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:

IMG_0353

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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Measuring Leadership: the Holy Grail?

There’s quite a bit of research in this blog, but it’s not cited. If you want references or want to search for the sources of the data, drop me a line and I will do my best to find them for you. As usual, there’s quite a bit of culture stuff in here, but it wouldn’t be one of my blogs without that 🙂

 

I started working on Leadership specifically on the College of Police Leadership Review. Prior to that I studied it at Warwick for two years, and I’m back into studying it now. It’s a complex subject, and usually unfairly reduced to soundbites and catchphrases that people throw around with abandon. Classics like:

“Many hands make light work.”

Go hand in hand with:

“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

It doesn’t take rocket science to realise that these clash quite significantly. This is true of much of the leadership literature. You can find books about keeping ‘grip and control,’ and place them directly across from books by leadership consultants/gurus like Simon Sinek. Sinek will talk about empowerment, and finding meaning, whereas the grip and control gurus will talk about managing process and keeping tight audit.

This clash makes the whole area of study contradictory, and there are few studies that actually begin to discuss how complicated the area of leadership actually is. When you dig underneath the myriad of discussions about leadership ‘styles,’ you realise that they are collections of lists of behaviours. These behaviours have been found to hold value when researched in particular contexts, but we don’t actually know if it was the context that made them successful, or the behaviours themselves…

Let me give you an example.

An organisation calls the researchers in because the staff survey says that working in that company at that time is pretty awful. They may like the work, but they don’t like the leaders, and they certainly don’t like the environment and culture. Unsurprisingly, a particular set of behaviours is absent, and the workplace needs them to begin to function in a balanced way. So… a really heavy command and control culture, is likely to need empowerment and far more communication up and down. The company needs them, because there has been a culture in place for some time, and that culture has self propagated behaviours in order to function in a particular way.

This happened with policing during the performance era. Performance became the by-word for success, and if you delivered performance you were held to be a ‘good’ leader. Those leaders then entered into positions where they got to select other future leaders, and as performance had always been important to them, it became important to other aspiring leaders too. When this begins to happen, you see a distillation of behaviour. It becomes palpably strong, almost themic.

The trouble is, the police is a pretty diverse organisation in terms of function. You really shouldn’t have command and control permeating through every department in the police, it’s damaging. You need different leadership styles in neighbourhood policing, CID, community cohesion etc.. As Command and Control remained the dominant leadership style, so it did grow into an unstoppable force, and it still remains immensely important in policing to this day.

Command and Control is a controversial subject. Some leaders will swear by it. They call it by all sorts of names and usually attach ‘Operationally Credible’ to its use. The demand stats show that the kind of work that needs it is actually really, really rare, yet it’s sticking around with a vengeance up and down the country. There are good reasons for this, as if the Command had been better at high profile incidents where there has been loss of life, the outcome may have been very different. If you screw up when you need it, the outcomes can be pretty atrocious.

So, what have we got so far? We have the need for Command and Control in fairly rare incidents, but it is of very high importance. Do we need it everywhere? Clearly not. Yet, as with many things in policing, the broad brush is applied, and usually all candidates will have to prove their ability in Command and Control during promotion processes etc.. This results in a very specific set of behaviours being applied as a filter through to areas of leadership.

And, I need to add some comment in here about measuring Command and Control (or investigation, or road traffic incidents etc. – whatever you choose to measure as a filter). If you are being measured on whether you reach the same decisions, as those that designed the exercises, then you are only being measured for whether you think like them. This is designed in group-think. Decisions have to be able to be made that are different to the ‘accepted solutions,’ whilst you measure how candidates got there, instead of where they ended up (this is a whole other blog!). This is Diversity of Thought, and you can allow for it in measuring candidates.

Want to be a leader in the police? Best be able to use Command and Control – and that’s OK, because we need it (in places).

Now, some people are not good at Command and Control. They have a different skill set, and may instead prefer leadership styles such as Collective Leadership.

What happens if someone who prefers Collective Leadership gets put through the Command and Control Assessment? Well, they won’t perform nearly as well as those who are naturally really good at Command and Control. In fact, they may be filtered out here, and all because their strengths in leadership lie elsewhere. It’s kind of like a control mechanism for a particular kind of leadership. It also significantly disadvantages leaders from departments who need a different leadership style – such as people with skills in forming partnerships and collaborations.

It establishes a behavioural hierarchy, and it attaches status to particular behaviours. If you don’t see assessments during promotion that look at problem solving, you won’t attach value to the behaviours that go along with good problem solving. It’s strange that you will see lots and lots of examples on application forms that detail dealing with public disorder or match command, but you rarely see them discussing forming strong links with local charities…

Back to measurement.

