On Change, Listening and Engaging

I am delighted to host another guest blog. This one is from Superintendent Paul Clements of the City of London Police. (@CityPoliceSuper)

Paul is one of the country’s first Direct Entry Superintendents. Whilst I have reservations about the whole “direct entry” thing I have been impressed by the way in which Paul has gone out of his way to meet the critics and sceptics (like me) and narrate his difficult journey on social media. 

Paul has never been afraid to discuss and debate the issue and he has more than earned my respect and admiration for doing so. 

In this blog, Paul addresses some of the main concerns about “direct entry” and wider police reform from his perspective. 

On Change, Listening and Engaging

It can be difficult to read back your own words.

In September, Police Oracle quoted me (correctly): “Don’t wait to evaluate us [Direct Entry Superintendents] before taking on more” during my presentation to colleagues at the Superintendents Association Conference.

This week I’ve been reflecting on that quote having thought long and hard about a blog on change from @nathanconstable.

Nathan wrote that his blog might be difficult reading.

It was.

Difficult because I’m part of one of the initiatives he writes about. Difficult because I can see potential in much of the reform that’s proposed. And difficult because I know, having led contentious change programmes in public services before, how important it is to communicate with colleagues.
Nathan writes “I don’t see [change] with the relentless optimism of others or welcome it with open arms as the new and bright future. I’m not scared of it – I just don’t understand it”, and in so doing, he speaks for many colleagues I’ve met in several Forces and he identifies a significant risk to these reforms. We need to engage with colleagues, involve them in discussions and in the design of programmes, articulate the rationale for change. We need to do this urgently and we need to do it well.

Please bear with me for a bit of science. There’s a way of thinking about how we react to change based on analysis of how people deal with grief from Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969). It’s not universally applicable, but I’ve seen it play out when I’ve managed change before. The first stages are absolutely key.

For “shock” and “denial” read – “why Direct Entry?” and “what’s wrong with me?” and “am I not already professional?” I think we’re in this stage now. Direct Entry Superintendent and Inspector; policing degrees; professionalism etc. Colleagues are longing for an explanation of why? Why now? Why this?

What happens when we don’t address these concerns quickly is that the point in the graph where it starts to dip down towards frustration and depression (the ‘inflection point’) comes sooner. The descent is quicker. The low point lasts longer and, since everything we’re talking about needs colleagues to accept and work with the changes, it might not happen at all. You’ll see on the chart that morale is of course inextricably linked to this.

That’s why it’s so urgent. That’s why we need to get it right.

Which brings me back to my Direct Entry article: “Don’t wait to evaluate us before taking on more”. As a sound-bite, it communicates absolutely the wrong message. It’s confirming fears that change is coming, and it looks like ‘this’, and it’s happening whether you like it or not. You’re not involved; you’re being informed.

The College, I know, is working hard on this and, in parallel, I resolve to do more to engage, to try in my own small way to help colleagues understand the rationale. I’ll do it in my own words, and I’ll start with my own programme:

Why do we need Direct Entry?

John Sutherland wrote in his blog this week that he didn’t think that any of the colleagues he has worked with would “suggest that policing is fine just as it is … they would say that there are all sorts of things that we could – must – do better”. I’ve come across the same sentiment time and again in the Forces I’ve worked with. I’m not saying for a second that there aren’t countless colleagues across the country who aren’t delivering the highest standard of service to communities. But demand is changing and policing needs to change to meet it. If we don’t, victims suffer and criminals prosper. Additionally, look at the change that’s coming from external factors: continued budgetary constraints; ICT/digital innovation; regionalism? You only have to look at what we’ve spent on external consultants over the years to acknowledge that policing might lack some of the skills to help deliver this change. Why don’t we recruit leaders from outside, fiercely committed to serving communities and developing colleagues, leaders who have managed and delivered change in the past, to help manage this change from inside the organisation?

I’m not a huge fan of using ‘group think’. It has a pejorative connotation for me. I’ve seen plenty of de-briefs in policing where open and honest opinions are put forward. There are different perspectives in the Service (reading Nathan’s blog will show you that). But isn’t there a chance that even more value can come from having officers coming into roles where they can really influence, to bring a different approach to, for example, communicating with colleagues and the public; training and developing our colleagues; and a culture still in some places steeped in hierarchy and rank-consciousness? Isn’t it worth trying?

Ok, maybe, but why don’t they just come in as Police Staff?

It’s precisely this point. Bringing in outside skills and experience is only part of the rationale. Just as a programme or an area of policing stands to benefit from fresh thinking and a ‘critical eye’, perhaps the same could be said about policing culture. These are some of the messages I’ve come across in several Forces: “Senior officers need to be more visible” “I wish they would stop micro-managing” “our ideas are never listened to” “we’ve always done it like that”.

What if we brought people from outside with different approaches to leadership and management? Wouldn’t officers gain from a different style, perhaps less conforming to established organisational/cultural/rank-based shibboleths? It is important to be warranted officers because the potential impact on culture we could have, is greater.

But what about the talent we’ve already got?

We ignore the skills, experience and (crucially) the potential of our colleagues at our peril. We risk disillusionment, discontent and disharmony. We are NOT talking about Direct Entry being the only (or even the main) way of becoming an Inspector or a Superintendent (or a Chief). We’re talking about bringing in a small number of leaders with diverse backgrounds to have an incremental positive effect on a Shift, or a Basic Command Unit or Local Policing Area, or a Specialist Unit. And what I am convinced of is that the development of existing colleagues will be absolutely central to any test of the success of Direct Entry. We’ll be bringing in people who have demonstrable track records of doing just that.

