Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox, PhD answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Creating and Managing Organizational Change. Here are a few of his responses.
Audience Question: You talked about people having new ideas, do you think that sometimes timing matters? It’s not just the person who’s pitching the idea, or what the idea is, but the leader has to be ready and open to hear the idea?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: You have to get a feel of what is going on. If you see that whoever you’re trying to pitch to is having a bad day, it’s probably not the best time to do that. If there’s a lot of grief or turmoil in the agency, it may not be the best time. You want to find that time and you want to present it a certain way. You may only have one shot at that so have your material together. There’s a thing called WIIFM — What’s In It For Me — and you want to be able to sell your idea because you’re probably going to have one chance to sell it.
You also have to be careful about who you’re trying to sell your idea to. Is there somebody you need to go to first? Or is there a stepping stone process? How does it work?
Think about your delivery. You might want to talk to them verbally. Or maybe give them something in advance… You need to figure out that person you’re dealing with, how approachable are they? Are they open to ideas?
You also have to be careful about “the messenger” — who the person is that’s sharing the idea. There are some people out there who share a new idea every day and we tend to ignore them after a while. We don’t want to bring them something new every day. So you want to make sure to make it valuable.
It also needs to be timely. Is this a good time to implement the idea? Timing is everything.
Audience Question: From a personal or professional perspective, sometimes, change is just a lot to deal with. How do I manage the change happening from my own personal or emotional perspective so I don’t let my own discomfort of frustration affect my team?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: Remember, you are representing management. I love the scene in the movie, Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hanks is talking about how he doesn’t complain down, he complains up. As a manager, you could come across as “one of the guys” by saying “Yeah, this idea sucks, it’s stupid.” But that’s not your job. If you have something to say, you say it up [to your manager]. If you’ve done that, it’s your mission to carry the message or decision forward once it’s been made, whether you agree with it or not, unless it’s unethical or criminal.
That’s a deep question. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed over time. When I first started in my career, I was the type of person that when I saw something that needed to be fixed, I normally fixed it pretty quick. Some things have to be like that. If there’s a decision where we’re doing something that’s improper or illegal, maybe we thought it was ok, we need to stop it right now and fix it. I had a situation where I went to an area and was reading all the criminal arrest reports and the guys were arresting people and taking them in so they can fingerprint them because you cannot close your file until they got fingerprints. Well, that wasn’t part of the arrest decision-making process. The process was based on certain things. I couldn’t sit there and say, “Well, let’s form this type of committee, let’s get together.” These guys have been taught this and doing it for years and here I am, just coming in and I had to tell them, “Fellas, this isn’t how we do this. We can’t do this anymore. It will actually make your jobs easier but it is critical, you cannot arrest somebody just so you can get them fingerprinted. That’s not part of the equation.” It depends on all these things, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked around and while it may not be how I’d like to do it, but if it’s not wrong, or is it really worth a fight over that? I pick and choose my battles carefully and then I’d look around.
Sometimes you might want to feel sorry for yourself, and then you look at somebody else and say I got it nice, I don’t have anything to complain about in life. You need to learn those things. It’s a lot of self-reflection that maybe something may not be what I like and maybe I need to move over to a new position. We need to be prepared for that. That’s a great question and it will take a lot longer to answer that in depth but that’s a great question.
Audience Question: In your experience, is policing culture more resistant to change than other organizations? Why or why not?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: I don’t like to paint with broad brushes but I would say in general, yes. People think that policing is a conservative institution. There aren’t just conservatives in policing, there’s liberals, moderates, indifference. But when it comes to an institution, I think it probably is conservative in respect to this law, the rule of law, order, discipline, paramilitary. Even for agencies that aren’t paramilitary, there’s still a degree of that. That’s part of the mindset that goes over into that.
Some agencies are different. I went to the Southern Police Institute back in 1997. I came from a division to complain about one boss to the other was like Attila the Hun complaining to Hilter. It was very stringent, unfriendly. They got the job done and they had to do it but they could’ve done it a lot nicer. I went down there and while I love everything that they’re saying, I got frustrated because I cannot bring any of this back. If I bring it back, the first moment I open my mouth, I’m going to get shut down. I’m kind of hardheaded so I brought it back and did discuss and bring up those ideas. As I moved up the food chain, I was able to change a lot of things and do a lot of things differently. Did I make some enemies? Yeah. Because some people just don’t like change. Some people are very tradition-bound. Police agencies can be that way. I think that’s changing more than it used to. I see a lot of change in that but I’m not going to say academics alone is the cause of that. But I think that helps to a degree but it is something that we must deal with.
