bring standards down. They don’t look professional [whatever that means?]. How can we stop people having them? It’s a uniform thing.”

Yes, yes it is a uniform thing. It’s a uniformity of prejudice, that represents a particular view from a particular demographic. It’s regressive, and it’s stopping talented people joining the police service. It’s stopping those conversations with young people, it’s stopping some officers being themselves, and the last thing it represents is diversity of anything.

So, this blog is about Diversity of Thought. That last section was about my experience of having tattoos in the police. How do the two meet? They meet in the level of consensus around decisions being made about appearance, without anyone asking very difficult questions that may bring about significant discomfort. How many frontline officers or members of the public are feeding into their force’s tattoo policy? I would bet you some good money that the answer is incredibly low (if any). Yet that policy affects them on a daily basis, and it affects their interaction with each other. If you leave difficult questions like these to a particular demographic or tight knit group, unless that group is an enlightened one, you can bet your bottom dollar that group think will win out.

Some difficult questions would be very welcome here:

  • What do people of my race, age, class and background think?
  • Do people of other races, ages, classes and backgrounds think differently?
  • What does my profession represent to me?
  • What does it represent to others?
  • What would someone who disagrees with our thinking say?
  • Why would someone agree with us?

These are all practical questions that re-frame the debate, and having tried some of these techniques out, they do alter thinking in the room. They also slow discussion down, make decisions slower, and generally introduce some messy conflict that will need managing. Why would any manager want these things?

This is the key question.

Much of this discussion above represents a jump to action. The police are proud of their ability to make quick decisions, and we should celebrate that. Genuinely, the UK police are a shining light in policing around the world. As a group, we need to be proud, acknowledge our heritage, and hold on to amazing things like high trust from our communities and policing by consent. That we, largely, police without bearing arms is nothing short of amazing.

There are however, big changes that we need to make. The debate above is a very small example about what happens if you compartmentalise decision making into a small group of people that largely represent the same demographic. We are all a product of our experiences, so what happens if you joined the police at nineteen, and are twenty plus years in within the same force you joined, interacting with the same people you joined with? The propensity for unconscious group think is pretty crazy. There will be shared assumptions that guide decision making into a particular box, and if you look in the right places, you will see them in action.

In promotion:

  • I wouldn’t have made that decision there. I think you need to consider making it here in the future [I would like you to make decisions like me, please].
  • You didn’t identify that discipline was appropriate in this example [please follow the same disciplinary standards as me].
  • You  need to network more with senior management [we aren’t comfortable with the relationship we have with you, you may represent conflict].
  • You didn’t come across as assertive or confident enough [I’m an extrovert and I need to see you be more extrovert, please].
  • You haven’t been in neighbourhood policing yet [please follow a similar career path to the current version of group think].

In diversity:

  • No visible tattoos, they aren’t professional [you don’t look like the vast majority of other officers so cover yourself up until you do].
  • These teams can’t operate with a supervisor on flexible working [Flexible working is complicated and requires more effort to manage, I don’t like it or want to administrate it. Keep things as they are.].
  • No unnatural colours in your hair [you wouldn’t look like the vast majority of other officers and I (and by proxy, others like me) find blue hair unprofessional].
  • It’s career or having children, it’s a clear choice [pretty self explanatory].

 

There are plenty of other places that these areas of group think pop up in, and don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all bad. Group think can really help in times of stress, and if fast decisions need making without conflict. It also can make for a harmonious senior management team, who pretty much lie on the same page across the piste (mixing my metaphors with aplomb!). I must also say at this point that I have met many open minded senior leaders, who present the exact opposite picture to that discussed above.

So, if group think can be pretty positive, why do we need Diversity of Thought? Well, the key driver is that change is necessary. The workforce changes that have landed in the police’s lap, along with the Equality Act, and a fundamental change in our demand profile are forcing change in many areas of policing. Change and group think don’t gel, unless of course you agree with what the group think tells you. The current group think (some examples given above) is becoming incompatible with many external pressures, and the unsettling results are there for everyone to see. There are fairly universal reactions from many officers towards missing from home enquiries, mental health incidents and dealing with vulnerability. I’m not saying that these are wrong… Instead I am saying that:

 

 

It is likely we are all getting caught up in the thinking of our bubble, and the very thing that we call for from our leaders – Diversity of Thought – is exactly what we should be practising ourselves.

