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Change in Public Safety Organizations: Its a Cultural Thing

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Being in a public safety organization leadership role, youre likely aware of the considerable difficulty involved in making significant changes to technology, procedure, administrative rules, etc.  If you have attempted a determined organizational push for some major change, (sometimes even a fairly small one) which met with surprisingly limited success, probably the culture thing got you.

 

        Organizational culture, one of the factors some federal agencies investigate at incident sites and in other situations, can be simply stated as the way things are done around here.  Building a culture of change is perhaps one of the toughest things a public safety organization will ever attempt.  Sometimes rational, always challenging, cultural change can mean influencing opinion and behavior top to bottom.

 

       Laboring to make the acceptance of needed change an everyday habit in your organization?  From the top down, consider these general change rules for your action checklist:

 

      Its hard to convince anyone of needed change without actual, visible top management commitment and funding.

 

      Required change has to be a priority with key leaders, on par with other priorities, or it gets squeezed out.

 

      Sometimes change means re-education and reshaping the reward system top to bottom. You dont pick up fresh methods or habits nor shed old ones, without new knowledgeand new consequences.

 

      Policy, training and organizational action guidelines must spell out specific requirements, in simple terms.

 

      Communicate, communicate and communicate about the change, your commitment to it and expected new/ continuing behavior.

 

      Unionized?  Get union leadership into the picture early.  Many changes actually offer a good place to build/ re-build positive working relationships for the long haul.

 

      Non-unionized?  Want to keep the status quo?  Visible concern for open communication can help model organizational caring.  As well, the change improvement process can be crafted to both spur employee involvement and facilitate leadership/ employee communication.

 

Beyond these general guidelines, to actually implement many organizational changes, consider also working from bottom up a necessity.  Front line supervisors are the real trendsetters of culturehow things are done around here!  Get these vital change-makers to make it happen in the station, in the field and elsewhere by:

 

Communicating and educating as to what is required, why its critical to the organizations welfare, and whats in it for them.

 

      Holding them accountable for actual implementation and changed procedures, practices, etc.

 

      Rewarding for sustained positive action.  As well, key leaders might consider routinely visiting the field (or whenever change impacts), discussing/ praising compliance with front-line supervisors.

 

      If appropriate, creating something distinctive (such as a uniform patch or desk object) which might signify qualification in some new procedure, etc.

 

      Incorporating working supervisors into the planning of change.

 

      Creating, and including supervisors in, a change oversight council and empowering it to act to help sustain changewithin appropriate guidelines.

 

Working collaboratively with employees who will be affected by change is working smarter.  Its also good leadership.  A public safety culture that simply drops significant changes on the troops risks employee resistance ranging from the subtly creative to that of crafty hostility all about as much fun as root-canal procedures.  3

 

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▪  Ken Myers (PhD; organizational behavior) has consulted, taught and led major change projects.

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