By Alchemmy’s Ian Ashenden
“The only consistent thing in this place is constant change!”
I remember being sat in a briefing with a very enthusiastic Project Manager, and much less enthusiastic Senior Officer, and my team being “consulted” on the latest priority project and bits of new kit that were being rolled-out across the Force. It was being heralded as transformational and would revolutionise how we worked and the services we provided. I clearly recall thinking the idea seemed sound and the need to improve was pretty compelling, however the audience of experienced, hardworking, and professional law enforcement colleagues in the room were utterly underwhelmed and disengaged from the whole thing!
They nodded and the ‘usual suspects’ asked a polite question or two at the end, possibly to show they had listened, or more likely to impress the Senior Officer. Then everyone left and cracked-on with their busy day jobs. Sadly, nothing really changed, and the kit was never properly used.
Over the next few months, the project withered and was quietly surpassed by the next priority project and new bit of kit, making similar claims to transform how we worked. As we left the briefing, a seasoned Officer turned to me and muttered the words above with a resigned look on her face.
This top-down approach to Change Management was repeated time and time again during my service, with bits of kit and Project Managers coming and going all with the best of intentions. Frustratingly, more often than not the changes failed to land with the Frontline and service-users, and the benefits envisaged in the Business Cases and Project Board meetings months earlier, were never fully realised. Astonishingly, it is estimated that up to 70-85% of large change programmes and data projects fail to deliver their goals and business outcomes.
Looking back, the common factors were always colleagues suffering with extreme workplace Change Fatigue, and project teams, project sponsors and Senior Officers failing to get adequate buy-in during implementation. Within law enforcement, Change Fatigue is a very real thing. It refers to the exhaustion and resistance that individuals and organisations feel when subjected to a relentless stream of workplace changes. A recent report suggested over half (54%) of those surveyed stated they were suffering from Change Fatigue. In the context of UK law enforcement, it manifests as a sense of weariness amongst Officers, making it challenging to maintain high levels of performance, morale, and ultimately public safety. This is further compounded by the high stress environments they operate within and a lack of time and space to adapt.
Across UK law enforcement, there is a clear and inherent need to be agile and adaptable as they respond to the continuously shifting internal and external environments. Budgets, legislation, public expectations, new technologies and our politicians all routinely change and shift. At a tactical level, Officers respond to unforeseen emergency situations daily, and often demonstrate great resourcefulness and adaptability in their responses. However, at an organisational level, change seems to be less well received due to the “exhaustion and resistance” referenced above.
So how do we implement important organisational change more effectively within law enforcement? I always start with People. Culture is such an important cornerstone to creating a progressive and successful organisation. Change and improvements cannot be meaningfully implemented without the right mindsets. Adopting a People-Centric, Growth mindset is vital, with a strong culture of continuous improvement and empowered teams.
Understanding your team’s readiness for change is a critical step at the start of any transformation project, where investing time listening and understanding what has transpired before is priceless. Organisational learning is all too often overlooked in the workplace, where similar mistakes around project implementation and delivery are often repeated. However, understanding it can help explain prevailing views, the loss of trust and cynicism in teams, which will make a huge difference around Frontline adoption rates An organisational cultural assessment is always a good use of time and resources, for example by immersing yourself in the team, examining the end-user’s technology and data appetites, and an organisation’s willingness to fail and learn without blame. Perhaps, just like any operational incident or Public Order situation, understanding the arena you are operating in is vital.
Closely linked to people are Communication and Education. Leaders and project teams need to communicate the rationale for the changes, setting out both the benefits and the expected impacts upon Officers in a straightforward, credible, and relatable manner. Transparency and effective communication are key and can alleviate rumour, resentment and resistance and fill the “information void” often created by transformation projects. It doesn’t take long for an “information void” to be filled by Officers with all sorts of creative theories that can quickly take hold! Frontline Officers need to be naturally sceptical for the day job, and this same lens is often applied to new projects from HQ.
A further key strategy to support effective Change Management and overcoming Change Fatigue within law enforcement is Knowledge and Training. This equips Officers with the necessary skills, and just as importantly, the confidence, resilience, and tenacity to navigate a changing environment and uncertainty. Often new initiatives help flush out deeper, underlying issues within individuals and teams as people are placed under increased pressure and stresses during the well documented Change Journey.
Finally, involving the Frontline at every stage of the transformation project, from helping to frame the problems, to designing processes & solutions and creating the implementation approach. Their involvement and insights will always bring immense value into the practical implications and start to address future implementation issues. Using a network of Change Champions is a useful strategy to improve two-way communication, encourage meaningful feedback and support the continuous evaluation and assessment of progress. They help create a healthy environment for issues and concerns to be expressed and promote a collective problem-solving response.
There is an overwhelming and compelling case for continuous change in UK law enforcement, and managing it effectively is essential for maintaining public safety and trust. While Change Fatigue is difficult to overcome, with the right strategies and workplace cultures, law enforcement agencies can navigate the challenges without compromising the effectiveness of their Officers and diluting the benefits as they transform.
The Alchemmy Central Government & Law enforcement team has proven expertise around People & Change, Digital Transformation and unlocking Data & Digital opportunities to support UK law enforcement. Focusing on a People-Centred change approach results in improved adoption rates and benefit realisation from technologies and transformation programmes. We can support leaders to implement meaningful cultural change, by coaching and building trusted and empowered leadership teams. We combine exceptional delivery with the ability to embed change within challenging operational environments, working collaboratively with stakeholders at all levels to deliver lasting, sustainable impact that ensures change initiatives aren’t just a one-off engagement, but rather they are lasting and meaningful and become fully embedded into teams.