Organizational Transformation: How To Do It

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THIRTY YEARS of research by leadership expert Dr. John Kotter have proven that 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail. Madison was one of the 30% which made it.

Kotter’s book, Leading Change  is the most widely used book on leading the change process today.

Why do most other organizations fail? Because they do not take a planned and systematic approach that must begin at the top and they fail to generate the passion and persistence that is required to see a transformation through.

Kotter outlined an eight-step process that organizations can avoid failure and become adept at change. It is very similar to what Madison did years earlier. What is your organization’s future? It is change, change, change. By improving your organization’s ability to change, you can increase your chances of success in the future. Without the ability to change, and change continuously, your organization cannot thrive; instead, it will stagnate.

Kotter, and other organizational consultants, have shown through years of research that following a time-proven process for leading change will help your organization succeed in an ever-changing world.

Kotter’s eight-step process is compared with the process that was used in Madison in the 1980s.

Step 1: Establishing a Sense of Urgency (Madison’s Step One: Educate and Inform Everyone [see the end of this blog for Madison’s change steps]

  • Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.

Step 2: Creating the Guiding Coalition (Part of Madison’s Step One:

  • Create an employee’s advisory council; ask, listen, inform, keep them up to date on what’s going on.)
  • Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.

Step 3: Developing a Change Vision (Part of Madison’s Step One: the leader’s vision, the necessary goals, and the new leadership required.

  • Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.

Step 4: Communicating the Vision for Buy-in (Madison’s Step Three: teach the new skills)

  • Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

Step 5: Empowering Broad-based Action (Madison’s Step Four: practicing the new skills and getting feedback)

  • Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.

Step 6: Generating Short-term Wins (Madison’s Step Five: checking progress and making corrections)

  • Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.

Step 7: Never Letting Up (Madison’s Step Six: improving continually, forever)

  • Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.

Step 8: Incorporating Changes into the Culture

  • Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

[To see more of Kotter’s work CLICK HERE]:

Along with a plan to transform into a more customer-oriented organization that was internally collaborative deeply listened to both employees and citizens, we in Madison developed a new leadership style called “Quality Leadership.” It is a style that is internally collaborative and listens deeply to employees and the community served. Leaders who were “top-down” were required to coaches and teachers and good listeners willing to take the input of their employees into their decision-making.

You may ask what the role of the new leadership style was in the transformational process? To put it bluntly, unless we changed the top-down leadership style within the organization we were not going to be able to lead any kind of change or transformation. (That may be the major finding of my experience in Madison!).

I see much of what we had developed over thirty years ago in the program recently developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) called “Leadership in Police Organizations” (LPO) but it does not go as far as I would. They explain their program as follows:

“Divided into four separate sections and using both an individual and organizational assessment, the IACP’s ‘Leadership in Police Organizations’ course is taught to a cross section of sworn and non-sworn personnel ranging from the chief to patrol officers and non-sworn supervisors and employees. The course content is divided into four areas that are taught sequentially over three one-week sessions, with each week exploring leadership at a different level of the organization.

“The first week of class focuses on leading individuals, the second week on leading groups and the third week on leading organizations and change. While the courses are typically taught one week at a time over a three month period of time, a department may also choose to host just the first week of the program or a one week survey course addressing issues from all three weeks” (my emphases).

[To see more on this CLICK HERE]

The problem with sending officers away to learn leadership is that leadership is an internal, hands-on process with lots of “bumps and bruises” along the way. In my BOOK, I illustrate some of the radical ideas I had about police and their leadership:

 “In 1968, I applied for my first chief’s job… I had a master’s degree in sociology, time in the ranks, and I was eager to be in charge. This time I would be working with a forward-thinking city manager who would let me try out some radical ideas I was developing about police. First, they could be much better; second, police should always obey the law while enforcing it; third, police should treat everyone they encounter with dignity and respect; fourth, the ranks of police should be more diversified to reflect the communities they serve; fifth (in these times of civil protest), police should always first attempt to handle demonstrators in a soft, persuasive, and gentle manner; and sixth, police officers deserve to work for leaders who treat them as adults, with respect, and listen to them and their ideas…”

[Later in Madison] “I think it is fair to say that my vision first became the community’s and then the department’s. I did it by constantly selling  my ideas both internally and to the community and selecting and promoting those who shared my vision. I learned that organizations committed to sustainable improvement must have a clear vision, mission, and definition of who they are, where they are going, and what they will look like when they get there. In Madison, our vision was simple and clear: Closer to the people. Quality from the inside out.