Hopefully the example discussed above sets a scene. If you have a strong kind of leadership in place, that leadership will often set the bar for selecting other leadership, and unless they are enlightened enough to look for challenge in their future leaders, they will select people that they are comfortable with. There’s loads of research on this, but here is a very quick run down on how good unstructured interviews in isolation are for selecting future leaders (varies depending on the study, but by and large, they are rubbish). Add to this the other Police favourite of the application form, and you have a combination that looks like this:

  1. Exercises that create behavioural bias in selection (such as command and control scenarios as a filtering method).
  2. Use of application forms (pretty awful in terms of reliability and validity).
  3. Unstructured interviews (again, fairly awful in terms of reliability and validity due to the fact that they are so subject to bias).

The resulting picture basically shows (and if you want a run down on how good particular exercises are for selecting good leaders, have a look here) that the traditional methods for leadership selection within constabularies up and down the country, are riven with bias, unreliable, and often invalid. These are technical assessment/selection terms for being poor quality.

A quick example of the hierarchy of exercises:

validity

So, I hear you asking, if the current methods are pretty awful, what can you replace them with? Well, actually there’s all sorts of things that we could do better, but as an ex senior officer pointed out on Twitter last week, Assessment Centres were stopped in many constabularies because the senior leaders didn’t like the outcome of them. This stands to reason, because assessment centers often look at the whole of the candidate, and single exercise filters are forgone for several exercises that measure the a much wider picture. This means that some Command and Control heavy senior leaders, will be presented with successful candidates that do not have anywhere near as much of a Command and Control outlook as they do – thus putting them out of favour, or making it very difficult for them to succeed.

In short, solid assessment centers with a wide array of exercises, are more likely (certainly not certain) to measure wider communication skills, the ability to process information, and the ability to display empathy/values. They are more likely to select good leaders.

We can go even further into the building blocks of leadership, and look instead at things such as intelligence, emotional intelligence (how we interact with other’s and our own emotions) and cognitive load (how much info you can take in and process). This is relatively simple stuff, but it removes the behavioural bias that is built into many of our internal selection processes now. Serving cops often don’t like discussing measuring intelligence, they also dislike written tests, and they hate psychometric tests (I have direct experience of the use of all of these methods). All of these are far more valid and reliable than current methods though. How do we know? Huge amounts of research tells us, and it tells us convincingly too.

So what gets in the way of better selection and measurement? Well, the truth lies in something that is called ‘face validity.’ This is fancy wordage for how the culture sees the exercises. If the candidates do not feel that the test measures ‘being a good cop,’ then the outcome of the results will often not be trusted or given any value. This makes improving selection fraught with leadership challenges. If you introduce psychometrics as a leg of your assessment center, there will likely be a backlash by candidates who will tell you that they mean nothing and are a total waste of time. The research tells us different, but the people’s perceptions of doing the tests are clearly immensely important.

So, how do we navigate such a complicated landscape? The answer? With great difficulty and lots of iterative work – this means that things will fail, you learn from them, try it again with tweaks, and then learn from the second application, and so on. Eventually you end up with a product that the culture has begun to accept, that does a far more improved job of unbiased selection.

 

If you made it through to here, then you are doing well, because that was quite dry. What are the take-homes from the above?

  • The current way we select people internally is hugely prone to bias and unreliability.
  • There are many better ways to select out there that have been researched and tested repeatedly.
  • These methods may be really counter-culture, so implementing them may be very difficult.

So, finally, what about the ‘Holy Grail?’ Well, nothing is perfect, you could search for the ‘right’ kind of selection exercises for a millennia. Will we ever find them? I don’t think so. I don’t think that searching for the perfect set of selection exercises is actually a worthwhile exercise. Why? Because it is all contextual. It depends on your environment, on your people, and on your culture. What is true however, is that better selection is not only important in order to find future leaders, it’s also immensely important to find different leaders. We will never find the hallowed ‘diversity of thought’ without doing a full reset of how we select our future leaders. Behavioural filters are used almost everywhere, and quite simply, they institutionalise behavioural bias. They’ve got to go, or become part of a suite of exercises that sees far more of the candidate. This means going from a past-the-post system (where each exercise is an opportunity to filter candidates) to a holistic system where a selection of exercises are used to see a wider picture of the candidate as a whole.

Dilbert (as usual) captures the bias that needs to disappear very nicely:

DIlbert-Leadership

Nothing like a good challenge 🙂

Above all, there’s a duty to the people that work in the police, and to the public, to use the best methods that we can with the resources we have. That way, the likelihood of selecting the best leaders for the future will improve, despite the heavy cultural challenges that we may face. And just to finish… the above methods that have been discussed, don’t bring in the Values that put those candidates in the chairs in the first place, and if you don’t measure for that, it just may be possible that you don’t get the leaders that you would like holding the leadership positions… there’s work to do here, let’s get on with it 🙂

 

Skin Coloured Targets

What is representation

This is a personal reflection on research that I conducted whilst a part of the Paul McKeever Scholarship. I am aware that the contents of it are quite controversial, and I am also aware of the fact that the police need much, much greater diversity in their ranks. The results are not presented in a way that seeks to undermine the objective of achieving just that, they are instead there to question the methods that are used to reach them. 