When we implemented the National Incident Management System, I was in charge of doing that. We didn’t have any police officers who were trained to that level yet. So I had to bring fire chiefs in and I had to go to the classroom every day and fuss at the guys because they were fussing at the fire chiefs about having to change. Even when I see those fire chiefs now they laugh at me and joke at me and say, “Your guys gave us a hard time.” That was embarrassing, those guys were doing us a favor, and ultimately, we did change over and did things differently. We created our own team of people, but yeah, it can be pretty resistant. I love tradition but we do need to be able to change. So, yeah, they are to a degree, that is the nature of the beast.
Audience Question: How do you overcome the “that’s a great idea but it’ll never work here” kind of notion? How do you deal with that resistance?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: The reality is you may have that and there may be nothing you can do about it. Part of it goes back to the earlier answer. You got to find the right time, the right people. But you can also show them things. I think one of the best things that helped a lot is accreditation. It helped a lot of agencies that they wouldn’t have done on their own to begin with.
You also have industry standards. A lot of times you have the equipment and that sort of thing that you have to use a certain way and there’s a liability issue. Then, you have your state and other regulations for your position or whatever industry that you’re in that has regulations you have to follow. You have all of those things that you can put out there so you can say, “We have to do this. We want to be a cutting-edge agency, be the best agency with the best practices.” You can show them there’s liability involved if we don’t do this — we need to be doing these things. I remember after Columbine, we hadn’t jumped on board yet but a lot of places were starting to do active shooter trainings. I sent my guys over with them to do active shooter training. When I went to the academy, we implemented active shooter training, but it took four or five years. It can be hard, going back to what I said, sometimes you got to knock on the door more than once.
You have to be a little politically savvy, too. Sometimes it’s just how you deliver it, when you deliver it, who do you deliver it to. I remember once, my sergeant wanted to have more latitude with their schedule. I talked to my lieutenant and I knew he didn’t want that — he wanted a very exact schedule. And I said, “You want them to be leaders, then treat them like leaders, give them a little more latitude.” He said that I should bring it up at the next meeting to talk about that. I went to the meeting and I knew who my allies were, who were indifferent — who aren’t really indifferent, they’re just scared of saying things. But I knew I had one fella who would be right beside me. Unfortunately, he didn’t show up for the meeting because he had something else that he had to do. Before I could present my side, the lieutenant spoke up and said, “This is what I think about it and why it’s a bad idea.” The captain was sitting there, and I said my side. I already knew it was done, it was a dead issue. Everybody sat there with their hands and their mouths closed. I thought to myself, “How nice.” When the meeting was over, the lieutenant came over to me and said, “How did that go for you?” And my answer is, “I would do it again tomorrow, the next day, and the next day.” The big thing is, you don’t give up. It took them fifteen years to change a policy with the same colonel being there. You just can’t give up. You might get beat down, you might lose… a lot. It’s interesting I’ve seen numbers on some of the best basketball stars out there and how many they missed versus how many they hit. How many politicians lost their first election before they won. You just got to have the internal fortitude, the right message, the right way of delivering it. Just because you got shot down once doesn’t mean it’s over. But you also have to recognize that it’s not the right time.
Audience Question: As a manager, what do you do when the leader has made a decision and you’re really worried that he/she is ignoring information or only seeing the information of characteristics/situations in the environment that they want to see?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: If you’re in a position where you can talk to that person, make sure they understand what you see as the reality being. That’s your perception. Their perception may be they have information that’s different from yours. It goes back to communicating and having an open and honest dialog. Make sure that you get the facts across. You never attack a person or anything, it’s how you deliver it. My sergeants and I got along great. I felt like I’ve been doing for a long time before I came to where I was, I was pretty good with what I did, but I never went to them and said, “That’s a stupid idea”, or “Why are you doing that?” I actually came across humbly, “What do you think? Is this a good idea?” I would come across like, “This is your idea if you want it.” It has a lot about how you deliver it. But if you see that or feel that, you need to address it and talk about it. They may shut you down, a person might say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” We’ve had situations where people who don’t want to seem indecisive will just say anything to make you go away. If you know what you’re talking about and you’ve got it out, either they accept it or they don’t. If it’s enough of an issue, morally, legally, ethically, you may have to go up the food chain with that. Many years ago, I had to do that with a chief of police and a sergeant. I went in and talked to the chief, I mean horrible things. The chief’s response to me, “What am I supposed to do about it?” I did my job, now there isn’t much that I can do. He recognizes it but he says his hands were tied. Quite frankly, I didn’t think it was good enough of an answer. He didn’t do what he should’ve done.
