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An Open Letter to the (RCMP) Commissioner

Nov 19

“An idea can be a dangerous thing – if it’s the only one you have”

Mr. Paulson,
I hope you don’t find this presumptuous of me, but as someone who is very familiar with behaviour change I thought you could use a little more assistance with your “harassment crisis”. You see, before you can influence change you have to know exactly what it is you are wanting to change.  Successful behaviour change agents don’t begin developing influence strategies until they have painstakingly pinpointed the specific behaviours (policies, methods, routines etc.) they wish to change.

The following is an important point. A lot of change can come from focusing your efforts on just a few critical behaviours or policies. Highly successful behaviour change agents credit their successes to targeting just a few vital behaviours. The most resistant problems, like your “harassment crisis”, will respond to changes in a small number of high-leverage behaviours (or policies). If you can find these, you will be on your way to solving your problem and gaining the respect of your membership and the confidence of the Canadian public.

Let me present a simple example to illustrate. (The principles will also apply to a more complex cultural problem like yours). Let’s say I wanted to lose some weight. The most frequent advice I am offered is, “eat fewer calories than you burn”. While this may explain how weight is lost, it doesn’t provide me with what I need to do on a daily basis to lose that weight. It is really focused on an outcome. This is sort of like your “respectful workplace initiative” and telling members that they must “respect” each other in the workplace. Having a respectful workplace and respecting each other are outcomes; you haven’t told people what must happen to create respect. (Now I know you are presenting material in these respectful workplace, anti-harassment, anti-discrimination or whatever you are calling these classes, this time around, but in most cases your “experts” are passing off outcomes as behaviours. And when they are not, they are presenting vague, confusing material out of text books that is not based in the demonstrated successes of actual law enforcement workplaces). This point is critical, because if you confuse outcomes with behaviour your efforts will likely fail.

Back to my weight problem. I must find a handful of critical behaviours that will influence weight loss. A good place for me to start might be with experts who know how to lose weight and keep it off. I’m not interested in methods that focus on outcomes (e.g. “burn more calories than you eat”). A good place to look is the (US) National Weight Control Registry. These folks have identified critical behaviours for weight loss by comparing successful long time weight losers with the rest. (This technique is called the study of “positive deviance”). Their data provides me with three critical behaviours: 1. exercise on equipment at home; 2. eat breakfast; and 3. weigh myself daily.

Now that I have focused on behaviour and found specific critical behaviours, I need to find some recovery behaviours. People make mistakes and when they do they need a way to remedy them and quickly get back on track. (This would be akin to your workplace harassment disclosure process). Previously whenever I “fell off the wagon” I would become self critical, discouraged, and began to think that I would never be able to lose weight. Then I took another look at some positive deviance data and found that successful weight losers use “slips” as data points. They look carefully at what went wrong and then take corrective action. They don’t view a one-time slip as a complete failure or an indication of an inability to succeed. (So for you, what will you do when the inevitable infractions occur? I’m thinking the whole Bill C-42, increased power, ruling by fear thing is not your best move if you are interested in establishing an emotional tie with your members and rebuilding their morale).

Alright, now that I have introduced all the pieces of the method let me ask you some questions that might help you get in front of this “harassment crisis”. (Notice I’m not telling you what you should do, as I don’t want you to get all “huffy” with me like you did with Tim Chad – who by the way is a very loyal and protective member of the RCMP). You might want to begin with some widely accepted “givens”: your paramilitary structure is archaic and counterproductive; most harassment/bullying, appears to be supervisor on supervisee; and, RCMP culture is one of fear and intimidation (recall your authoritarian reaction to S/Sgt. Chad’s criticisms). It seems that many who are in positions of command use their authority to intimidate others; and those who have been subjected to bullying/harassment, and would like change, do not dialogue with those in Command (who could make change) because they are afraid of them.

Have you noticed that your critical behaviours seem more to be policies related to governance, culture, leadership and methods of disclosing harassment? Here’s where I might start looking for models of “positive deviance”. (Remember, if you influence just a couple of critical policies you could produce a landslide of change with regard to harassment). Who in the military/paramilitary universe does this “respectful workplace” thing better than most? If it’s a law enforcement agency, has it retained the rigid, hierarchical paramilitary culture that you have? Do its “leaders” (supervisors) have competency measures that they must meet in order to lead (supervise)? Do its “leaders” come from the rank and file or are they a professional cadre of officers? Is the organization stretched as thinly as you are? Is the organization as huge, clumsy, and unwieldy as yours? What sort of reporting mechanisms does the organization have? Independent external review?   A police association\union?

In closing, and I apologize for rambling on, it could be (don’t get angry, I’m just saying!) that your “harassment crisis” has more to do with outmoded history, tradition, culture, structure, policies, expectations, “sacred cows”, and the like, than it does with individual behaviours. Wouldn’t you agree that your members, by this stage in their life, know how to treat people with respect? (Afterall they would never get away with disrespectful behaviour at home?) The question really becomes, why do they treat each other that way at work? Do you think it might have something to do with how they learn to survive in a “culture of fear”?  If so then dismantling the “culture of fear” might be more productive than teaching people something they already know; and dismantling the RCMP culture would not be as difficult as you think it is.

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.


From → Harassment

One Comment
  1. Java permalink

    I couldn’t agree more with everything you said, Dr. Webster. You got to the crux of the problem in a few paragraphs. I believe that if LEADERSHIP were a practise within the force we wouldn’t have the problems the force is plagued with today. Leadership is not merely a word in the dictionary, it’s an action! It ishould be instilled in it’s members and the example should be set by it’s supervisors and managers. The solution to the forces’ issues starts at the top. Then the members would respectfully “do as I do”…without fear.

    The RCMP needs to recognize the value in it’s members and treat them accordingly. Getting hired by the RCMP is one thing…but having the RCMP maintain and keep that member for the long haul is quite another. Our members are a valuable resource and truly are the grass roots of the force. Without them the RCMP is nothing. The members are professional adults who expect a professional working environment. They deserve to be treated with respect, not intimidation.

    …just because I “signed the dotted line” does NOT mean that they own me. I didn’t think I was selling my soul to the devil. Guess I forgot to read the fine print.


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