My research journey began in a lecture theatre at Warwick Business School. We were receiving a lecture from Simon Guilfoyle on the use of targets in police performance measurement systems. It totally changed my view on the way that police conduct their daily activities. I highly recommend Simon’s book (Intelligent Policing), where he discussed the use of daily, weekly and monthly targets and whether they actually represent a valid way to measure police performance. I will summarise for you: they don’t.

new public management and performance.png

He also illuminated for me a whole host of ‘unintended consequences’ that come from the targets and how they are realised. This was validated shortly after by the PASC report into Police Crime Recording standards and how they just couldn’t be seen as reliable at all. This report took its casualties, and there has been a slow and (hopefully) inexorable move away from performance management systems that often do the total opposite of what they were meant to achieve.

Whilst this was ongoing, I could see that targets fell away in several areas of police performance, but that they stuck around in others… They were – and still are – used in diversity recruitment, hate crime monitoring, in complaint management, and in sickness (and other HR policies). I found this to be really strange, as we had a lot of research that indicated that targets were pretty awful, yet they were being ignored in areas of business that weren’t directly related to crime reporting. What were the unintended consequences that were taking place around these areas? How were they manifesting themselves and what were their effects?

So, this led to me deciding to research the unintended consequences of the use of targets in BME (Black, Minority and Ethnic) recruitment and selection. I’ve always been passionate about diversity, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to look deeper into how we are trying to improve it. I interviewed over twenty frontline cops in several Constabularies, transcribed seventeen of the interviews, and then coded (sorted and gathered themes together) in order to form a picture of how they were perceived. I was hoping to uncover the unseen picture of what the targets really did on the frontline.

Research map:

reserach map

The map above shows the themes and how I grouped them. I then began to dig into how the themes came about, and where they came up in the conversation. There were several significant findings.

Good news

Almost every single interviewee stressed the fact that they believed increased representation was really important. They were all sold on having more recruits from diverse parts of the community and could see the wider benefits of it. Interviewees often repeated this assertion throughout the interviews.

Opportunities: 

Questions, Questions, Questions: Interviewees repeatedly questioned the need for targets within the process, and for justification behind positive action (this is activity designed for BME candidates that improves their chances of successful recruitment or selection). It was really clear that positive action was largely misunderstood, with perceptions that it created a positive bias within the process abound. In short, positive action was conflated with positive discrimination. This damages the legitimacy of the process and results in what is called poor ‘procedural justice.’ Those people subject to the processes, do not believe that the processes are fair, and this really affects the outcome of them. Officers weren’t applying for some roles, as they believed that the processes were ‘rigged’ in minority’s favour, with some just refusing to engage at all and mistrusting the people who were recruited/promoted as a result of them.

Competence: The questions and lack of understanding above, then leads to other questions, such as, ‘Why are they not selecting for competence?’ This question worried me, because it implied that the officers did not believe that the processes were selecting for how good people were at the job, and instead selections were based on the targets that were in place. This is the first real indication that the targets were involved in causing harm. They were providing a framework for officers to challenge the validity of the process. There was a perceived uneven playing field, and at no point was there any interaction from management in an effort to explain why positive action made the process more ‘even’, instead of doing the exact opposite.

The result: A combination of a lack of information, no communication from management, and the suspicious and cynical culture (we are paid to be suspicious and cynical in many cases!) then led to the most worrying outcome. This was that officers then questioned the competence of BME candidates that were promoted or recruited, because the use of targets allowed for:

‘Has this person been promoted/recruited to fulfil a target supported by systems that I don’t understand and no-one’s explained, or are they the best person for the job?’

This is a really damaging finding, as it undermines the purpose of increasing representation in the first place. If distrust and cynicism follows BME officers because targets also follow them, they then have a higher mountain to climb upon recruitment or promotion than any other candidate, and this removes a huge amount of any procedural justice that they believe resides within the system. The BME candidates that I interviewed confirmed this tangibly, and it sits with anecdotal evidence from colleagues I know personally too.

What needs to be done?

  • Targets need removing, they rob the subject of the target of their competence.
  • Officers need to be able to understand why positive action is being used in the workplace and how it works (how this is done is an L&D issue up for debate). Ideally, processes that do disadvantage BME candidates simply need fully re-designing, nullifying the need for positive action in the first place. This requires an in-depth knowledge of bias in assessment and recruitment policies (very developed in the College of Policing, not so much in internal constabularies).
  • When managers make decisions that affect the perceptions of those subject to an internal/external process, the rationale must be communicated fully and a space for questions and debate should be created. Without this space, the prevailing culture will fill the gap with speed and ferocity.

Screenshot (24)

Screenshot (25)

 

Other questions:

The above research highlighted some issues that need addressing, but what did they do for me? As an operational officer, what did I get from conducting it? These are incredibly important questions that address a wider discussion around what educating officers may achieve in the long run.

