Moving from Good to Great

When it comes to police reform, improvement, or re-imaging, I have a sense that I have been on this “bus;” a bus which has been stalled for too many years. When will it start moving forward?

The circular route has seen too many of the same incidents, the same abuse, the same chokes, the same shootings followed by outrage, protests, local study groups, national commissions, and more outrage— again and again — with few lasting improvements. The bus appears to be stalled.

Two decades ago, organizational consultant Jim Collins wrote this in his book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.”

“The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, ‘Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.’” (JimCollins.com)

In my own experience in Madison, when, thanks to senior officers retiring, we were able to get the “right people” hired and on the bus to replace them. It was only then that the “bus” was able to move forward in the direction I wanted it to go.

Improving American police is going to be a long term process, most likely decades long before the right people find a seat on the bus. Retirements and attrition will be the opportunity to select, train the right people and get them on the bus. Only then will policing start moving to someplace great. That is when the direction of the bus is towards continuous and constant improvement in everything they do. Citizens must be active participants in this process and buy into the possibility of greatness. It is far too important to leave this solely to the police.

It’s now time to begin to ignite this needed transformation!

7 Comments

      1. BTW, I was at that conference and as a result I wrote “Arrested Development”! small world… I felt we were not moving the bus forward and as I recounted in my book, we were supposed to have read the book before the conference. Upon arriving, I found that few had actually read Collins’ book! (whoops — anti-intellectualism in our ranks?)

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  1. I read the book when it first came out. Two things stuck in my mind. Do what you do best or what you should do best and not what you may have always done. And in policing it might be difficult to get the right people on “the bus” which I took as senior staff. So as a solution to getting the right people on the bus I thought the chief could develop the right people throughout the organization but that would take a lot of work and effort but in the long run you would have developed people from Patrol to sergeants to lieutenants to captains and I think that would benefit the police department as a whole.

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    1. That’s true, Scott, many of the folks who resisted the direction we were going did, finally, agree to help the vision and became one of those who “got on the bus.” That’s why passion, patience, and persistence are vital characteristics of a transformational leader! Stuff takes time…

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  2. From your column, “In my own experience in Madison, when, thanks to senior officers retiring, we were able to get the “right people” hired and on the bus to replace them. It was only then that the “bus” was able to move forward in the direction I wanted it to go.

    Improving American police is going to be a long term process, most likely decades long before the right people find a seat on the bus. Retirements and attrition will be the opportunity to select, train the right people and get them on the bus. Only then will policing start moving to someplace great.”

    Sounds like an indictment of ‘senior’ officers and hoping/praying for ‘retirements and attrition’ …

    I have not seen any evidence that too many supervisors or ‘senior’ officers are often involved in abuse, excessive force, brutality, or deaths. If anything, it is the RAMBO culture (created by television and the film industry) that gives new officers the wrong direction. Policing should never be portrayed as a career that allows you to wear reflective sunglasses, fingerless-black gloves, pick up chicks and be COOL! What ever happened to professional SERVICE … and I mean doing proactive police work. Toward the end of my career there was too much ‘COOL’ and not enough police work!

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