Leading Change: What You Need to Know

Police leaders: If you haven’t thought about how you effectively lead change you’d better start. You can choose to be the person who “makes it happen,” or the one who says “what happened?” It’s your choice.

So what do we know about change? I have made it part of my life to study the steps necessary in order to effectively improve a police organization. I write about my learning experience in Arrested Development, wherein I list seven improvement steps that I believe are necessary to lead organizational improvement in a police or sheriff’s department.

Over the years, I have been impressed by John Kotter and his lifelong work in organizational improvement. Recently, he published an eight step process for leading change. It’s worth reviewing along with what I learned about leading change.

During my career, I have always argued that police leaders need to know the business and corporate literature with regard to change and even attend seminars outside of the police world. That’s what smart cops do.

An effective police leader today and in the near future is going to have to be an organizational change expert. If he or she cannot or will not adopt the role of change agent they will surely fail not only themselves but the men and women they are privileged to lead.

Here’s a quick summary of Kotters “8 Steps:”

  1. Create a sense of urgency.
  2. Build a guiding coalition.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiative.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers.
  6. Generate short-term wins.
  7. Sustain acceleration.
  8. Institute change.

If you want to know whether this applies to policing take a look at what we learned about leading change in Madison — Kotter’s “8 Steps” parallels the process we used in the 1980s and 90s and I capture in Arrested Development. So read about it. Learn it. And start applying it. For example, the following leadership needs today will either make or break American policing:

  • Reducing the use of deadly force.
  • Increasing community-oriented policing efforts.
  • Implementing procedural justice as essential police conduct.
  • Raising trust and support among citizens of color.
  • Attracting and hiring the “best and brightest.”