  • Our internal understanding of the term ‘representation’ is under-developed and dangerously simple. It rests on the premise that if a certain percentage of diverse individuals are recruited, the representation problem is ‘solved.’ This is a fallacy and incredibly dangerous as it circumvents what representation is actually about (and I believe it to be about legitimacy and trust).
  • This has illustrated to me that engagement as a manager is essential. It’s often seen as a fluffy add-on, but as a manager, if you leave information gaps, you are also responsible for the rumours that fill them. If police managers are making decisions, the communication of the rationale for those decisions is more important than the decisions themselves – and it is almost totally absent in many constabularies.
  • Speaking with frontline officers at length, with whom I had to break the taboo of speaking about BME issues (yes there’s a taboo, and it’s stifling) has shown me that many care passionately about recruitment from diverse populations. They have real concern about ‘how’ that recruitment is conducted, because they care about the quality of service that they can provide and the safety of colleagues and the public. If the targets weren’t there and the perceived playing field more understood, it would go a long way to bridging a trust divide between BME officers and non-BME officers following recruitment/promotion processes.
  • One interviewee spoke at length about the ‘hierarchy of diversity,’ and oh my goodness was she on the money. When you apply a target to a particular demographic, you consciously illustrate that they are more important within that process. She raised LGBT officers, Jewish Officers, Eastern European Officers and disabled officers as subjects that are unconsciously ‘lowered’ in their status of importance. What about thought diversity? What does this hierarchy tell us? It tells us that ‘valuing difference’ as a whole is actually a bit of a fib. If you value difference, you value everyone’s differences, and not just those for whom you have a political obligation. This is a great example of cognitive dissonance, and it reveals some hypocrisy that really needs addressing. It’s necessary to prioritise areas of severe need, but accompanying that with statements that deny prioritisation causes issues with understanding.
  • And off the back of this, reducing people to a label as simple as BME also reduces the issue at hand to three letters that can realistically be ‘achieved.’ The changing demography of London as it stands, mixed with the particular tenure of police officers, makes numerical representation a far flung target that will be forever chased. If the target is unreachable, and we don’t know what ‘achieving it’ actually does, maybe it’s time to revisit the issues identified as causal factors in community trust breakdown instead?
  • Finally, they led me to question, question, and question. It’s made me more of a pain in the backside (I imagine), but I will never accept simple solutions for complex social issues ever again.

To finish, a couple of things. Until we address what ‘Representation’ actually is for a UK police force, we are aiming at fog. When a force reaches 8% BME to match its 8% BME population, can we shelve representation as a ‘job well done?’ I would say that the answer is a very clear ‘no.’ The Scarman and Macpherson reports indicate that persistent problems with community relations and a complete breakdown of trust were significant causal factors of representation breakdown – one could argue that numbers alone won’t address either of these issues (and a systematic review that is about to land shortly will do the same). So why do they seem to be the sole focus in many forces? If behaviour of police officers has a part to play in gaining trust and legitimacy (and research says it does), why does this play second fiddle to numbers without an evidence base?

Culture change and wellbeing development, together with a developed understanding of procedural justice (internally and externally) may be partial answers to these problems. But, change in these areas is painful and complicated (and I know as I’m working on them). It is simpler to hold onto targets, because they are tangibly achievable and fit comfortably with an ingrained behavioural legacy of numerical performance management.

The police need to recognise the complexity of the issue of representation, as the targets are currently acting as a scapegoat for far more difficult conversations about broken relationships and a lack of community trust. Diversity strategies should not be about numbers, they should be about forging relationships and creating sophisticated ‘listening’ functions where forces can judge their respective trust by community and tailor their interactions to address bespoke identified issues. Broad brush solutions do not address nuance and legacy. Without addressing this complexity, we will continue to aim at numbers that don’t mean a great deal, or actually achieve a great deal either.

Numbers and percentages do not solve issues with societal/state relationships. Representation is a wicked problem, let’s start viewing it as such, scrap the targets,  and acknowledge that a complex set of behavioural solutions is the only way to realistically address it.

Working in Change in Policing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How does someone ask me questions about this?”

“What if I have this wrong?”

“What if this doesn’t land well?”

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

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

This keeps me awake at night.

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

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

That’s on me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The EQF, Evidence and Innovation

After an interesting weekend, where the Twitter seemed to explode with a whole host of accusations towards the College of Policing, and by-proxy towards me (having previously worked there for 12 months), there are clearly some issues that need ironing out. There are many questions that need answering, some via the College, but others are about our culture and the way that we – as a collective – view and react towards change within our midst. Amongst many things, this blog will discuss what ‘evidence’ actually is in the context of change, and how it is used.  I can’t speak for the College and I won’t try, I think there is lots of work needed to connect with officers and that this weekend is a great example of why.

 

When writing these blogs I am trying to bridge a gap between academic writing and police blogging. It is no small feat and requires me to re-write and re-visit each paragraph on repeat, until I finally hit publish and await the ensuing discussion. I tread a fine line between not using purely research based writing to inform because it is dry and often difficult to read, and leaving it out and posting an opinion piece. For this reason I leave out academic referencing, and more often than not, the authors too. Within the first few paragraphs of my last blog here I actually discuss about 50+ studies. It is in shorthand and you can’t  see the individual studies, but I have written discussions on the same studies several times (including for my recent MSc). I discuss how ‘good’ the studies were, (with regards to their methods) and what they actually tell us when you gather them together. The evidence is evaluated using the Maryland Scale in terms of how reliable it is. The lowest standard of evidence is opinion, rising to RCT trials. I’m not totally sold on this model, but it provides a useful guide and is often used across Policing as way of evaluating studies.