Audience Question: Going back to your polling question, you talk about if changes last or if they end up reverting back to the way they were. Are there common reasons why changes don’t last?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: I don’t have a list of common reasons. I would say that if you don’t follow these steps, they won’t last. If you haven’t got that complete buy-in it won’t last. Is this something at a very local level? If it’s not written, it probably won’t last in some cases. For example, I was really big into community policing. My guys, I told them they got to go out and get talks, I would assign them talks, places to go fingerprinting. I know a lot of them didn’t like doing it but it’s their job and part of their evaluation. We had the media there. We did all sorts of stuff. I know the day I walked out that door, the person who followed me could quit doing it. I couldn’t make them continue to do it. It bothered me. I wish they would do that, they knew how I felt about it. I wish I could’ve gotten them to believe that this is a good idea but unless somebody else above them will make them do that, they weren’t going to do it. If somebody higher above them said, “You have to do this.” They would’ve done it, only because they were being forced to do it. It’s nice if people do it because they want to do it, and not because they’re being forced to do it. Sometimes it is what it is, the reality of that is that. If you have it right here, this policy from the top, it’s in concrete until you tear that concrete up and put new concrete in. It is not just ‘legend has it’, or verbal.
I kind of compare it to what goes on at the federal level of politics. I’m not opposed to executive orders. Sometimes you have to do executive orders to make things work. But the next person could come in and just wipe out your executive orders like that. If it goes through Congress, if it is passed as law, it is where it is, isn’t it? The best way to do it is to have it in writing. And here’s the thing, people come and go. Some agencies don’t have a lot of turnovers, some do. The colonel said, “Where is it written that we give this much tolerance?” It’s not written anywhere, it’s just ‘legend has it’.
Audience Question: Do you think that the way some organizations and managers have handled their inevitable changes has contributed to the diminishing employee loyalty, distrust, and skepticism we now deal with? Have we contributed to the very problems we’re now facing as organizations just by the way we handled change in the past?
Dr. Jeff Fox PhD: I think there’s a micro and macro answer to that. I think as a society, loyalty doesn’t mean much anymore, and that’s a shame. Your words can mean everything. Matter of fact, that’s all you have really in the end, it’s your word. I think that word has been diminished, that’s at a macro level.
At the micro-level, as an individual, you can be a stand-up person, and as an individual, you can be a stand-up agency. I think it depends on where you are at the level and that sort of thing, I think we have created that. In one of my books listed on my presentation is on Bureaucracy. It’s a book I had to read, I think it was written in ’97. Bureaucracies are a necessary evil — and I don’t mean to be mean about that but I have more students now who think bureaucracies are the answer to everything, that they’re the best thing in the world. There’s a system we have to use to get things done but they’re really slow, they don’t work very well. We see it across society, we see it in sports, we see it in everything. Where’s the loyalty factor where you can actually trust what somebody says and there’s a loyalty there? My wife worked in the area recruiting for a college and I’ve seen this in police work, that before somebody got fired, there was a good investigation, the discipline has taken place. They were treated fairly, but discipline was still there. In academia, I’ve seen it much differently where I had to be involved where a person walks in and says you are fired. It’s the first they heard about it. I wanted to scream and say, “A person shouldn’t be surprised when that happens to them.” They should have been talked to, trained. We have a lot more managers than we have leaders. It’s because being a leader is dangerous, and I say be a leader anyway. You’re going to get battle scars. If you’re a leader and you don’t have battle scars, you’re probably not a leader. If you’re a manager you can get through life without battle scars because you do things safely. We’re our own worst enemies at a lot of the time.