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.

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@WeCops on Leadership – a summary

This Wednesday we held a discussion on leadership in policing. The questions that were posed were as follows:

1) Will the reduction in ranks in policing be positive or negative? Why?

2) How can the voices of officers be heard better by leaders in the police service?

3) There are competing demands for police attendance at present, what role does leadership have in resolving these issues?

The debate was well attended and we had 59 people tweet using the hashtag and several more who participated without. It was a busy chat, with 435 tweets and a reach of almost 800,000. These numbers are all well and good, but what do they mean? What does this chat ‘do’? Where is the learning?

@WeCops chats are an opportunity for people to talk, share and comment about a subject proposed by the person leading the chat. There has been debate about what the ‘end product’ may be, yet this may frustrate the purpose of @WeCops altogether. Before there was a @WeCops, discussing police leadership on Twitter was impossible without vitriol and negativity that persisted despite the best of intentions. It wasn’t possible for people to discuss some issues without constant references to ‘shiny-arses’ or ‘desk dwellers.’ Twitter was pretty much bereft of police professional development discussions, and there was only a very small community of practice.

@WeCops is changing this, and for the first time in my memory, there is a relatively ‘safe’ space to discuss issues that are sometimes contentious and (we hope) always interesting.

There are however dangers in the development of this space. If the pendulum swings too far, @WeCops becomes exclusive and seen as a niche group of people who run within a bubble. This criticism has already been levelled, and we as a team are working on bringing different hosts and subjects to the forum as often as we can. This is especially true of participants and lurkers: if you are participating in the chats, or just watching, please drop us a line, we want the chats to be run by those who use/see them, and you don’t have to be a cop or even work in the cops. If it’s interesting and police related, let’s run a chat on it 🙂

Sometimes, the product is the chat, and the DM’s we don’t see, and the connections between practitioners that happen as a result of it. This stuff is important, and it’s happening as a result of these debates.

 

So, leadership.

Q1 was an interesting mix of those people who were either for or against rank removal. It ran the full spectrum from, ‘There are too many leaders, they need to be thinned with the cash spent on the frontline,‘ through to, ‘There is too much work now, how can we get rid of people who are running to the wire with workload?’ There were however two themes that merit some more discussion…

The first largely fell as a set of questions, largely asking why we were removing ranks at all? This is a strong indicator that the conversation just hasn’t been had with police officers and staff, and if people don’t understand the reasons why something is happening, it violates some pretty well researched organisational justice principles. Leave people in the dark, and the space around this change will be filled with the culture, and the cop culture can be cynical and unforgiving.

If ranks are going, what happens to the work we have currently? Is there a distribution upwards or downwards, or is it going altogether in some cases?

The long and the short of this is that officers and staff want to know why the rank removal is happening, and the answers aren’t there.

The second relevant part of this discussion centers around whether rank should be the ‘real’ question at all? Tweets discussing whether the removal of ranks would change behaviour were repeated, and this is a very good point. Removing a silver pip from a shoulder may not change behaviour for the better, so what is the reason for the change? Some participants suggested it was about saving money, from what I know, it’s actually about the levels of work in the organisation and how they correspond with levels of leadership. But again, this conversation is absent and this space needs filling with the right information.

Q2 was a healthy mix of practical tips through to the very salient, ‘We can talk but will they listen?‘ This may be a display of cynicism, but it was a strong one and repeated throughout the debate. There were some good contributions from leaders about how they speak with staff currently, and also about some examples where they have listened and acted on feedback. There was little discussion of true innovation in this area though; very few discussed using new technology, or involving the frontline in making the decisions that affect them (it was mentioned, but not by many). This is an important shift, and I think the question invited some challenge. It may be less about listening/speaking with, and more about just stepping backwards and allowing the frontline to do it themselves with the right support.

Modes of communication are great, but without trust, and actual involvement in the decision making, will the frontline ever feel truly ‘involved?’

Q3 was topical, with many officers calling for senior officer intervention in mental health on Twitter regularly. The main theme was a strong ask for leaders to really work with partners to reduce demands on them. This makes for an interesting question, as the skills for cross agency working and negotiation may not be the same skills for operational command and control. The lower ranks create an operational skills filter, and then they are asked to do a full 180° turn and operate in a totally different manner once they reach higher levels in the organisation. This is a risk for the future, and it’s also why selecting people for role and not rank is so important.

The skills that leadership now need, may not be the skills that they cut their teeth with. How do we navigate this as a service? How do we plan and select people well enough to fill this gap?

This blog will be shared with people in the College of Policing and in HMIC who are currently working in exactly this area. We hope that @WeCops offers a way to collect the voices of those involved in the chats, and then collate that feedback and pass it to those working on change in policing right now.

