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Transformational Change and the RCMP

Nov 13

I’m sure you have heard me speak previously about harassment in the RCMP and what it would take to bring about change; the dismantling of the organization’s corporate culture and the fulfillment of its “duty to care” for its employees.  In this regard I have often referred to transformational change.  I would like to take a few moments to explain the concept and outline the type of leadership necessary to implement it.

In the business world there is much talk of change; and make no mistake, the RCMP is synonymous with a large corporation.  It has objectives, business plans to reach them, budgets, employees, a corporate culture, job descriptions, recognition and reward systems, communication processes, customers, and a host of other human resource functions.

Change in the business world is generally delineated into two kinds:  incremental and transformational.  Each is pretty much what it sounds like; incremental change changes an organization somewhat and transformational change changes an organization almost entirely.  Transformational change is “back to the drawing board” change.  It entails risk and is difficult to carry out.  An example of the RCMP’s efforts to incrementally change are its focus on small-scale improvements like the latest “respectful workplace initiative”, “respectful workplace training”, and anti-harassment advisors/investigators (all of which it has had in one form or another for over a decade).  All of this amounts to nothing more than “more of the same”. In contrast are General Motors’ transformational changes: dropping dealerships, converting production lines to handle fewer brands (i.e. GM, Buick, Cadillac and Chev), laying off 69,000 people, and bringing in an entirely new senior executive.

It has often been said that the only constant is change.  When priorities change due to shifts in the marketplace, how can CEO’s ensure that their organizations will remain competitive?  In a similar vein, when priorities shift in the law enforcement universe, how can police senior executives ensure that their organizations continue to serve the public well?  The general opinion, is that the RCMP has failed to remain contemporary.  The organization has become mired in the past, hamstrung by yesterday’s realities, its’ archaic corporate culture, and its’ “sacred cows”.  The Force is paralyzed by fear and a refusal to try something new.  How can this inertia be overcome?

During periods of significant dysfunction like the one being experienced presently by the RCMP, organizations often find new life in transformational change.  Those leading the change process must begin with the end in mind rather than tinkering with what presently exists, and by definition incorporates the constraints and limitations that have resulted in the present crisis.  They must be willing to create the possibility of a brand new organization.  Identifying harassment coordinators and assigning harassment advisors are all incremental changes and each will fade in the face of an organization that is change weary, skeptical, comfortable with the “devil” it knows, and ready to resist yet another attempt at change.  The members of the Force, to survive, have adopted a bunker mentality; keep your head down and “this too shall pass”. Sadly, the more the senior executive of the RCMP are wedded to stale thinking and “sacred cows” the closer they come to failure.

Transformational change is called for in times of crisis that are replete with immediate demands and sharp time constraints.  Take the present state of the RCMP.  The organization finds itself in a new set of circumstances never before encountered and for which it was not prepared.  It is in the place of industry icons – big steel, automotive companies, and Wall Street titans – who have faltered one-by-one due to their inability to transform in the face of sweeping change.

The RCMP has approached such change using conventional thinking and conventional tools, and the result has been entirely predictable.  The opportunity to bring transformational thinking to the situation is gradually being missed.  Mr. Paulson and his senior executive have failed to recognize early on that the old methods and the old tools simply are not up to the task.

It is this focus on old realities that is blinding those in charge of change to the new realities.  The outcome of these change efforts will be completely different if the present circumstances are recognized as a brand new challenge requiring a brand new solution.  For example, one could imagine a creative federal government stepping in to assist this Canadian icon by forming a multidisciplinary “rescue team” or public advisory board (including organizational/management scholars, industrial/ organizational psychologists, criminologists, successful corporate executives, and objective police leaders, for example).  The group would be given the authority to weed out ineffective and incremental thinking RCMP senior executives, downsize the organization, create a new business plan, bring tasks into check with resources, influence federal, provincial and municipal biases, and to devote themselves full-time to the problem and to the focusing of all the federal government’s capabilities on saving the RCMP from itself.

Leaving Mr. Paulson in place and leaving change in the hands of RCMP senior executives, who are bogged down in the organization’s history and traditions, has allowed them to engage in “more of the same”.  The introduction of transformational thinking to the problem could create the possibility of a new reality based upon transcending the past.  Those presently in charge of change within the RCMP do not recognize the need for transformation because they have not been looking for it.  Their efforts to deal with harassment and a litany of other problems will not be successful, as they are incremental in nature and based in the past – the future is slipping by the RCMP.

Let me leave you with a little story to summarize and conclude.  There was once a little river that ran freely across the land.  It had no difficulty in finding its’ way around rocks, through valleys and past mountains.  Then it came upon a desert.  The little river tried to cross the desert in much the same way it had always flowed over the land.  But when it entered the sand, it disappeared and lost its’ identity.  It tried and it tried but met with no success.  The little river asked, “is this the end?”  “Is there no way for me to continue flowing like a river should?”

Then a voice came out of the wind.  “If you stay as you are, you will be unable to cross the sands.  They will consume you.  In order to proceed you must lose yourself to find yourself again”.

“But if I lose myself, I will no longer be a river. . . and I can only be a river”, said the frightened stream.

“Don’t be afraid”, said the voice in the wind.  “If you lose yourself you will become more than you ever dreamed you could be”.

So the little river mustered up its’ courage and surrendered itself to the sun.  It evaporated into the heavens, forming beautifully shaped clouds . . . a sort of death.  The wind carried the clouds many kilometres across the great desert right into the side of a magnificent mountain.  The little river then poured from the clouds as rain upon the mountainside, where it created a new river that continued successfully on its’ journey.

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.

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