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So, what is it about academic study that everyone is shouting about? “It’s not policing and policing is a fast paced environment., where quick decisions are made, and we deal with disorder and high risk crisis incidents etc. etc.” This is a commonly held view in policing, and to put it very shortly, it’s total tosh. I’m not usually this direct, and I know the middle road is usually the best to tread, but this needs saying: It’s anti-intellectualism, it reveals stigma, and at its basest form it evidences prejudice.  Learning from the rigorous work of others is exactly what creating a ‘knowledge base’ for the profession is all about. It stops us making the same mistakes again and again and it ensures that we as a collective remain open to new learning. There’s actually a really good article called the ‘Dialogue of the Deaf’ (I can’t post it as it is subject to copyright) and it details the issues between the Police and Academia really well. The police say that the research is not operationally useful, and the academics conversely want to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s (and Academia’s) sake. This leads to an impasse, where the cops want useful knowledge that makes a difference, and academics pursue knowledge that will get them published. This impasse is dissolving, and we are seeing some great collaborative work that hits the best of both worlds.

The scientific method

I don’t want to go into too much detail as I can hear the snores already kicking in, but the methodology of academic study is the bit that creates its value. What do I mean by methodology? It is the rigorous questioning of the way that the data is gathered and assessed, that ensures its value later down the line. It isn’t about quick snapshot study, it’s about planning and executing, and then testing and re-testing, and then questioning your findings. This is a reflective cycle – this means that you are constantly checking and self-checking, and then peer checking your analysis. It means that you are testing out ideas (hypothesis) against data that actually means something, instead of collecting data that holds huge inherited bias. This is the difference between real study, and pseudoscience. Here’s a quick graphic that compares the two:

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I heard – during many exchanges on Twitter yesterday – that academic study has no place in policing. Well, it doesn’t if you want to be locked in the column on the right? If you were to take a selection of the way that we used to view police ‘performance’ during performance culture, you will see that the methods that the police used were firmly sat in the right column. But as Simon Guilfoyle has been discussing recently, that’s what happens when you don’t provide training in the methods used to manage properly (discussed in his latest blog here). There are huge risks if we carry on sitting in the right column, like a lack of institutional/personal learning, doing harm when we think we are doing good, and making decisions based on misunderstood data that ultimately harm our staff.

In shorthand, if you view ‘evidence’ as belonging in the right column, there are big issues with drawing meaningful conclusions. It doesn’t mean that the info isn’t useful, especially with regards to quick and dirty opinion polls. They are great for examining opinion, but opinion isn’t evidence of anything other than opinion, and not liking something isn’t evidence that it does/doesn’t work… This is really common in any workplace, and leads to Semelweiss type problems, where new things that work are rejected by professional communities because they are counter-culture. Some changes that are really positive can be rejected by the workforce because of the way that they are perceived/implemented – not because of whether they actually work (read anything on Change Mgmt. by Leandro Herrero/Peter Senge if you want studies on this).

Evidencing Innovation

This is the most common issue I have seen, and it is really dangerous. The misunderstanding around evidence based practice is causing a questioning of innovative changes. It’s right to question – and it should be encouraged at all times, but using the call for evidence to stifle new practice is totally counter-productive. Here is a break down of what Innovation can look like in the police, (follow the link) but if you want it shorthand, if you don’t take risks or have a supporting culture behind you, it makes it ridiculously difficult. I think the risk taking is happening more often now, but the supportive culture is absent. This is a result of many things and cannot be ‘blamed’ on anyone. It’s something we should all take ownership for though, and work to develop if we are ever going to see any positive change take place.

What is happening now in the policing community is interesting to see, as ‘Evidence Based Practice’ – previously debunked by the community as ‘academic interference’, has been taken on, bastardised, and it is now being used as a weapon against change.

‘Where is the evidence that Direct Entry at Inspector works?’

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

Where is the evidence that police need degrees?’

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

Where is the evidence that Police Now works?

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

I could go on. The above questions lead to speculation at best. If you were to take Direct Entry as a great example, I could tell you that it works in many, many places around the world. But I can’t tell you if it will work here. But that’s ok. Let’s be comfy with that and try it out. If it doesn’t work, we’ll evaluate it properly and we will see if it was worth trying. There will always be risk in trying something new, but there are enough checks and balances in place to mitigate that risk (like lots of other people to learn from and keep an eye/develop them in the workplace etc.).

Another discussion point: “Why are we rolling it out if we haven’t evaluated it properly?” Well, forces have asked to be part of the trial. This makes the trial bigger, and in turn this allows for a better evaluation to take place. Basing a country-wide full roll out on the experience of a small amount of people is pretty thin, so let’s widen that base out and make the evaluation more robust. The better the evaluation, the more learning we all take from it. This is essentially growing the sample that you use to draw conclusions from, and the greater the sample, the more representative the results.