“This simple vision statement was intended to capture the thrust of the change effort: to improve the inside of the organization first—the men and women who work in the police department. I decided to do it this way because I had come to the conclusion that most efforts by police organizations to change had failed, even though the ideas involved were good. They failed because leaders didn’t prepare and train the men and women who worked for them, and they used force or intimidation to implement the change.  Coercive leadership wasn’t effective nor sustainable. It didn’t work.

“Instead, the methods of a more collaborative style of leadership do work and can be sustained if top leaders in the organization are able and willing to first practice the new model and then teach others in the organization what they have learned.  Too often, change in a police department has been portrayed to elected officials and the public as something as easy as issuing an order.

“We know today that isn’t the way it is done. Police departments today are complex organizations, and things don’t just happen because the chief orders it. Any effort at changing the police must take into account the power of the organization to drag its feet; to resist. That is why any effort to change police must begin inside a department and, ultimately, be able to answer this question from the rank and file: ‘What’s in it for us?’ If a change-oriented chief and his or her staff cannot effectively answer that question, then what is proposed most likely will fail. I advocated that the department take a path that meets the needs of the officers as well as the community—change and self-interest need not be mutually exclusive.

“The model I used essentially centered on a clear, highly visible and shared mission.  Leaders were expected to walk their talk; to be believably committed to where we were going. The success of the model would ultimately be based on how well they empowered their employees – that was a key.

“Police chiefs can improve the quality of our nation’s police if they are willing to be persistent in developing work systems that empower their employees, listen to the community, and have the time to accomplish it. For a city and its leaders to desire the kind of excellence I’m outlining in this book without giving the chief tenure is foolish, short-sighted, and sure to fail. I certainly would have failed if I didn’t have both time and tenure.”

These are the qualities needed in a leader today:

The Twelve Principles of Quality Leadership

  • Believe in, foster, and support teamwork.
  • Be committed to the problem-solving process; use it and let data, not emotions, drive decisions.
  • Seek employees input before you make key decisions.
  • Believe that the most effective way to improve the quality of work or service is to ask and listen to employees who are doing the work.
  • Strive to develop mutual respect and trust among employees; drive out fear.
  • Have a customer orientation and focus toward employees and citizens.
  • Manage according to the behavior of 95 percent of employees and not the 5 percent who cause problems. Deal with the 5 percent promptly and fairly.
  • Improve systems and examine processes before blaming people.
  • Avoid “top-down,” power-oriented decision-making whenever possible.
  • Encourage creativity through risk-taking and be tolerant of honest mistakes.
  • Be a facilitator and coach. Develop an open atmosphere that encourages providing and accepting feedback.
  • With teamwork, develop with employees agreed-upon goals and a plan to achieve them.

If anyone is serious about transforming ANY organization, they will first have to develop top-quality leadership from the TOP DOWN and be able to practice the above principles. Of that I am convinced!

How did the Madison Police Department move from “good” to “great?”

Here are the steps Madison took.


Step 1: Educate and inform everyone in the organization about the vision, the goals, and the new leadership. This step was passionately led by the top leader.

  • Begin discussion with top management team and train them.
  • Discuss and ask employees; get feedback from them.
  • Share feedback with the chief and his management team.
  • Get buy-in from top department managers.
  • Survey external customers—citizens; those who live and work in the community.
  • Create an employee’s advisory council; ask, listen, inform, keep them up to date on what’s going on.
  • The chief “keeps on message;”tells, sells, and persuades, Newsletters, meetings and all available media.

