What Police Culture Tells Us About Workplace Cultural Change

Bureaucracy can stifle meaningful cultural change.

A close look at police culture in Canada points to a challenge that leaders face across the board.

I got thinking about this when the RCMP began to dominate the headlines with stories of workplace harassment, and allegations of racist and sexist bias in the course of executing their duties in public.

It was labelled “a culture of dysfunction”.

As a federally-funded agency, they operate under a microscope – public scrutiny is warranted, even demanded.

The same likely can’t be said of your company.

So, have you created a dysfunctional culture without being held accountable?

Have you created a bureaucracy so cumbersome that any drive to change your company culture can’t get traction?

Or, have you only reacted to problems with a quick fix, hoping it would take hold on its own…

A roadblock to cultural change: the FAD syndrome

A study of police culture tells us about cultural change

If you’ve followed the challenges faced by the police culture crisis, you’ll see that there’s no shortage of data identifying their problems.

Similarly, there hasn’t been any shortage of initiatives designed to remedy the problems.

What’s lacking – since the culture of dysfunction appears to persist – is consistent follow-through on any of the recommendations made in the wake of the analysis. But why?

I call it the FAD syndrome: Fun-and-Done.

It happens to companies of all sizes. Leaders conduct engagement surveys, get the results, and then get caught up in the initial flurry of responses to an assessment.

Then, they do one of three things:

  1. The pick quick short-term action with little impact.
  2. They start hard and complex initiatives that lose steam and fade out.
  3. They don’t weigh the cost of cultural entropy.

In the first scenario, their employees get a quick adrenalin rush from the workshop or whatever means management uses to mitigate the problem. Everyone comes away feeling optimistic and energized.

But the engagement survey hasn’t given leadership the whole picture. And nothing has been put in place to ensure that actions are taken – consistently – after the adrenalin wears off.

And that’s when the second scenario comes into play. The process that’s created is so complex and burdensome, employees and leadership lose momentum. Any small gains are lost and the problems are left to persist, undermining morale and performance.

Finally, leaders fail to measure the cost of cultural entropy – the number of limiting values that persist in your organization and how they impact the way work gets done…or not.

Culture assessments: giving you the whole picture

In the case of the RCMP, the bureaucracy that’s necessary to run an efficient law enforcement agency can cripple the human resources department when it comes to shifting internal police culture.

But even a small, private company can have cumbersome policies that stifle or slow down progress. Once a company is stable financially there’s a tendency to put mechanisms in place that prevent upsetting the apple cart.

And all change is halted…

No matter the size of your company, an initial, in-depth culture assessment will give you a baseline and point to the places you need to change – and not necessarily overnight.

After that, conducting regular culture audits will keep you on track. They’ll guide you to the limiting values that still exist in the workplace. You’ll be able to measure your progress and make meaningful, positive changes to your company culture.

If you’d like to ignite your company culture I have the tools and resources to help you. Contact me and we’ll get the conversation going.

Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more related articles:

The Key Characteristics of an Incredible Workplace Culture
COVID 19 Survey Tells the Tale of Changing Workplace Cultures
5 Top Tips You Need to Know in order to Change Company Culture

This article was originally posted in 2017 but has been updated in 2020. 

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