Leadership Tips: How Today's Police Can Learn from Business Managers

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Leadership Tips:
How Today’s Police Can Learn from Business Managers

It is easy to assume that a police department and Fortune 500 company are worlds apart—but in fact, they have a lot more in common than you may think. Both policing and business rely on strong and effective management, on training, empowering, and leading skilled professionals to do their best work, and add value to their clients’ lives.

With some individuals seeing police departments as disconnected from American citizens, it’s time for officers and commissioners to take a closer look at how they’re serving the public. Here are some leadership lessons today’s police can learn from business managers:

Cultivate a management culture

For police reform to happen, departments need to first develop a mindset and working environment that values and appreciates management—an atmosphere that many police departments across the country sorely lack, according to retired Santa Cruz city manager Richard Clay Wilson Jr., in an article for Governing.com. Police supervisors’ management responsibilities have been “grossly” understated and it is high time that management in policing is given its due diligence. Police department organizational structures and practices should prioritize professionalism, knowledge-sharing, and expertise, instead of simply meeting certain values or metrics. Being honest about what is and isn’t working and addressing obstacles to professionalism can help police departments develop a positive management culture over time.

Have a better understanding of the customer

Consumer products companies spend millions of dollars assembling focus groups, conducting research and development, and analyzing their demographics to determine who their customers are and what they truly want. Police departments can do the same to foster stronger connections to their communities, build trust, and better protect the public.
One way to do this is through social media. These networks have given citizens greater power to expose corruption and shine light on police practices, which have given way to increased accountability, and they can also be used to help strengthen positive relationships with community members. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was a member of the City of Philadelphia’s 2015 Innovation Summit, and at the event he shared that while social media has contributed to distrust of police, “administrations that can strike a balance between tech and the community can use social to rebuild relationships with their customers,” according to a Salesforce blog by Mike Milburn. Through these social tools, departments can collect more detailed and authentic information about the lives of citizens, enabling them to form beneficial one-on-one connections with community members, as Salesforce noted.

Prioritize customer service

Once police have a better understanding of their customers, they can strengthen their customer service. Customer service applies to all industries in all sectors – every organization and its employees are committed to providing a valuable service for their client. As a testament to this commitment, the City of Philadelphia has a Chief Customer Service Officer, a specialist who is dedicated to improving the lives of city residents, according to Salesforce.

As Philadelphia’s Chief Customer Service Officer Rosetta Carrington Lue put it, “We have to be available when our customers are available,” and that holds true for police departments. That means using a variety of methods and approaches to ensure that every member of the community feels cared for and protected by their police officers, and that they are accessible at any time.

“The police are a service organization for the city that doesn’t close at 5:00 p.m. We have 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week service,” said former New York City Police Department Commissioner Lee P. Brown in an interview with the Harvard Business Review. Brown advocated for a renewed focus on community policing. Rather than sending police officers on random patrols, assigning them designated beats enables them to become well-known, trusted figures in the community and gain a deeper understanding of the lives of citizens in their local area.

Assemble the best possible team

Conventional wisdom holds that a company establishes a business objective, and then recruits the top talent that will help it reach this goal. However, in an analysis of successful companies, Jim Collins, author of bestselling management book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, found that many of them took the opposite approach–they hired the best talent, and then decided what their business objectives would be.

Police officers can use the same approach to build an effective and positive management culture from the ground up, argued the “Good to Great” Policing: Application of Business Management Principles in the Public Sector” report, which was conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum and supported by the U.S. Department of Justice of Community Oriented Policing Services. Departments should begin with “who” instead of “what,” as Collins advised businesses in his book, and should hire officers that have upstanding moral character, integrity and ethics, a commitment to professionalism and thorough knowledge of the complexities and best practices of policing.

As Collins wrote, “The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.”

Replace the “command-and-control” approach with one that fosters creativity

More and more businesses are dissolving strict organizational hierarchies and encouraging their employees to embrace their creative sides and contribute creative perspectives and solutions. However, police departments have not followed suit. The standard “command-and-control” structure is implemented to keep officers in line and out of trouble, as Brown told the Harvard Business Review, but in its attempts to keep order it also stifles creativity and de-motivates officers. As he recalled his early days as a police officer:

“Here I was, a college-educated person, a pretty intelligent person, and I thought I had a lot to offer. But there was no opportunity for me to use any of it. Anything I did was prescribed for me. I couldn’t use my training in any meaningful way … It’s an approach that doesn’t allow officers to be creative, to use their intelligence, or to take a risk in solving problems.”

To remedy this, he recommends that police departments support officers to come up with creative ideas and out-of-the-box methods for overcoming challenges. That way, “It’s the same principle that companies are using, empowering workers. Officers are trained and empowered to solve problems, rather than merely responding to incidents over and over again.”

Just as many businesses are eschewing rote routines and strict organizational structures to cultivate fresh perspectives and problem-solving, police departments can also embrace creativity for beneficial results. By training officers to consider different viewpoints and strategies outside of rigid standard practices, the quality of service can be improved.
The role of policing has stirred up controversy in recent years, and by taking a page out of business managers’ handbooks, departments can build trust and protect and serve the public in more effective ways than ever before.






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