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…

On the EQF – Mythbuster 2

I’ve kept out of the debate on the EQF over the preceding days. I tried last time around to have some discussion, but by and large, emotion is running high and where emotions are involved it’s difficult to find balanced debate. The feedback has been extremely negative on social media despite this being out in the public realm for many months; it seems that some will hate the change that is coming, and see it as an attempt to impose barriers on an open profession that has stayed in some families for generations.

As an officer with a degree, people ask me if it has ever been of use regularly. It’s a hard question to answer, because I can’t consciously tell you what happened to my brain processes during the 3 years at uni. I can’t tell you if when I make a decision, I am employing skills that I have learned specifically whilst learning in higher education. It just happens in my head, and this is a point at the crux of many arguments.

I’m going to try and take a selection of criticism and discuss what the rationale is behind the changes, in a hope that it adds to the official line a little and helps to deal with some of the confusion.

  • “Education won’t make me a better officer, I’m good at my job already.”

To be fair, no one has said that anyone is bad at their job. This has never been part of the reason for the EQF and it never will be. It’s an argument that seems to fit the emotion of the moment though, and much like the arguments that fit the emotion of Brexit and the American Election, they have legs. This statement has the strangest logic about it, because it is kind of saying that higher education won’t help improve anything, often without the people saying it having experienced it. How can anyone know if something will help or not if they haven’t done it? Some of the best courses in policing change the way that people operate in their jobs forever, and these are only a few weeks long. What may happen with knowledge gained over several years?

If you’re a cop already, you won’t have to do anything differently, but you will have the option of accrediting experience you already have. Just to make it very clear, it will not be compulsory for serving officers.

  • “Policing is about experience and common sense.”

This has been said about any profession that has undergone Professionalisation – and please note the capital ‘P’ (see below). Experience is the cornerstone of learning, and common sense is indeed needed in vast quantities. The decision making in policing contains significant risk, and it has to be communicated in a way that the public interacting with us understand. A liberal dose of common sense doesn’t just come in handy, it’s essential. The argument above is valid and it won’t change, I would say however that adding in ‘education’ doesn’t exactly reduce the above to a poorer version of itself. Being able to supplement the experience and common sense with understanding that isn’t present in current training can only assist? Could it mean that our decisions become more informed? 

Stating that experience and common sense are mutually exclusive of education is actually quite insulting, as it suggests that all graduates lack life experience and can’t relate to public facing work… I’m really sorry, but this isn’t only untrue, it insults most of the NHS, social workers, the legal profession, teachers and many other public facing occupations. Personally, I think we can – and should – be better than this. 

  • “But I am professional…”

A ‘Profession’ (capital P) is an occupation that has key characteristics, including an established knowledge base, a formalised and standardised route for qualification, established and monitored continuing professional development, and a dedication to improving practice (list is non-exhaustive). You may have seen that all of these factors are currently being developed by the College of Policing. A Profession is therefore a different thing to being professional, which I think of as doing your job well and having pride in your work – both of which are present in policing in abundance.

I think the communication in this area has been lacking in parts, not just centrally, but within individual forces too. Cops I have spoken to have taken this to almost be punitive – as in, ‘You aren’t professional enough so we are bringing in this to sort it out etc..’ If this is the narrative going on behind the changes,  is it any wonder that it is landing as it is? I would feel aggrieved too if I believed I was being called unprofessional…

No one is calling anyone unprofessional. Becoming a ‘Profession’ is very different to people being professional, and conflating the two leads to really dangerous misunderstandings.

  • “How will sitting in a classroom help anyone? You learn on the streets.”

Again, in fairness, there is a lot of truth in this statement. A lot of good learning has been proven to be context specific, so you learn whilst you do. I’m a little surprised to see this argument used at all, as for the first 6 months of police training, I sat in a classroom. The training consisted of learning legislation by rote and applying it to written down scenarios, along with lifesaving and defensive tactics. I found this method of training very painful and still do – which is why the College is designing the courses with Higher Education institutions to incorporate large sections of learning whilst doing. A vocational degree like nursing has a large percentage of its course situated in the wards where they will eventually work. The policing degree will be a mix of actual policing and learning on the job,  supplemented with some classroom work that will hopefully be ten times better than learning legislation by rote :-/

The old fashioned idea of a degree gained by sitting in a dusty library discussing obscure theory is not applicable in this context in any way, and suggesting that it is is nothing but hyperbole.

  • “This will not help our diversity at all. It’s another barrier and only makes thing worse.”