Finally, what I would say about this, is that breaking or challenging group think (even your own) takes conscious effort and practice. I’ve mentioned it in past blogs, but the ability to critically reflect on your own pillars of thought is such a vital skill that it should come before many others that we take for granted. Being in a place of learning is actively uncomfortable, it brings about feelings of uncertainty, feelings of being lost, and feelings of anxiety. I know that many colleagues feel like this at the moment, and being able to explore it, both personally and together with peers, is a luxury ill afforded by time. It’s up to leaders (and I don’t mean just in rank terms) to grasp the nettle and push into these areas of discomfort. It’s where we all grow.

Finishing on an artistic note, here’s a quote from Keats on the ability to use ‘negative capability.’ He describes it in the context of exploring your doubts without resorting to facts or reason. It is your personal ability to reason that you are actively trying to avoid, and this is really, really hard. Especially in a profession so wedded to quick judgement and strong uniformity of belief and assumption.

 

 

Judgement: Tattoo’s are bad, they are unprofessional and paint a negative view of the service.

Negative capability: Is that my personal reason talking? Is that actually true? Would others agree? What if I had tattoos? What if my son/daughter had tattoos? etc.

Diversity of thought, at a pretty fundamental level, represents an individual recognising that their thought is not the only thought, and that other people’s thought holds equal value to theirs. For any public service that seeks to hold some function that is representative, it’s essential.

Humility

Let us be a little humble; let us think that the truth may not be entirely with us.

(Jawaharlal Nehru)

I am choosing to write on this topic for many reasons, but the most prevalent has been a course I attended recently on Whistleblowing and Ethics. The course was a few days long, but the conversations that followed and that occurred during really got me thinking. Much talk was had around the term itself, as the feelings attached to the term were thought to be quite negative. If you were considered a ‘whistleblower,’ it normally hangs an air of mistrust around your neck. Yet the people who spoke at the event seemed to have the strongest principles and values you could ever want to see displayed in anyone… In fact, they were the kind of people with which you knew where to stand, and who professed to having staff working for them who would happily defend them to the hilt. They were leaders.

Yet none of them were leaders.

Not one had actually survived the event of whistleblowing. All were struggling in the workplace and outside of it. They were fighting on, in the passionate way that people with really strong principles do. Watching them discuss what had happened was heartbreaking, because – you know what – they were right. They were right in the stance that they had taken, they had been offered incentives to ‘forget’ about the things that they knew. They had been chased and hounded, generating high levels of personal paranoia. And some had been accused of having mental health problems.

They had been accused of having mental health problems because they disagreed with an element of culture that others believed was acceptable. I’m not going to reinforce any stigma about mental health problems being anything out of the ordinary, but I will point out that seeing something differently in life doesn’t qualify as any illness I’ve ever heard about?

I’ve had that conversation. That exact one. It was immensely painful, and the self-reflection that followed was too. I couldn’t help but imagine what these speakers had gone through, and share a little of how they had felt – or even were feeling.

At the beginning of the workshop, a video was shown of an army general who had whistleblown in the USA. The conversation that followed was a typical cop one, concerning the whistleblower’s motives for releasing the information, and whether they could be trusted. I think this is totally normal, and it’s certainly indicative of cop culture, as we are both good at making judgements fast, and suffer with institutionalised suspicion. Let’s face it, that suspicion is pretty darn useful, but the ability to turn it on and off is the bit that we really need.

You see, when whistleblowers make the decisions that they do, there are no ‘good’ outcomes for them. They know that they will likely become pariahs in the workplace with colleagues, friends, and supervisors. They are aware that there is no way in hell that it will ‘help’ their career. They know that talking about what they know and have seen will be emotionally painful. They know that their relationships at home will suffer. And… they know that they will not be believed. As a good friend said (@abloodynicechap):

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A quick google of the above saying can pretty much guarantee you some interesting reading. Along with the mnemonic: FIFO. FIFO stands for, ‘Fit in or F*** Off.’

