How to change culture in your police department

Creating a culture of change is about developing a shared sensed of destiny — and enrolling others in those efforts — so they see their interests as being aligned with the organization


Change doesn’t come easy for most law enforcement agencies. Whether introducing new policies, procedures, or technology, most law enforcers are culturally resistant to change.

This resistance is understandable. Police officers work in extremely fluid and changing conditions in which the unexpected and unanticipated become the norm. To balance against this constant state of flux, officers depend upon an established sense of stability within the agency’s operational and managerial philosophies. The “business as usual” approach not only enhances that feeling of comfort and stability, it also reinforces a cultural resistance towards change.

Like any other type of organization, police agencies eventually encounter the need for transformational change to address issues that undermine effectiveness and efficiency. We’ve learned that the key element of successful and sustaining change is not the issue at hand — or our proposed solution — but the existing organizational culture and the degree of resistance we will encounter when trying to manage and promote change.

Leading Toward Shared Values
According to Edgar Schein, the two most significant factors of culture are the shared values and underlying assumptions that influence the attitudes and behaviors of those within the organization.

When those shared values and underlying assumptions include a collective resistance to change, the organization’s members become conditioned to perceive that efforts toward change are inconsistent with their needs. They then have little motivation to support change efforts, and the person whose job it is to create change faces a significantly more difficult task.

To counteract cultural resistance to change, the police leader must first create shared values and underlying assumptions which will align the organization with that leader’s efforts to implement change.

The first key component in creating this culture is to understand the difference between managing and leading.

You will achieve limited success when you try to “manage” others to change. You will be more effective when you can “lead” others toward the change that you want to implement. Practicing the basic leadership tenants of acting with integrity, inspiring confidence, and building trust are always important, but even more so when you are trying to realign cultural values.

Shared Vision and Meaning
Long-term success in creating a culture motivated to change is dependent on two critical components; sharing your vision and providing meaning to others. The leader’s vision — when properly communicated — becomes the picture of progress that all members of the organization can share.

Effective leaders have a vision of what they want to accomplish — of where they want the organization to go, and how they want to get there. That vision must become the energy behind the change in culture. Armed with that vision, the leader draws upon his or her established credibility and instills in others the desire and confidence to pursue change.

Creating a culture of change is about developing a shared sensed of destiny and enrolling others in those efforts so they can see their own interests as being aligned with the organization.

Most management experts agree that sharing a vision and finding meaning and purpose in work are the ultimate motivators and, consequently, they will help pave the path to personal and organizational fulfillment. The most effective way to create and sustain the motivational culture is the continual application and reinforcement of those behaviors which emphasize the vision and purpose of the organization. A collective sense of purpose will, in nearly all cases, overcome an established cultural resistance towards change.

One of the most frustrating aspects of organizational leadership can be the inability to effectively implement necessary change within an agency, and the accompanying push-back that will inevitably occur.

The components of creating a culture of change — effective leadership, sharing your vision, and providing meaning to others — are important building blocks of successful change management. When change is effectively managed it not only improves our organizations, it can also enhance the desired feeling of comfort and stability the organization’s members.

Ultimately, the key to success in creating a culture in which change is accepted and embraced is not found in the type of change desired or its degree of necessity. It is in those leadership efforts which are necessary to develop the organizational values and underlying assumptions in which change is not only possible, but is also welcome.

About the author

Barry Reynolds is a Senior Training Officer and the Coordinator for Career Development Programs for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Training and Standards Bureau. Barry is responsible for the development, maintenance, and  implementation of leadership and management education programs for all levels of Wisconsin statewide law enforcement. Barry is also a certified instructor with the International Association of Chief’s of Police in the prestigious Leadership in Police Organizations Program, the flagship leadership development program of the IACP. 

Barry hold’s a Master of Science Degree in Management and writes extensively on issues related to leadership and management in law enforcement agencies. He has extensive experience as an instructor and conference presenter on a variety of law enforcement topics, and is the founder and owner of Police Leadership Resources and the Policeleaders.com website. 

Barry retired from active law enforcement with over thirty years of experience, including fourteen years of supervisory experience. During his active law enforcement career Barry served as both a patrol and investigative supervisor, and also held positions as the 911 Communications Supervisor and Field Training Unit Supervisor, among others. His career accomplishments include two Outstanding Service Awards, an Exemplary Performance Award, and the Department Award for Bravery. 

Contact Barry Reynolds

  1. Tags
  2. Command Staff - Chiefs / Sheriffs
  3. Leadership
  4. Management
  5. Change
  6. Morale
  7. Evergreen

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