This is a valid opinion, it is possible that this change may affect diversity. It is important however, to realise where we are critiquing from. We have a a very unrepresentative workforce, and we have some way to go before the service reflects our communities (whether we should be aiming for that is a whole other blog). The diversity profile of higher education is far better than that of policing, and we must remember that a good proportion of officers will still enter through the apprenticeship route. We can’t guess how the EQF will affect our diversity profile, it may even improve it… it is however a legitimate risk and people are right to raise it.

People looking for answers in this area may be disappointed, it will be a complicated issue that will need a lot of unpicking. 

  • “I wouldn’t be here if this was in when I became a police officer, and I’m good at my job.”

This has been a very common rebuff, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who joined decades ago that simply would not be in the service if it was degree entry only. The thing is, *apologies for the bold text* POLICING WILL NOT BE DEGREE ENTRY ONLY. This has been much discussed and it needs to stop. Apprenticeships will be available that allow those without qualifications to join the service, just as the paramedic career pathways allow. In truth, this will mean that those without qualifications will leave the service as a graduate. I think this is entirely appropriate for the actual work that an officer undertakes and think it is a hugely positive step.

 

So, what do we know?

We know that initial police training will rise from being at level 3-4 standard, to level 6.

This means our officers will receive higher levels of training and education, that prepare them for not just taking action, but also understanding the wider context that the service sits within. I could discuss critical thinking and reflective practice, but both of these terms are often referred to as jargon, are poorly explained and often taken as an insult (I’m already critical etc.). The truth is that decision making at the sharp end is getting more difficult as we start to interact with risk and vulnerability more and more. In the past, when we knew less, this was OK,  as we acted on the information we had. This is changing, and as a knowledge base builds, you can’t ignore it or refuse to use it. There must be a mechanism of passing that information to practitioners, and training as it stands won’t quite cut it.

Training is currently also variable, and this means that probationers in Constabulary 1, have less training than Constabulary 2. Not only does this put practitioners at some risk, it also provides a differing level of service depending on where you live (the use of Restorative Justice is a classic example). Let’s get our act together on this and admit our system is fractured? The EQF stops this in its tracks and establishes national standards that uniformly equip our officers. It establishes a common language and framework of understanding, a base level of knowledge, and introduces all officers to continuing professional development before even joining the service.

Contrary to the *academics are ruining this job* mantra, you can bet that faculties up and down the country will be mixed, with criminologists, researchers, police officers/ex-police officers and students all working together.

 

OK,  so it’s not perfect. It will have its challenges and it will have its speed bumps. It does however form a huge part of any Profession. It’s not about officers being unprofessional,  incapable,  or about the academic illuminati taking over, it’s there to raise initial levels of understanding and acknowledge the complexity of police work.

When in doubt, listen to Albert:

And before anyone says it, I’m not saying officers don’t think, only that our current system of training often doesn’t train the mind specifically to do it 🙂 I hope this blog clears up a few things/helps,  and as usual I’m always available on Twitter if you want to feedback/comment.

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:

1280px-Graham's_Hierarchy_of_Disagreement.svg

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.

The changing of the guard

This is a controversial blog. It may cause current leaders to feel uncomfortable, and I’m sorry for that as many are fantastic. Believe it or not, this is not about the quality of any leader, it is instead about the environment in which they function. I’m going to try and stay light on the theory, and instead paint a readable picture that may illustrate some of the problems I have seen and experienced. I’m hoping that sharing them shines a light on some of the issues with change in policing. 

 

There are a couple of things we need to understand about the particular structural make-up of the cops before we go any further. To all intents and purposes, the police is still a job for life. Once you are in, the regulations that govern us as servants of the crown are robust. It isn’t rare to see people begin talking about how much service they have left within their probation (the first two years) – it’s a discussion that runs through the fabric of the job. Many discuss their plans for retirement and plan their mortgages and debt around the commutation. There are many cops that discuss, ‘seeing their time out,’ and ‘making the finishing line,’ and these time based conversations happen everyday around you. Of course, they don’t by proxy mean that people’s enthusiasm begins to wane in their twilight years in the job, and there some fantastic cops in their final years of service. But, make no mistake, the length of service is a BIG thing. People will introduce themselves, and in the same breath tell you how long they have in the job. Experience over time isn’t just important, it is the way that people judge your level of knowledge. If you have many years in, the assumption is that you are ‘good’ cop, able to operate within the system and navigate from A to B competently.