It’s all about not challenging. All of it. It’s about going with the flow and sacrificing how you feel about things, for the sake of the status quo. The status quo is a powerful thing. It’s seductive, and seeps into the fabric of everyone’s reality. The status quo means people concede towards feeling and thinking the same about things. People think it stays pretty static, but it really doesn’t. It only takes a few role models within the status quo to push the boundaries, and people will edge towards those boundaries too, setting up a ‘new’ status quo.

The tighter the teams, the more likely it is that the status quo moves imperceptibly. People are always trying to fit in, so as the role models change their behaviour, others start to embrace the new boundaries created, and even if the shift is small, it’s cumulative. Over time, the new status quo looks nothing like the old one, but it feels like nothing has changed. It still feels normal. Anyone outside that team – if they really looked – could see that the new status quo isn’t quite right, but tight teams rarely let people break through, because FIFO is in action.

Imagine this happening over an entire culture? Do you think when targets in policing were introduced, that officers would be reclassifying burglaries and persuading people to retract complaints? Yet where did we end up? That behaviour crept in. It was insidious, culture creeping its way slowly towards a new normal that actually wasn’t normal at all. There were whistleblowers, and then the whistleblower (@J_amesp) with hard evidence and an unrelenting need to change things – not for the culture, but for the public. Conceding to culture wasn’t an option, because deep down, they knew it just wasn’t right.

These people are brave. I mean, they are courageous. They make decisions that do nothing but disadvantage them. They ruin their home lives and many of their relationships because they believe in something bigger than themselves. They are the early warning systems for culture, and for leaders; they are like the goose that lays the golden egg…

“Hey, Mr/Mrs Leader, you know these practices that are going on? They don’t serve the purpose of the organisation and they are harming people. I’m telling you about them because I care about what I do and I want to help these people that are being harmed. I know that this doesn’t paint me in a good light, but I can’t sleep at night. Please help.”

If there were a ‘google translate’, you wouldn’t go far wrong with the above paragraph. If you were a leader, and you heard the above, what would you think?

So… why do snitches get stitches?

What if those practices that the person in front of you is discussing, are accepted as ‘normal?’ What if they are what got you promoted? What if what they are telling you may harm your career? What if it may cause a huge amount of work for you? What if that person has been ‘difficult’ to manage? What if the things they are challenging, are part of your very identity?

Here is where a great leader steps up to get some stitches.

Humility is one of those things that is discussed in the realms of leadership regularly. I’ve had the ‘humility talk’ and I know many that have also experienced it. The problem, is that:

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I would say that Nelson Mandela and Gandhi were pretty humble people. They also spoke their truth to power, through the most difficult of experiences. There’s this misunderstanding that seems to have gotten in somewhere, that humility is inextricably tied up with a lack of challenge.

“Who are you to challenge on this? You need to be more humble.”

This isn’t humility, it’s deference. It’s power telling the challenger to get back in their box. It’s power telling the challenger to be more grey. It’s power telling the challenger, that actually, they need to realise who holds the power.

Of course, it’s very possible that the whistleblower is wrong, just as it is possible that the leaders may be wrong. I don’t think we need to discuss where the perceived possibility of being wrong ends up. It certainly doesn’t end up with the leader. If it did, then that leader would be showing humility, because really, they may be accepting that they – and their actions – may have contributed to the problem. What is driving the leader’s decisions at this time? Is it humility?

Humility

I think this is a great way to think about humility. It isn’t about not challenging, or not seeking change. It isn’t about being grey, or being quiet. And it isn’t about doing what you are told, despite how you feel.

Humility is about realising that you are no better than anyone else, that everyone you meet has trodden a path that you can’t even comprehend, and that others always hold knowledge of greater value than you. Always.

If leaders displayed humility when a whistleblower knocked at their door, then maybe these incredibly courageous people would be able to help to make the change that they wish to see for the greater good? Maybe bad practice could be openly discussed and changed? Maybe we could prioritise those who are subject to those processes, instead of the processes themselves? And finally, we may realise that not only do we not know all the answers, but that there may well be people that do know the answers, to whom we would not normally listen.

Humility is not deference. Humility is empowering, supportive, sharing and caring. Maybe if we concentrated on building each other, then there wouldn’t be a need for whistleblowers at all, and we could save those people from immensely painful experiences. Challenge, and challenging yourself and your views leads us down better paths, inviting it is the hard part…

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Breaches, breaches everywhere…

This blog is about the wider social issues affecting the cops at the moment. It explores the relationship between officers and the College of Policing, and speculates on the relationships now formed via interactions between them over recent preceding years. As usual, I will be discussing research evidence, but I’m hoping that it is still readable and that it gives us some frameworks through which to discuss what is going on.

What is a Psychological Contract?

Everyone uses contracts every day. They are usually tangible, but in many cases you don’t even realise it’s there. When you go into a shop and pick up a mars bar, there are rules governing what happens when you take the mars bar out of the shop – not least of which is the need to pay for it! These contracts are protected by law, and they run through our society from top to bottom. There are lots of other rules that we live by every day, but we often don’t think about them.

A Psychological Contract is the same, but it isn’t governed by tangible rules, it deals with expectations. To give readers a quote that may help:

‘…a series of mutual obligations of which parties to the relationship may not themselves be dimly aware but which nonetheless govern their relationship to each other.’ (Levinson, 1962)

So the rules aren’t written down, we can’t see them, and in many cases we are unaware they are there. If I was to give an example of these, I would say that they are pretty individual and different to everyone, so it is quite difficult. If we put it into a cop context, it would be like discussing your relationship between yourself and your supervision. If you work really hard and constantly work your socks off, you expect your line supervision to support your leave requests. This would be an unwritten rule, and dependent on your relationships obviously, but nonetheless that expectation may develop.

The issue with psychological contracts, is that because they are unwritten and you can’t see them, they develop differently. The line supervision may believe in total fairness when it comes to leave allocation, no matter how hard you work, so although you develop an expectation where you expect reciprocal support if you work really hard, there’s no guarantee that this will be met. This is when something called ‘reciprocity’ kicks in. In this example it would look like this:

Cop works hard –> Cop expects backing for leave –> supervisor sees them working hard, gives them praise –> Cop thinks praise a signal for backing –> cop asks for leave –> supervisor knocks leave back because they see it as unfair to the rest of the team –> cop believes that their hard work isn’t being supported and sees less value in working so hard –>  supervisor sees withdrawal of effort and can’t understand why it’s happening.

Reciprocity is when someone with a psychological contract reciprocates a perceived breach of contract – so basically something happens that doesn’t meet their expectations, so they react accordingly. In the above example, it is a withdrawal of effort, because they aren’t receiving the backing they expect.

The truth is that the above example could actually be sorted out with a quick conversation.

“What’s going on, you seem to have lost a little motivation? Is something bothering you?”

“Well, it has actually as I couldn’t get leave last week and I missed my best friend’s wedding.”

“Oh, I didn’t think it was that important, you should have said.”

“You didn’t know?”

“I didn’t, sorry. I like to make sure we meet the minimum turn out for shift and your request took us below. I didn’t want to leave the rest of the team short and I’m really fair with how I process leave. I’m really sorry, it won’t happen again. Would you mind letting me know in the future if it’s important, as you are a brilliant cop and I want to look after you.”

This all looks fluffy, but what is actually going on is an exchange of expectations. They are talking to each other and defining how to meet each other’s needs. At the end of this conversation, both leave with a clearer idea of how the relationship works and how things can be managed better in the future. As many will know, conversations like this often don’t happen for many reasons. The cop won’t ask as they feel the solution was imposed by hierarchy and many bosses don’t like being questioned. If the question does happen, the answer is usually: “Because I followed policy. It’s fairer that way.”

I could talk about how we can improve this all day, and a great example would be for that leave request to be put to the team.

“Guys, XXXXX needs leave next week for his best friend’s wedding. It takes us below. What do you think?”

“We’re OK with that and can cope.” Or, “I know YYYY from Neighbourhoods can cover.” Or, “It’s Saturday night, can we deviate one from lates?”

Again, this example looks simple, but you are removing decision making from hierarchy and that can be quite against the established culture. It also takes more effort, and when you have a lot of ‘important’ leave requests it can become impractical. The truth is that a simple request can create big issues and start off a chain of events that stops people working for the organisation. Managing the expectations is a complicated job, and supervisors need to put some real effort into finding out what their staff expect from them and vice versa. When you get it right, it’s awesome. When there are clashes, it can break people.

So what does any of this have to do with the College of Policing?
I may have digressed slightly, but I’m hoping you’re with me 
If I were to ask a frontline cop what the College of Policing is for, the answer is usually: “No idea.” Because the word ‘College’ is in there, many assume it is an accrediting body for academia (not true). Many officers have also seen recent changes that are legacies of Home Office intervention, and because they are being implemented via the College, there is an implicit association with the Conservative Government, and by proxy, Tom Winsor and the Winsor reforms.

Let’s have a look at the potential state of the psychological contract with the College of Policing for a frontline officer:

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Above the iceberg you have the tangible contract of work and pay. Even this has been recently affected and changed, so the visible top may have some damage. But look at what is beneath the surface of the water… There have been significant changes announced to training and development, recognition, qualifications, status, and importantly pensions. What is the reciprocal effect of these changes to tacit expectations? Look at the left side of the iceberg. Loyalty, commitment, time/hours, effort/ideas, the driving of change, and tolerance are all on that list.

If we look at Twitter over the last week, we have seen a significant uplift in communications by the College. This means an increase in volume of data around the changes, but does it really deal with the expectations of officers? I have seen so many examples of tweets where people ask:

“Isn’t the College meant to be there for officers?”

“What happened to our input?”
“I don’t feel consulted.”

“The College is just an arm of the Home Office.”

Now, I’m not saying that Twitter is the panacea of engagement, but it offers important insights into the psychological contracts of Officers with regards to the College. The above examples tell us:

“Isn’t the College meant to be there for officers?” – I expect the College to represent officers and I don’t feel that it is at the minute.

“What happened to our input?” – I expect to be able to input into policy making and I have no idea how to do that. I don’t feel it has happened.

“I don’t feel consulted.” – If consultation has taken place, it certainly hasn’t included me, and I wanted it to.

“The College is just an arm of the Home Office.” – I don’t think that the College represents me.
These are all Psychological Contract breaches, and if we accept that the theory is robust and pretty much does what it says on the tin, then there will be reciprocity. What will this reciprocity look like? It is likely to be intolerance, disengagement, a lack of trust, reduced loyalty (if there is any) and a lack of motivation to contribute ideas. In short, the landscape is not healthy.

Now the College is in a tough place. It does want to be there for officers, but it is also answerable to the Home Office. I would like to think (in a Utopia!) that the College will eventually be wholly owned by its members, and any changes will come as a result of bottom up feedback from its membership. To be fair, having worked on the leadership review, I did a huge amount of consultation with officers and staff, as well as external organisations. But if you look at the policing family, I would have been lucky to interact with 1% over the course of a year.
Using the methods that we have historically used, how can consultations of 1% lead to acceptance? I imagine that will be very hard. I also think that perceived breaches will continue, especially as further reform (on the right of the iceberg) lands. As these breaches continue, it is highly likely that reciprocity will too, and officers will continue to be disengaged and feel uninvolved. How do we rectify and deal with this?
Well, as given in the conversation above, understanding the expectations of both parties is key. This is a two-way relationship where both sides pro-actively engage in order to find out what each expect from each other. Right now, I think officers are confused as to who the College represents, what its agenda is, and how consultations with officers take place. Engagement therefore, may actually begin with some clarification on both sides, and this can be done in full view and publicised on social media. The more visible this communication, the less likely it is that ambiguity will exist, and ambiguity just leads to lots of breaches.
In the current climate, how can both begin to repair the relationship?

The truth may lie in an exploration of methods; as current methods are clearly not working. The forthcoming membership platform will help, as it is a reason for officers to interact with the College, but what it does not do is clear the mess of differing expectations that currently populate the divide. I for one would love to hear what Officers want from their professional body, and whilst the new layers of reform land over the coming years, that can form a program of work that begins to develop some positive relationships.

One thing I would wish to make clear, is that a professional body is not a Union. It exists to further the development of the Profession. This means that changes will not always be popular. I think that many officers would accept that far more readily, if there was a sufficient understanding and trust around both officer’s and the College’s expectations. Leaving this gap, without filling it pro-actively and positively, will compound breaches and drive wedges between the parties.

I think these last few days have been an indication that things are changing and new methods are being explored, but there is a lot of catching up to do in order to garner the support of an increasingly disenfranchised frontline. We really need that conversation to take place:

“What’s going on, you seem to have lost a little motivation? Is something bothering you..?”