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3 advantages of becoming a values-based police agency

Many departments are migrating from a policy-driven organization to a values-based agency in which behaviors and actions are expected to comply with the organization’s mission and values

Law enforcement organizations are — by and large — policy-driven organizations. We have policies that tell us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. We have policies that cover major events and procedures that tell our officers how to handle even the most minor of duties.

Sometimes these policies are developed out of necessity, concern for risk management, or to enhance officer safety. But many times our policies are developed in response to an activity or incident that occurred and that we want to make sure doesn’t reoccur in the same manner or by the same officers.

While certain policies and procedures are a necessity due to the dynamic nature of the work that we do, others seem to exist for the sole purpose of reminding us that we can write a policy for virtually anything. Eventually our organizations come to rely on those policies and procedures as the standard for behavior and performance, and we use them to modify behavior only after the behavior has occurred. Worse yet, some of our officers begin to view them as an operational “comfort zone” — after all, if you’re not “out of policy” then you’re probably OK.

Values Encourage and Inspire Excellence
From a leadership perspective, this over-reliance on policies and procedures creates two significant problems. First, as hard as we try, we can’t write a policy for every conceivable situation or issue that our officers might encounter. At some point in time they are going to get involved in something that isn’t covered by a policy and they are not going to have someone else’s past mistakes to guide them in their decision-making.

Secondly — and perhaps most importantly — we lose sight of the fact that policies and procedures are designed to limit and restrict behaviors to only those that fit within our guidelines. Rarely — if ever — does a policy encourage our officers to go above and beyond, be innovative, or take acceptable risks. And I have yet to see a policy that actually inspires or motivates anyone to strive to achieve more than the minimum that the policy requires.

As a result, many departments are migrating from being a traditional policy-driven organization to a being values-based agency in which behaviors and actions are expected to comply with the organization’s stated mission and values. An organization’s values are those traits, qualities, and beliefs that the members of the organization consider to be worthy of their personal and professional standards. Typically these values encompass such qualities as integrity, honor, respect, and courtesy.

There are three primary advantages of transitioning to a values-based agency:

1. Organizational values that have been accepted and internalized by the members will result in people that demonstrate and model those behaviors that are considered exemplary and in support of the organization’s mission. In order to achieve this, however, it is critical that the support and modeling of the values begins at the top and is never compromised. Supervisors and agency leaders must set the standard in this regard, and must hold themselves and others accountable for behaviors that don’t support the organization’s values.

2. Values provide continuity and structure to organizations, especially during times of change and tumult. This is particularly important in our current era of law enforcement in which many of our policies, and at times even our status and level of trust within our communities, is being challenged and questioned. External events and expectations may change our operational approach to certain issues, but organizations whose values remain the driving force and focus of their members’ efforts have an increased ability to adapt to new demands and undergo enhanced scrutiny.

3. Lastly, values-based organizations typically exhibit less organizational stress and less organizational conflict than traditional based organizations. This is true for many types of organizations, but especially true for the law enforcement profession. Professionals that enter the law enforcement field already have a strong sense of duty, honor, and service. Studies have shown that people that work within organizations in which their personal and professional values are aligned often experience greater feelings of motivation and satisfaction in the work they perform. Whereas people whose behavior and performance is primarily driven by a desire to avoid policy violations rarely experience the same level of personal and professional satisfaction. As an added bonus, employees that have high levels of satisfaction in the work they perform are three times more likely to stay with their organizations.

The Underpinnings of Individual and Organizational Behavior
For values-based agencies, organizational values are more than just a series of statements or definitions that are posted in the lobby or on a website. Values become the underpinnings of individual and organizational behavior, and actions that support and exemplify these values are not only expected, they are required. While policies still exist, the first and foremost expectation of individual behavior is always, “Does it support our organizations values?”

Barry Reynolds is an author, speaker and public safety consultant specializing in police policy and leadership issues. He is the former founder and director of The Center for Excellence in Public Safety Leadership, and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice. In addition to 31 years of experience as a law enforcement officer and supervisor, Barry also served with the Wisconsin Department of Justice as the Senior Training Officer for career development and leadership. He is a columnist on law enforcement management and leadership issues, and regular presenter at state and national conferences. Barry holds a degree in Business, and a Master of Science in Management.