Holding the Line
Exploring organizational values, culture and mindset change in policing
July 25, 2021 By Michelle Vincent
When we look at organizational culture in policing, many things come to mind: stigma, fear of being reprimanded, feelings of not being able to complete a challenging task or follow direction in this paramilitary field. Yet, these experiences continue to prevail, often causing great toxicity throughout. Understanding what true organizational mindset change is and how it is manifested is key.
The first step is understanding that everyone has their own unique personality and perceptions that may influence their decisions. In a policing paradigm, these choices can make the difference between life and death. For example, if my life is in danger, will my partner be able to take the life of another in order to protect me? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. None of us truly knows what we are capable of until we are in that situation. Their constitutional experience of their values may influence the decisions they make.
One’s perception and experience of their own values, along with the organization’s reaction to the event based on its perception/experience of values may cause significant conflict in intensely emotional situations.
While policing organizations have a set of values that we hope our sworn and civilian members are invested in and believe in, the perception of those values can be quite different. For example, the value of “our people” can have a vast definition and experience for both the organization and member. Where this can become an issue and even develop into toxicity is when an event that is either organizational or operational occurs.
One’s experience and perception of an event is often based on personal values. This, coupled with the organization’s reaction to the event based on its perception/experience may cause significant conflict in intensely emotional situations. Interpretation and implementation of organizational values is often from the Executive Command Team and flows downwards. Role modelling healthy behaviour and having an open mind may have a powerful effect on how other leaders throughout the organization deal with recognition and discipline in emotionally conflicted incidences.
How discipline and recognition is handled affects how members feel. Feeling valued, an integral piece of happiness, cohesiveness, inspiration, positivity and so many other constructive “feelings”. However, these could be put at risk if someone doesn’t share a similar perception/experience, causing potential disruption in the alignment of organizational culture.
So, how do we bring people/organizations together when they have very different perceptions and experiences? How do we bring people together as a team, working together in unison and harmony when we are used to focusing on differences (which is particularly true in policing)? This is where leadership and education come into play.
Leadership exists inside each of us. We all have the opportunity to “take one for the team” and that could mean opening ourselves up during discussion and sharing points/experiences that may be controversial and enlightening. It could be standing up and explaining a point of view that may have been missed by the group (instead of cutting up others to make ourselves look better). We must ensure teamwork is encouraged and rewarded at every level, so that it becomes representative of what the organization stands for, despite differing perceptions and experiences. We should encourage members to communicate and address diverse perceptions and experiences to draw out what makes them truly wonderful and powerful.
Providing a training of the minds whereby we find what makes others’ thoughts, ideas and open-mindedness paves the way for new opportunities. In policing, this can mean that difference between effectively solving an investigation of a serious crime or even saving a life—maybe even your own.
Michelle Vincent, PhD/ MACP, is a retired York Regional Police officer and the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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