And it could be that the schemes fail – and many people will love that (clearly), but early indications are that they aren’t the apocalyptic disgrace heralded by the doomsayers. Let’s wait on the full evaluations before we jump all over something that may be very positive for staff in the workplace.

The real evidence for change

By all accounts (and many staff surveys), workplace wellbeing in the police is pretty poor in many places in the UK, and we have just seen the largest proportion of senior officers ever under investigation for potential misconduct. On these issues alone, I would say that we have a solid evidence base for the reasons for some change to take place in the way that we see leadership.

Having just conducted a study myself on promotion and selection within the cops (specifically with relation to BME candidates and frontline perceptions), I can say that some officers’ trust in current police promotion systems in the UK is appalling. They do not believe that the systems select the best candidates consistently, they believe they are often unfair, and that they suffer lowered morale because of them. The information around the systems and the way that they are used can promote an environment where nepotism and networking are perceived to hold higher value than competence. This research will land shortly hopefully and it is currently changing practice in individual forces in the UK.

Finally: culture. There are many positive aspects to our culture, but there are many repeatedly evidenced issues with our culture (discussed here) that we really need to sort out. We are an internal looking beast, and the scepticism and cynicism with which we view ‘outsiders’, the suspicious and socially removed behaviours that we evidence every day on twitter, and the – let’s face it – downright nastiness (that verges on bullying) shown towards those with contrary views to the masses are evidence within themselves. They have been studied repeatedly by ethnographers and they are enduring behaviours that are just toxic. They don’t make for a healthy work environment, and they don’t make for an environment conducive to real and actual debate. I shall continue to bang this drum – and I don’t care if I get pilloried – as ‘openness’ is important for the police to develop a better relationship with the public, and we have to try and ‘open’ our views and test our assumptions as much as possible if we are ever to improve on this.

I suspect, that the way we view these changes has much to do with our own personal circumstances. During change, we have a tendency to immediately ask: “How does this affect me?” There are some great books on this by John Kotter that deal with coping with change in life/organisations, and this is an enduring (and researched) trait. It leads us to make assumptions like:

Direct Entry is bad because it affects my promotion chances.
Direct Entry is bad because I have had to work my way up there.
Direct Entry is bad because my knowledge is special and outsiders don’t have it.
Direct Entry is bad because they will be relatively poor decision makers.

Now these may all be personally held beliefs reinforced by experience. I can’t question them, they are the beholders’ and totally sacrosanct. I would however question the way that others’ views are seen. Do their contrary opinions hold equal weight? Are contrary ideas seen to be accepted and debated? Or are they attacked and seen as some sort of virus?

Are these questions above the right ones to be asking at all? Should they not be – and we are a public service – about the service we provide:

Does direct entry create different leaders that benefit the service?
Is it possible to do these jobs without the lengthy experience beforehand?
Is the knowledge really that special? Or are there lots of other ‘knowledges’ we can learn from?
Is it possible that new types of decision making are a good thing?

These can be explored during a pilot, but they can only be explored during a pilot. We can’t evidence them. Is it possible that direct entry may change the service for the better? Of course it is! Is it therefore something that can explored? Again, of course it is! The ‘openness’ I am discussing in the blog above isn’t about agreeing with the idea, it’s about having the mindset to explore new things with a critical – but tolerant – eye. Acceptance of difference (including difference of thought) is a choice.

I’m not sure the tolerance is there yet. Maybe we can all work on it some more?

 

Disclaimer: a) I never worked on Direct Entry (although many assumed I did), and I’m not totally sold on it operationally at Insp level. I think a lot of work has to go into designing the right learning prior to it happening, but I have faith and as an idea it is well worth a try. I think the reservations can be overcome. b) The EQF was not my idea and I am not ‘driving’ anything. I did some of the background research and I believe that improving education is always a positive thing. I don’t believe in total graduate entry – which is good, as the College is also looking at non-graduate apprenticeships. And I also believe the service is full of awesome people without any transferable qualifications – and that is wrong, we should be accrediting those skills. 

So what are the consequences?

You may have read about the #cutshaveconsequences campaign. If you haven’t, where have you been? It has been well publicised on social media and many are now using it to illustrate the effect upon daily business at all levels of the police and other public services. The message is a stark one: cut the funding, and these cuts will be reciprocated in the service that is provided. This isn’t through malice, or laziness, or spite, it is a simple equation of supply and demand. Cutting the ‘low hanging fruit’ from police budgets have supposedly resulted in ‘efficiency savings’, but savings in which bit of ‘efficiency’ are we talking about?

Well, it transpires that the ‘low hanging fruit’ was often back office function. Frontline cops will tell you that these people are rarely seen, but that is – of course – not surprising. It isn’t their job to attend calls, and the vast majority of their work deals with invisible demands like file preparation, community engagement, HR processes, communications and training. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but ask any business how they would feel to lose a portion of their training/PR/Admin staff and they will tell you that they play an intrinsic role in making the business run properly. What happens to the work that they were doing, when they aren’t doing it anymore?

