How to Lead Change




How do organizations transform?

How do they begin to make changes they know are necessary?

The following post illustrates the steps the police  in Madison, Wisc. took to improve their internal relations and services to the community in the 1980s and 90s.

What they learned can help police organizations make the changes that will soon be demanded by their communities.

The Madison Change/Transformation Process (1980-93)

[We wish to be] an organization devoted to and impassioned towards a pursuit of quality service and organizational excellence; to be the best police department in America as judged by our customers, ourselves, and other police departments.

To develop and maintain long-term, total customer satisfaction and to institute and practice new leadership within our organization so that it becomes the way in which we conduct business.


BEFORE                                      AFTER
Individual effort.                      Teamwork.
Few data-based decisions.      Majority data-based.
Distant from the community. Part of the community.
Centralized services.               Neighborhood services.
Hierarchical.                            Participative.
Blame oriented.                       System-oriented.
Traditional, status-quo.         Creative risk-taking.


A. Educate, inform employees about the vision, our goal, and quality.

  1. Create and discuss vision with a Leadership Team (LT) and inform about trends, values and needs for tomorrow.
  2. Train the LT in the new skills.
  3. Ask all employees, deeply listen, get feedback.
  4. Share feedback with the LT.
  5. Get top leaders’ buy-in.
  6. Survey external customers (citizens).
  7. Create an employees’ advisory team and keep them informed and up to date as to what is happening and not happening.
  8. Tell, sell, persuade throughout the organization and especially by the actions of leaders.

B. Prepare for transformation

  1. Designate a coordinator to help the transformation.
  2. Form a representative council to work on problems and barriers to the transformation.
  3. Make future assignments and promotions to those who can practice the new skills necessary for the transformation.

C. Teach the new skills.

  1. Train all leaders.
  2. Train all other employees.

D. Start practicing the new skills and new direction.

  1. Authorize employee feedback to supervisors and managers on how they are doing.
  2. Top leaders develop a plan to show advocacy for the transformation — and start doing it.
  3. Top leaders develop 3-5 actions that will help the organization achieve the new goals — and begin to work on them.
  4. Top leaders identify and share their improvement actions each week with the LT and their employees.

E. Check on forward progress, make corrections.

  1. Leader’s meetings: check-in. How are they doing? Where do they need help?
  2. Reorganize, if necessary, to make the organization more responsive to the new leadership and the transformation goals.

F. Make continual, on-going, organizational improvements.

[Adapted from The New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police, Couper and Lobitz, 2014. The Workbook also follows yearly changes during the decade the transformation was in operation. Successful and sustainable change takes three P’s: Persistence, Patience, and Passion!]

  • For more on this see Plan-Do-Study-Act as a process of which every modern police leader needs to be aware and able to use.

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