A simple model of this would look like:

Screenshot (9)

This connection of ‘time served’ to competence isn’t just a cop thing, but the 30-39 year tenure frames a particular discussion within the police that simply doesn’t take place elsewhere. On twitter and in service, I’ve been asked, ‘Oh yeah, and how long have you got in?” Let’s translate this: “If you have not X years of service, I’m afraid I won’t even listen to you.” How does this manifest itself physically?

  • Probationers have to make the brews.
  • Probationers get the worst jobs, repeatedly.
  • Probationers are often asked to stay quiet or ignored by some until they become regulars.
  • Probationers often are last in the leave rota.
  • Probationers get the worst vehicles.
  • Probationers are last out of the carrier.
  • Probationers are called ‘probey,’ or something similar, until they have the service in to be called by their first name.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve seen this still happening within the last few years. If you were coming into the profession, and this was ‘the way we do things around here,’ what would you think? You would immediately have to accept the fact that ‘time-served’ was really important, and you would also have to accept that your opportunity to learn would be really limited by the work you were ‘allowed’ to do. A quick example – if as the shift probationer you get every bed-watch, or every constant supervision, the chances are you will learn at a VERY slow rate. Most of your time will be spent on your own, watching people sleep, or talking with prisoners. Some hate this with a passion, but no one will challenge it, and it still remains the norm in many places now.

Taken to its extreme, this can be seen as individual bullying, but I don’t subscribe to that, it’s just culture doing culture’s thing. It’s not a productive thing – it can feel deeply hostile – and in fact it actively works against probationers taking any responsibility, or doing any deep learning at difficult jobs. Of course, inevitably as probationers pass their probation, some haven’t actually dealt with anything ‘hooky’, so we actually can’t judge how they will survive as a regular officer.

Let’s look at the fallacy of time-served = competence

Probationers can just be bloody amazing. As a supervisor I’ve worked with a few that put those with far longer service to shame. In fact, there’s one probationer I can remember, who was one of the best cops I’ve ever worked with within 18 months of joining. To put him on a bed watch was a total waste of talent – for both the service and the public. At the same time, on the same shift, there was a cop with over 15 years’ service who really struggled dealing with anything much more complicated than a shoplifter and was persistently lazy. Funnily enough, he talked about length of service a lot. Time-served just didn’t equal competence then, and it doesn’t now. As a supervisor, I looked after that probationer, and although he took his fair share of bed-watches, I would have much rather have had him out and dealing with the public.

This primacy of experience manifests itself in other ways too. Those older in service won’t listen to the ‘whipper-snappers’, and ‘experience teaches best’ is mantra for the collection of work-based knowledge. We even discuss ‘time-served’ in promotion, so you may have been given the advice:

  • I’m sorry, don’t go for your next promotion, you haven’t got enough time in rank yet.
  • Don’t even apply, you need to have worked in neighbourhood policing.
  • I’m sorry, you haven’t worked in a strategic/operations position yet.
  • Come back next time, it’s not your turn.
  • There are others ahead of you (this isn’t a competence thing, it’s a ‘They were here before you,’ thing).

All of the above comments are pretty much about length of service. You can colour them up, but they essentially mean, ‘Go and collect a few more years.’ Importantly, they don’t ask valid questions like:

  1. Is this the best person to go into neighbourhood policing?
  2. Is this person with less service of a higher competence than the person with longer service?
  3. Should this be about whose turn it is, or who would provide the best service for the public?
  4. Would putting this person into an Ops based role displace someone of greater skill in that role already?
  5. Is this person’s talents aligned with their position in the job – because that is where they will give the best service and enjoy the job most.

To give you an idea of how the above examples can be totally dysfunctional:

Person A is great at their job and a natural leader whose staff show them a lot of respect. They ask their line supervisor for a shot at promotion, and they are promptly told that they need some neighbourhood experience before they apply. They don’t really like neighbourhood policing, and prefer the fast paced action of response policing and crisis management. The management want them as a supervisor though, so a move is engineered and Person A does a job-swap with Person B. Person B has been a Neighbourhood supervisor for many years, prefers long term problem solving and has firm established partnerships with many people in the community who feel that they are indispensable. They don’t get time for a job handover.

Person A is well out of their comfort zone. Over time they manage a few community relationships, and find remote supervision of the team difficult. They dislike the community meetings and want to solve problems quickly and decisively. This doesn’t fit with the ward area and they are soon receiving complaints from residents. Their wellbeing suffers, but they soldier on, knowing they have been asked to do at least 18 months.

Person B is also well out of their comfort zone. They need re-skilling and disappear to do several courses, whilst resourcing organises cover – leaving another team short. Fast paced decision making isn’t their thing and the team find them frustrating as they second guess themselves. A few practical mistakes and they are under investigation for their competence and on an action plan. This results in time off sick and a need for cover for them. This means a once stable team with a well liked supervisor receives inconsistent supervision and persistent staff shortages. Their wellbeing begins to suffer too.

All of the above happens, because the force wants their supervision to have spent time in neighbourhood policing… They want ‘time-served’ in a particular role, despite the fact that the candidate – in both cases – is unsuitable. And the really sticky bit, is that neighbourhood policing isn’t – in any way – a pre-requisite for good leadership. Good leadership is just good leadership, and it matters not how much service you have or where you have served it.

And the weird thing is, that the level of competence isn’t discussed either? At promo time: “I see you’ve done your time on Neighbourhoods. You’re eligible now.” – No mention of the fact that they really struggled there, or that the move cause organisational problems across two departments… Box ticked, applicant clearly a far better leader now… :-/

This kind of example becomes even more problematic when you look at other industry. You would never hear of an accountant who couldn’t get promoted because they haven’t done a stint in HR, and if there ever were any swaps between those two functions, the staff member would have to fully re-train. Can you imagine someone working in construction being told that they can’t go into management until they’ve spent time as an electrician? What would they say? ‘I don’t need to be an electrician, there’s plenty of electricians who do that.’ It’s just weird that the cops do it, and the main argument that is used doesn’t ring true either:

You need omni-competence to be a good leader.

What is omni-competence? It’s competence around a wide group of specialisms, so as a leader, you need operational, strategic, and investigative experience, because experiencing all these things makes you a better leader.

Does it?? Says who? I know great investigative leaders who’ve been in investigation all their career. I know great operational leaders who have spent all their career in ops. Moving either of those people out of those spheres would be a travesty, because they are truly awesome in their respective fields, yet it happened. It stands to reason that the service levels would then drop, as others with far less experience take over, so that they can move into an area where their knowledge is of little use? I bet using the ‘5 whys’ (when you ask ‘why’ 5 times to see if you get a meaningful answer) this would falter at stage 2 or 3. There’s no evidence behind it.

Why does this happen? I guess there’s a presumption that we get good leaders if we bounce them around the organisation? It’s like an organisational habit. We’re addicted to it. The result is an inconsistency of leadership, many, many courses (and therefore expense) as people constantly collect competencies (that they use for a very short amount of time), and a discernible lack of strategy across the organisation. How do you execute a five year or ten year strategy when you change leaders every 12-18 months? It would be incredibly difficult. The end result is  plethora of short term changes, and a lack of any long term vision. This is why cops on the deck feel the brunt of initiative after initiative from new leaders trying to make their mark, before their stint ends or they get switched elsewhere.

If you have spent 20+ years doing this, it’s the path that you have taken, and you place value in it. At the bottom of the organisation you accept that this is the way it works, and you play the game and do the time. In turn, you value the time spent on other things, because there is no way that people don’t learn when they change departments. The learning curve is steep, and you have to learn fast to fit in and keep the wheels turning. This personal learning is great for that individual, but for the service, and for the public, I’m not sure it’s great at all. In fact, one could even say that people are paddling so fast under the surface as the run the ‘job-switch’ gauntlet, that changing the way things are done – and I mean properly changing them, not tinkering and doing little initiatives – becomes an impossibility.

At the level of middle managers, when you have the greatest opportunity to make a tangible difference, you are on the ‘job-switch’ gauntlet. You navigate hoop after hoop, because those ahead of you choose if you progress, and those under you don’t seem to factor in whether you get promoted or not. You need to fit in and deliver for the gatekeepers, not those that sit outside the keep. Ambition keeps you on the ‘job-switch’ gauntlet, and the culture becomes self-sustaining. At the promotion boards, there are lots of discussions of what you have done, where you have done it, and what ‘competencies you have fulfilled’ (think experience as knowledge as I discussed above). This is embedded in the National Police Promotion Framework, which measures your answers on the ability to relay previous experiences. Prospective leaders must be collectors of experience and tellers of stories.

They often don’t have to prove any external learning, they often don’t discuss how they would change the future, they often don’t discuss their knowledge of culture, they often don’t discuss their self-awareness or self-reflection, there is little exploration of emotional intelligence or resilience, and they rarely – if ever – evidence their personal knowledge of how others view them. God forbid them discussing mistakes… (the greatest source of learning).

A changing of the guard?

The name of this blog was chosen not because the guard is changing, but to discuss how a ‘change’ is incredibly difficult. Whilst experience and time-served is valued over the things in the above paragraph, how can we ever do a meaningful job of developing them? If, for your next promotion you have to do Neighbourhood Policing, because that’s what the boss said, or that’s what the boss did, why would you invest in Continuing Professional Development? If you are asked to hoop jump and run initiatives, why would you delve into self-awareness and self-reflection? If it’s ‘your turn next,’ why would you look to changing the future landscape?

And herein lies the major problem. Whilst the gatekeepers hold the keys to the gate, why would they change the gate?

If our current leaders had to do ABC, they will place value in ABC. Why would a current leader suddenly start asking for DEF? It would be like them admitting that their leadership development had been poor and that experience in department X was only a small part of being a leader – when that experience had gotten them to where they are today. And if ABC got them up there, the surely it will be OK in the future? Let’s throw some hypotheticals up around this:

“Don’t believe all this guff about self-awareness and emotional intelligence, it’s this year’s garlic bread. Just go onto department X and deliver for me.”

“Don’t worry about all this academic learning. I didn’t do it. It’s experience that matters and years on the streets.”

“There’s nothing wrong with our culture. Don’t listen to all the naysayers, the service is in fine shape. It’s your turn in the next board, just keep your head down.”

I’ve heard/seen some of these things first hand. It’s the gatekeepers putting trust in their gate. They guard the paths to progress in the job, and in doing so they hold the key to real culture change. Where does it begin? When the Sgt signs off a PC’s performance development review with ‘suitable for promotion,’ all the way up to NPCC. When the gathering of ‘experience’ is the ‘way things get done round here,’ it will continue to be closely guarded by the key holders, who saw success off the gathering of experience.

So, if you want change in a culture like this, how do you go about it?

You have to have a serious think about the structure of that gate, and who holds the responsibility of looking after the keys. In a job where there is a long tenure by default, those keys are closely guarded and surrounded by a network of gossip and discussion that resolutely protects them. Challenging this isn’t easy, and changing it is even more difficult. Prospective leaders can’t challenge it, because the key holders decided on whether they get promoted or not. Those brave enough to challenge it are often committing career suicide…

It’s a pretty good, self sustaining eco-system, and changing it is like screwing with the organisation’s system of natural selection. If you want to lead, dabble at your peril…

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The key thing for existing leaders to realise is that change is necessary, and this is not always an easy realisation. It is the job of strategic leaders within the organisation to orchestrate this realisation and there are a myriad of ways to make it happen. Once this is reached, the hard work begins. Many across the country have tried for many years to get real change in culture, especially around wellbeing and emotional intelligence, but it hasn’t stuck or sufficiently shifted yet – the guard has not changed. The self-sustaining eco-system has prevailed.

If you are reading this as a leader, recognising the facets of promotion (purely experience based) above are less than adequate for selecting potential leaders is a step in the right direction. If you are an aspiring leader, influencing how they are organised and run is a priority. If you are a serving cop, acknowledging that experience isn’t everything yourself is a big start, and even having open discussions about it all helps.

Re-wiring how we see leadership isn’t just something that can be dabbled with, it’s fundamental to the police’s existence in the future. If we continue to use experience as the defining feature of leadership selection, then no true change will take place. And we need to change, if only to address the wellbeing of the people that work for the police as an organisation. A learned friend (not in the political sense obviously!) and serving Inspector once said to me in a well received Twitter DM:

“The trouble with the cops, is that there aren’t enough nice people who are cops.”

It resonated quite strongly with me, as being nice to people (and by nice I don’t mean pink and fluffy, I mean caring about people) often didn’t seem to rear its head as a standard feature of leadership in my constabulary at that time. Maybe it’s time the police looked at who holds the keys to the gatehouse, and whether they themselves believe that a move away from experience as the primary definer of competence is something more than just ‘garlic bread..?’

Talk is cheap, it’s active change away from experience that needs to be seen by those in service now, and more emphasis on leadership qualities that are distinctly counter-culture needs to be established. This isn’t just a changing of the guard, it’s a removal of them as holders of the keys, followed by establishing a new guard that doesn’t listen to the people in the keep. It’s not cosmetic surgery, it’s genetic engineering, looking and re-addressing the way that we both evaluate and develop leadership at its basest level.

It’s about replacing:

“How many years service do you have?” or…

“Have you done your time on Neighbourhoods?”

With:

“What kind of leader are you, and how do you know?”

“What have you done to develop yourself (not your skills) for this role?”

“What would others say about you as a leader?”

Recognising that leadership is a skill in and of itself, and is not solely reliant on experience is a start, but physically developing and harnessing that is the challenge. Because:

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And we’ve been doing it for a very long time.