The choice to get involved is yours, so please feel free to either take part in the chats, propose one, or simply watch and hopefully take some learning from it. Thanks for taking part!

Leadership is a strange thing…

Leadership is a strange thing.

When I first joined twitter, I got caught up in the endless stream of quotes that are shared liberally by leadership gurus and coaches on there. It’s populated by short collections of sentences that are meant to make leadership easier to understand, but are often contradictory. A great example of this is the current debate (often unseen) between followership and empowerment. On one side, leaders are people that inspire people to follow them where they are going, provide a vision, inspiration and support, and on another, leaders don’t set the way at all, they support others to find it. This clash is often not even discussed, but there are a hundred quotes on either side that do the rounds every day, with people taking inspiration from them constantly.

 

 

The truth of course, is that leadership is a lot more complicated than ‘showing the way,’ or becoming a ‘lion’ to lead the ‘sheep’ :-/ It’s what is often called ‘negotiated.’ What does this mean? Good question.

When a leader tells someone to do something, there is a process that then takes place in that person’s head. It’s usually unconscious, but contains things like:

• Do I want to do that thing?

• Am I supposed to do that thing?

• Is it legal to do that thing?

• Have I got what I need to do that thing?

• Do I feel capable of doing that thing?

• Do I want to do that thing for them?

• What are the consequences of me not doing it?

In some cases, there’s very little negotiation because the relationship with the leader is just too poor, and some of these questions take precedence over others. For instance, ‘What are the consequences of me not doing it?’ will often override, ‘Do I want to do it?

In the Police context there’s a lot of this going on under the *corporate jargon alert* banner of ‘discretionary effort.’ Discretionary effort (for me) is all about changing the dynamic of this conversation going on in people’s heads.

Researchers will discuss the amount of discretion afforded to police prior to them making decisions in work based situations. The position of Constable is a unique one, because they often hold the power to choose whether they enact particular disposals eg. give a ticket to someone speeding. This isn’t the same as in other jobs, where refusing to provide something is technically a disciplinary offence automatically. Officers can – and do – refuse to make arrests where they believe it is inappropriate, thus complicating the notion of leadership within the police context even further.

On a personal note, the switch from ‘What are the consequences of me not doing it?’ as the main driver of activity, to, ‘I want to do it,’ is one of the key functions of leadership, and it can come about over any number of scenarios.

The important take home about thinking about leadership in this way, is that the person being ‘led’ has as much (if not more) control over any action’s success, than the leader. Leadership is as much about the people being led, as it is about those doing the leading. Making that responsibility conscious is really important, because good leaders can be ruined by dysfunctional teams, and great teams can be ruined by dysfunctional leaders.

Leadership is a relationship, it’s not a list of behaviours.

External context also has a huge part to play in policing. There are numerous people that the police actually serve. Layering in the Code of Ethics, and understanding that we are there ultimately for the public, whilst delivering for the Home Office as a function of democracy, whilst staying accountable to local communities and being pro-active in safeguarding the vulnerable, is no small ask. It may be the case that delivering a function requested by the people due to issues with the system elsewhere (mental health) may be vastly unpalatable to the workforce. This clash is also where leadership lies, and it can again exist on a spectrum of respecting the workforce’s wishes and pushing back against the requests for demand, right through to listening to the calls and delivering what the public is asking of us.

This is part of a much wider ‘negotiation’ between the public and the police, and it is never as simple as listening to one stakeholder (such as your workforce in isolation) and doing what they request. The future of this ‘negotiation’ is likely to be messy, partisan and full of politics – whether we as officers like it to be, or not.

So, this blog was about starting to layer in some of the complications that affect police leadership at the moment, yet there are changes that are tabled that are to land shortly. This blog has hopefully set the scene for a conversation on @WeCops that sits within the context of the relationships described above…

1) Will the reduction in ranks in policing be positive or negative? Why?

2) How can the voices of officers be heard better by leaders in the police service?

3) There are competing demands for police attendance at present, what role does leadership have in resolving these issues?

Question one is about affecting the physical distance between the top and the bottom of the organisation. Will this help or hinder the relationships that leaders and those being led must navigate?

Question two is about leaders entering into a conversation with those being led. What could help to improve the current situation? This is about developing the ‘negotiation’.

Question three is about what happens when multiple stakeholders in the leadership relationship clash. Who takes precedence and how do we navigate the issues that may arise?

Wednesday the 9th at 21.00. See you there @WeCops

Identity challenges ahead…

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is policing a closed shop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What does this research lead me to think? 

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity of thought: a challenge to group think.

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

So, what does it look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some difficult questions would be very welcome here:

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

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

This is the key question.

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

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

In promotion:

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

In diversity:

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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 🙂