Well some of it will just be lost, other parts of it will be passed on, and a classic example of this would be back office case file preparation. Maintain the numbers on the frontline, yet move work previously placed in back office function on to their toes. Remove some call handlers and the response time/call answered time rises. Train cops face-to-face less, pile up the NCALT packages in their place, and you will have officers making more mistakes. Add the extra paperwork on top of the mistake, the higher level of injuries caused through increased response time, and the lack of reassurance function and it all starts to look a little more complex.

Calls to the police haven’t fallen, and failure demand from similarly cut other public services is on the rise. Failure demand is where the problems raised can not be dealt with properly via the system that is in place, and it continues to create often worsening calls to service as the problem is compounded. A classic is mental health, where police are feeling the brunt of another system which is really struggling. As local authorities can’t finance anti-social behaviour interventions or problem tenancies the police again often catch the fall out. This risk grows through a very stretched social services, who are attempting to deal with complex family problems with similarly reduced resources. Fallout? The cops again. 

But crime is falling!!! You will hear the cry shouted from the rooftops. Not everywhere it’s not. And let’s be honest, the problem here isn’t that simple either. The recording structure is archaic and immensely complicated, new crime profiles (cybercrime) are not even included (!!!), and there are still target based performance cultures in place up and down the country. Where there are targets, there will be perverse behaviours, and right now in the current climate, cops certainly don’t need them (and never should they). The word ‘crime’ is becoming synecdoche (long word roughly meaning it’s far too simple to describe what it represents). Policing is not all about crime anymore (and it never was), and the recent work from the College of Policing proves this.

The next possible policing change is the amalgamation of neighbourhood policing into response teams, or reductions in the numbers of officers working in communities. It has always been described as the jewel in the crown of British policing, and rightly so. It increases legitimacy, forges relationships, creates trust, solves problems, and represents someone to talk to face-to-face. It is heavily linked with preventative work and engagement, the kind of work you can’t measure. Some people may cynically state that it is very hard to ‘prove’ it’s value. It’s actually very easy, go and speak to the communities about the value their beat bobby brings. Other options include workforce modernisation or very risky refusal of response in particular circumstances (which I personally think could be awful).

So, further cuts have been announced, what may happen now? Frontline cops have already fallen, and make no mistake, they are now stretched. Police operate in a high stress environment and the physical effects of the job can be debilitating at the best of times. Because of this high stress level, the resultant recovery needed is higher than most professions. If you want to read about this, check out ‘Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement Officers,’ it’s a great read and it changed the way I understood my job and the effect it had on me. It talks about a syndrome called ‘Magic Chair,’ where a cop finishes work and sits in a particular chair. They can sit for hours and stare, not really taking in or interacting with others, not even really watching the TV. Sleep is physiologically difficult because of the speed that their mind reaches processing what has happened that day. It’s a biological reaction, in answer to the high stress environment that they work in. It causes problems in relationships, and health will often suffer because alcohol is often used to self medicate. It’s a dangerous spiral to get into and it can lead to mental health issues down the line if not checked. (Read the book if this chimes with you!)

The interesting part of the book deals with those people that are experienced cops. It details the first domestic violence incident attended, and discusses the biological reaction of adrenalin release, high heart rate, perspiration, and that anxiety feeling. Older cops will tell you that this lessens with experience, but the research has proven that it still happens… The officers just get much better at dealing with it. It still takes its biological toll, it still causes the anxiety and higher heart rate, and as such your body will need to hit a comparative ‘low’ to balance this out and let you recover. It’s called the ‘Emotional Rollercoaster,’ and if you’re a cop, you are never off it.

So why have I started with cuts and ended up discussing stress? Easy, whilst people speak about increasing legitimacy of the cops, gaining greater trust, making them more accountable, and forging better partnerships, austerity is causing the functions that support these things to be reduced. The reactive policing function is fast becoming the last bastion of the frontline. Stress rises accordingly with reduced support, frontline cops suffer higher workloads and ever more scrutiny. Backup is always that bit further away. That stress ‘high’ causes more and more biological damage, causing mistakes to be made and lower rates of physical health. This results in higher sickness levels, and subsequently a cycle of more stress on colleagues that are already strung out. I don’t think that I need to explain anymore…

So what are the consequences of the cuts? Well, they are human consequences. Strung out officers starting to turn in and roll into tight defensive balls as they feel attacked from all sides. Families of officers who feel the Rollercoaster lows at every end of shift. Victims feel them acutely as preventative work wanes and response times rise. Mistakes are made and otherwise great people are put under huge pressure as their decision making is called into question. And slowly, but ever so surely, a dialogue of ‘us and them’ emerges. Cops have to fight this like hell, because there is only ‘us’, grasp the nettle, and deliver as best they can in spite of these cuts, because that is what cops do. The public rely on them. Head held high, support colleagues as if they were family – because they are family. 

