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Overcoming 3 key challenges to change management in policing

Instead of implementing change by accident, lawsuit, or crisis, law enforcement professionals need to act deliberately — with confidence and purpose — to ensure the desired outcomes

Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Members Fredinal “Fred” Rogers, Deputy Chief, Training Services Bureau, United States Capitol Police, and Deborah K. Lewis, Diversity Officer, United States Capitol Police. In PoliceOne “First Person” essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.

By Deborah Lewis, Diversity Officer, United States Capitol Police, and
Fredinal “Fred” Rogers, Deputy Chief, United States Capitol Police

In law enforcement, the ability to respond to a variety of changing situations is key to the safety and security of both the police and the public. However, this ability sometimes falters when focused on law enforcement administration — we may at times find individuals who can quickly adapt to changing conditions in the field, yet show little dexterity to changing conditions within the organization.

The challenges related to change management in law enforcement can be numerous, but most tend to manifest in three key areas:

1.) Identifying change
2.) Communicating change
3.) Resisting change

1.) Identifying Change
We know that change is constant. However, it is critical to determine the need and type of change necessary, first order, or second order. First order change focuses on strategies in support of the status quo or non-transformational activities. This area gets the most attention as it makes departments feel like they are making progress.

Second order change focuses on the culture and transformational efforts and requires more time, effort, and commitment. The decision on the type of change required is dependent on specific departmental cultural factors and outcomes desired in a specific law enforcement organization.

As most law enforcement departments are autocratic and paramilitary, an assessment of how tolerant the culture will be in embracing change is required. This assessment will provide critical information on areas of resistance, as well as potential champions.

Please note: giving the change order is not enough to facilitate, implement, or reap the benefits of change.

2.) Communicating Change
A common mistake in managing change is that believing good communication will ensure the change process goes smoothly. While good communication is necessary, it is more important to be able to customize the message to specific segments within the department, as well as key stakeholders.

While law enforcement personnel may share some common concerns, the failure to address the specific concerns and expectations of the differing divisions, districts, or bureaus will doom the change process.

In addition, the change process should be framed as a “telling and selling” effort — with leadership engaging in active listening to officers throughout the department, at every rank. Active listening provides officials with instant feedback on the change process, helps to identify gaps in the communication channels, and engages officers in the process.

3.) Resisting Change
When change is implemented, leaders must understand officers are the driving force in embedding change into the department. Officers have the ability to passively slow down or aggressively speed up change implementation.

When giving orders is the norm, many law enforcement officials often fail to develop their managerial toolkit to include techniques for influencing, inspiring, or engaging officers to selected outcomes.

Leaders have to seek out change allies throughout the organization, including labor unions and informal leaders to speed up the implementation and embed change. It is also critical to recognize the resistance to change may come from other law enforcement officials, especially those with long tenures, the root guards of days gone by.

While the law enforcement culture supports that orders and directives are carried out and cascaded to the frontline, that should not be read as support or commitment to the stated change by officials. Purposeful employee engagement is required to fuel and sustain the change process.

Effective change management requires leaders to connect with officers and create a shared understanding about how change will benefit the workforce, collectively and individually. The use of multiple communication mechanisms, including, email, team meetings, one-on-one meetings, and town hall meetings are essential to reaching various audiences and reinforcing the message.

Instead of implementing change by accident, lawsuit, or crisis, law enforcement professionals need to act deliberately — with confidence and purpose — to ensure the desired outcomes.

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