Officer’s prospects won’t be materially affected, promotion from within will always be the principal mechanism. So why are we doing it if it’s such a small number of people? I just don’t buy the idea that for change to be worth doing, it has to be wholesale, swingeing. If it’s worth it for that BCU, for that Shift, for those officers who work with Direct Entry colleagues, then it’s worth doing.

I get Superintendent, but why Inspector? It’s too risky.

I did my rotation as Duty Inspector last Summer, as did my seven colleagues across the Met, Sussex and North Yorkshire. We operationally managed murder scenes; suicides; high risk missing persons; we took children into police protection; and we dealt with public disorder. We did all this using the training devised and delivered by the College of Policing and our Forces, but principally using the same risk management approaches, critical thinking, real-time decision-making and leadership skills developed in our former careers. Yes, the effect of a poor decision in policing can be life or death rather than £x, but at all levels officers rely on the National Decision Model to inform their choices, and we explain our actions on that basis, not merely by intuition or gut instinct.

Direct Entry Superintendents can help to bring an external perspective to shaping strategy, to community relations, to the culture of senior managers; but Inspectors have a direct link to staff, on a daily basis to bring the benefits of prior experience and skills to the operational front line much more readily. Direct Entry Inspectors and Direct Entry Superintendents are complementary.

What about professionalism?

I’ve decided not to comment directly on the degree proposals in advance of the College’s Consultation starting this week. But I do want to try to link professionalism and qualifications to Direct Entry.

I wonder whether this is a familiar scenario to some colleagues: There’s a new project. A Chief Inspector or a Super is selected to manage it. They may have successfully managed projects before, they may not have. They may know something about the subject area, they may not. They bring in the subject matter experts and they ‘crack-on’. They deliver the project to the best of their (and their team’s) abilities. The Chief Inspector uses this as promotion evidence. Their next project will probably be even better. Everyone goes back to their day job or onto their new posting.

Now imagine this: There’s a new project. In fact, it’s been proposed by a PC. She identified a need to improve a process, scoped the project, costed it, and designed an outline project plan. She delivered a presentation to her Super and a Chief Officer who gave their approval and gave her the budget. The PC resourced her team with a business analyst from Intel, a Special Constable part time, a colleague from the local authority, a DS from Crime, and an Inspector from local policing, all with crucial skills and experience to impart. The PC led the team and delivered the project. Other colleagues were accountable to her for their input. The benefits of the new process were relatively small but they were realised. The effects of this model being possible at all, on those involved, on the culture of the Force, on the potential development of staff, on that PC – are anything but small.

What’s stopping this happening now? I think this is down to confidence – that of the individual and the organisation’s confidence in the individual. If gaining a degree level qualification, with everything that evidences (critical thinking and analysis, communication skills, reflection, independent decision-making, problem solving in complex and unpredictable contexts, research skills. etc.) if that enhances the PC’s skills and confidence to make this happen, then shouldn’t we do everything we can to encourage colleagues to achieve a professional qualification?

Is that enough though? No. We need the culture of Senior Managers to change to allow this way of working. In the private sector this model happens all the time. If Direct Entry can help facilitate this l in policing, then let’s try it. ‘Role not Rank’ succeeds in a Public Order scenario. It can succeed elsewhere too.

Finally, back to that quote “Don’t wait to evaluate us (Direct Entry Superintendents) before taking on more”. It’s absolutely critical, for the design of the programmes and the confidence of communities and colleagues, that Direct Entry is comprehensively evaluated (and the College will have to deliver a report to Parliament on that in 2019), which is why we need a broader sample; eight people in the first year and 6 in the second is not going to give us a big enough evidence base. We need more Direct Entry Superintendents to assess the full benefits and we need a wider geographic distribution.

That’s the point I was trying to make.

These are the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of the College of Policing or the City of London Police.


2 responses to “On Change, Listening and Engaging”

  1. peter kilburn says :

    Paul Clements blog is well thought out and reasoned as one would expect from someone who, according to their statement, has worked at a senior level in the civil service. However, I still have significant concerns about direct entry senior officers at operational level and would question his remarks about his experiences as a Duty Inspector.

    I spent over 20 years in the City of London Police during which time we had one murder, no high risk missing persons or children taken into police protection. I very much doubt if he experienced these unless his Duty Inspector stints were performed outside the City.

    I have very little doubt that direct entry can work at the non-operational strategic levels but continue to have concerns about direct entry at below that.

    When the first lay HMI was appointed, back in the early 90’s, I was employed working on the development of the force response to the Citizens Charter and during our inspection joined the Inspection team for lunch. I had a quite lengthy conversation with the lay HMI (who had been a senior manager at ICI) during which he commented that the police were the reverse to industry as all the critical day to day decisions were made by those at the bottom of the staff structure rather than at the top. Without this experience I very much doubt that the direct entry staff will have a sufficient understanding of the realities of front line policing to effectively manage their staff.

  2. Skep-Tick says :

    I think that a senior police managers primary function should be to be support front line officers. Changes should be designed to make officers safer and better equipped to do the job. There is a perception that direct entrants have a different agenda, and will focus their efforts on cost savings, customer satisfaction and getting further up the greasy pole. If direct entrants are truly committed to the police service and the public we serve, why not muck in with the rest of us at the coal face? Surely talented individuals would be able to rapidly progress through the ranks naturally?

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