Cuts do have consequences, and they aren’t rooted in response times, log to attendance ratios, or detections. They are rooted in people’s wellbeing. Looking after officers and treating them properly has never been so important as it is now.

Climbing (and falling from) the greasy pole…

How do we measure a good leader?

This must have been debated at every level of the service at length. I have been party to some interesting conversation on garage forecourts at 4am around who has been promoted and who hasn’t, as many cops probably have. Everyone has an opinion, but the consensus often falls onto a ‘good/bad’ footing at some point. The promotion system is often discussed in a very derogatory way by officers at the sharp end. Many have little faith in it and will almost always state that it is one of the reasons they will never try for a leadership position.

So what do good and bad look like? What does a competent leader look like? Well this is a tough question and one that is very open to subjectivity. There are some really contemporary thoughts on this in current literature, looking at concepts like ‘Stewardship’ and ‘Followership,’ with older theories espousing various forms of Heroic Leadership and grip/control. Theory aside, many will state, ‘I know a leader when I see one,’ and perhaps this is the best way to define it, as a good leader is often defined by how those they are leading see them. This -of course- means that there will be many different kinds of leaders in many different walks of life.

The below is a very quick image from Kotter (who is a pretty well known guy in mgmt theory).

IMG_0105

It may not be a surprise to think that most of the supervision that cops experience fall on the Mgmt side. There are other graphics that exchange the words ‘Mgmt.’ for ‘Boss.’ Either way, if you think that the biggest influence on Police Leadership has been New Public ‘Management‘ for the last 15-20 years, it stands to reason that Mgmt. as a leadership style has won out. This does not mean that there are not charismatic managers and managers that inspire and support their staff. I know of several who do and are excellent from an anecdotal perspective. It does however indicate that a strong weighting may be present due to the 30 year police employment tenure. If all you have known is Mgmt., and all the bosses want from prospective leaders is to display ‘strong’ Mgmt., then all you will end up with is more managers. This presents an interesting conundrum, and one that I discussed in my last blog around a reactive policing style favouring a command style of leadership. Does a heavy Mgmt. structure favour only managers? What if you are a great leader? You certainly represent more risk than usual.

This can be referred to as Prototype Leadership, or a situation within an organisation where those higher in the hierarchy will select those that they feel most affinity with. In short, bosses will promote bosses who look and act like them. This ensures safety, consistency of delivery, and absolutely no rocking of the proverbial boat. It is by no means particular to policing and happens in many careers on a regular basis.

Now where people stumble, is that criticism of such a process often relies on an assumption that the bosses do this consciously. ‘They only choose people that are like them.’ Although this may actually be true in terms of outcome, in that self-selection does occur, it is often completely unconscious and very difficult to ‘self check.’ Those funny generalisations start to come out to explain it when discussing promotion, like, ‘I think they are ready,’ or ‘I feel safe with him/her in charge.’ It is those generalisations that begin to hint at unconscious bias, and not being aware of it can be hazardous to the future of the organisation, because self selection drastically limits the propensity to change…

I don’t want to drag this part of the conversation out, but research of candidates during promotion processes showed that those candidates who displayed creativity in problem solving were AUTOMATICALLY thought of by selectors as having less leadership potential. What is happening here? The selectors are selecting ‘safe.’ What are the long term implications of this? Well, unless this particular unconscious bias is addressed, creativity is filtered out of candidates or the creative candidates are filtered out themselves.

What are the implications for the future of any organisation who has large amounts of prototype leadership? If you were in private industry the market would overtake the business and it would die. In the public sector? Stability and consistency, whilst the world accelerates on passed it. It could be said that attempts to address the changing profile of crime (i.e. huge increase in use of technology) have fallen victim to ‘safe hands’ management, augmented by archaic procurement bureaucracy and an unwillingness to utilise external skills. This is however complete speculation…

How do we address this problem? It’s unconscious, it results in stability, it’s consistent for the public… Should we change it? Is it a bad thing for a public service? The answer again lies in diversity. The same research as discussed above, showed that activating the ‘Creative Leader’ prototype addressed the problem. This basically means saying, ‘Hey, selector people, creative candidates can make really good leaders, can we have some of them too?’ This means that the current Leaders asking for creative candidates from selectors may actually result in a large shift in the kind of leaders selected.

It’s kind of like giving permission or empowering selectors to look for difference in candidates…

This is where the benefits start to kick in, balancing risk taking leaders who inspire, with managers who help keep them grounded and ensure that checks and balances are in place, sounds like a good combination for the public doesn’t it? So change is there, but it isn’t too crazy…

Putting people in the boardroom who aren’t always ‘safe’ is a good way to grow, not just in the organisation, but personally too. Difference in our leader profiles is therefore necessary for healthy challenge and change. All that is left then, is to organise/develop a system of selection that allows flexibility, where individuals are selected for role, and not for rank. This in turn, may make that pole a little – just a little – less greasy.

That however, is a whole new blog.