Step 2: Prepare for the transformation. Before police services to the community can be improved, Madison found that it was essential to prepare the “inside” first — to cast a bold vision and to have leaders that “walked the talk.”

  • Appoint a top-level, full-time coordinator to train, coach and assist in the transformation.
  • Form another employee council to work through problems and barriers encountered during implementation of the transformation and the new leadership.
  • Require anyone who seeks to be a leader to have the knowledge and ability to practice the new leadership.

Step 3: Teach the new leadership. This begins at the top with the chief and the chief’s management team. 

  • Train all organizational leaders in the new leadership.
  • Train all employees as to what the new leadership is and why the transformation is necessary.

Step 4: Start practicing the new leadership. If top managers within the organization are not authentically practicing the new leaders neither will anyone else.

  • Require department leaders to begin to practice the new leadership.
  • Begin a system of employee feedback to all department leaders.
  • Top leaders are required to identify three to five things under their control that need improving, inform their employees, work on the improvements, and take responsibility for them.
  • Top leaders required to develop a plan to demonstrate their advocacy for the new leadership methods and the goals of the transformation.
  • Top leaders identify and share with each other and their employees on a weekly basis the improvements they are working on and those they have accomplished together with those who they are privileged to lead.

 Step 5: Check progress and make corrections.

  • During monthly meetings for first-line and mid-managers, the chief asks them how they are doing and they report their efforts and successes with data.
  • Make changes, if necessary, to make the organization more responsive to the new leadership.
  • An elected, rank-and-file police officer is added to the chief’s management team.

Step 6: Make continual organizational improvements — forever!

  • This step is an ongoing process—it is continuous improvement within the organization. It is understood that if an organization stays as it is, it is, in reality, falling behind. Innovation and experimentation become organizational values. Transformational goals are reached and there are data to prove successes.

But of course the question is whether or not this transformational process worked? Before I retired, we had the process assess by outside researchers. More from “Arrested Development:”

“A research proposal was developed and a the contract was awarded to the Police Foundation in Washington, DC. After a three-year study, this is what they found:

  • Job satisfaction among police employees was high.
  • Teamwork went on between shifts, especially in officers’ approach to problem-solving; it also included detectives and neighborhood officers.
  • The burglary rate in the community was lowered.
  • There were reduced sick leave and use of overtime.
  • There was high citizen satisfaction with police services.
  • A work environment was established that empowered police employees to be creative in their duties.[1]

“The findings were significant. A transformation had occurred. They found that our new style of  leadership was apparent throughout the department as well as in the experimental police district (EPD). (The mission of the EPD [Experimental Police District] was to experiment with new patrol and investigative strategies including an intense experiment with quality leadership.)

“An interesting additional finding was that even though the number of officers in the department had not increased during the four-year research period, citizens reported seeing more police all over the city; an outcome, perhaps, of getting closer to the community and encouraging motor patrol officers to get out and walk their neighborhoods.

“The three-year study examined the efforts undertaken by us to create a new organizational design—both structural and managerial, built to support community- and problem-oriented policing. Notably, researchers found the department’s attempt to bring progressive, comprehensive change to our operations was successful:

  • Employee attitudes toward work and the organization improved.
  • Physical decentralization was achieved.
  • Residents believed crime had become less of a problem.
  • Residents believed police were working to resolve issues of importance to the neighborhood.

“In the conclusion of their report they made a statement that I believe captures Madison’s 12-year effort to raise the fairness and effectiveness of the police function in their community; a second major effort during my 20-year tenure.

“[I]t is possible to change a traditional, control- oriented police organization into one in which employees become members of work teams and participants in decision-making processes… This research suggests that associated with these internal changes are external benefits for citizens, including indications of reductions in crime and reduced levels of concern about crime.”

[1]Community Policing In Madison: Quality From the Inside, Out. Technical Report, Mary Ann Wycoff and Wesley G. Skogan. Washington: Police Foundation. 1993.

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