The success of failure:

The success of failure:

Can we really build learning organisations in policing?

The 45th James Smart Memorial Lecture, Scottish International Policing Conference 2017
Presented by: Dr Victoria Herrington, Director Knowledge, AIPM

At the ‘Scottish International Policing Conference’ in December, our Director – Knowledge, Victoria Herrington, examined modern day policing and what these establishments need to consider in order to remain effective and transformative.

The key points from the lecture examine where we are currently and where we need to head.

Police organisations need to be agile

It’s crazy out there! The fourth industrial revolution is creating an uncertain environment, one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA). Society faces new problems and issues that we will all have to navigate.
Can we afford to wait to think about these things until they are issues of social disorder? We prefer to envisage organisations that are willing to see the long game and to transform and position themselves effectively. So when we talk about learning organisations, we envisage learningful practitioners, wrapped in the cultures, systems and leadership that enable, encourage, and enact new ways of thinking, innovation and creative potential.

There is already plenty of learningful activity going on in policing

Multiple cases of learningful behaviour is currently occurring within current policing organisations, for example:

  • The evidence based policing movement and research into what works, for whom and why
  • In academic-practitioner consortiums or in bilateral relationships between police and universities, including in Australia one force handing over it’s data to a university to explicitly fish for patterns and explanations.
  • In post-hoc reviews of successes and failures to identify organisational learnings
  • In much of the professionalisation work being done by the College of Policing, the question is whether ad hoc and piecemeal activity that points towards creating a learningful profession can translate into creating learning organisations without being “zipped” together as a coherent strategy.

All signs point to the importance of leadership

In short, we could explore how for policing, it’s a long way to the start line to become an integrated learning organisation. So how do we nudge ourselves in the right direction? From a leadership perspective much of this rests on a reinterpretation of what we mean by leadership in policing. And that reinterpretation should underscore that leadership is shared. It is not based on rank. Or years of experience. Authority and command and control are not leadership. And once we recognise that we can start to evolve the systems, processes, and cultures that enable us to choose to engage on systems thinking, double loop learning, and with that, create learning organisations.

The difference between leaders and leadership

Traditionally when we talk about leadership we mean the characteristics and behaviours of an individual in a position of authority. They might be transformational in their approach, they might adopt a servant leadership approach, or they might be transactional or dictatorial. In all cases leadership is conceptualised as the way one individual gets other people to do what it is that they want them to do.

A different way to think about leadership is to consider it an ‘outcome of the system’. It emerges from individuals interacting with each other and producing new ways of operating. Leadership in this sense is a group process of shared responsibility and mutual influence in which team members lead each other toward their goals. Power and influence are not centralised in the hands of a single individual who acts in the clear role of a dominant superior and there is a reliance on informal influence exerted up, down, and across, by others in the team.

This second interpretation of leadership is sometimes called shared leadership, and it is characteristic of the kind of work we need to do when we don’t know what we are doing. Like when we are operating in a VUCA environment. And like, for example, how we need to operate if we are going to create agile learningful organisations that can sense, respond and adapt to the system in which they sit.

The full transcript of the lecture is available here

Or watch it here: