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Changing the RCMP: Does Anyone Have the Courage?

Dec 05

In previous articles I have suggested three answers to the question, “Why is the RCMP unable to change?”  I suggested that the senior executive lacked organizational knowledge, that members are “change weary”, and that Mr. Paulson doesn’t have the autonomy to change anything that he is not told to change.  In the present article I would like to take a more psychological approach to answering the question.

A story is an excellent vehicle for making a point.  Here’s one that, I think, will ring bells for you.  The Brown family had been going to the country every summer for 15 years, before discovering that mother had never wanted to go, the kids hadn’t wanted to go for the last 5 years, and only father considered the trip a family holiday tradition.  It wasn’t that Mr. Brown was an insensitive “pater familius”; it was more that the summer sojourn to the country had taken on such momentum it would have taken more energy to stop it than any member of the family had on hand.  Everyone in the family was familiar with his/her own displeasure but the gravity of familiarity pulled them all toward the country each summer.

Humans have always been, at least, marginally aware of how they cling to what they know, rather than step into unfamiliar territory.  These authors knew that only too well:

“By nature man hates change; seldom will he quit his old home ‘til it has actually fallen around his ears”.

(Thos. Carlyle)

“When it becomes more difficult to suffer than change – then you will change”.


“In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired”.


“The only people who like change are wet babies”.


“Most of us will do anything to be good, except change our way of living”.


“People can cry much easier than they can change”

(James Baldwin)

It seems that not only the thought of non-existence but also change can paralyze people, and organizations, and cause them to limit themselves to familiar but dysfunctional situations.  With regard to the RCMP: change of organizational structure; change of corporate image; change of mandate; and change of relations with employees, for example, seem like exceedingly difficult transitions.  “We are the Force and we are what we are”, has morphed into, “We are what we have always been and what we always will be”.

It is not only the fear of the unknown that sets the RCMP’s familiarity boundaries.  The opportunities it has also let it experience only a small part of what is possible in its organizational potential.  The limits of its senior executive’s organizational experience and its present corporate image deny it contact with the new and unfamiliar.  But the boundary set between the RCMP and the possibility laden unfamiliar, that it refuses to approach, is a boundary that has been drawn by a series of short sighted senior executives (e.g. Zaccardelli, Elliott, Paulson) who know nothing of managing a large corporation.

We often hear the RCMP cite its rich history and traditions; we are often told of its “unique role . . . as a police organization in protecting public safety . . .”   The Force seems to love to set itself apart from all other police services in Canada.  Many would say that the RCMP’s main concerns revolve around its corporate image.  While corporate images (and self images) are a convenient way of summarizing who we are, they are also open to distortions like overgeneralization, stereotyping, oversimplification and the like, that can limit our individual freedom to act.  So the RCMP’s unspoken question seems to be “If we aren’t the historical RCMP, who are we, what are we?”  And their terrifying answer is, “If we aren’t the RCMP that has always been, we are nothing”.  So it seems that for the Force there is either the familiar or there is nothing; and becoming nothing is intolerable.

Suffering destruction however, does not come easily to those organizations (recall General Motors) that are willing to move through the transitional space between the dismantling of the familiar and the creation of the “new order”.  The future welfare of the organization may not be readily apparent, and only becomes recognizable after painful sacrifice; when at last it can say, “this was the best thing that could have happened to us”.

One of the toughest things about stepping into the unfamiliar is the temptation to rush through it before all its potentials have had a chance to surface.  The sense of being in foreign territory without the familiar to fall back on can suck organizations (and individuals) backward into “more of the same”.  It is difficult for inexperienced senior executives to recognize the emptiness of transition as a fertile void.  With regard to the RCMP, the support of the familiar (yet dysfunctional) way it presently does business must be given up, and trust must be placed in the momentum of its history and tradition to produce the new way of doing business.  The astronauts that piloted the Challenger knew exactly when they must give up their engines and trust the space craft to weightlessness, and its orbit.  They executed the changeover precisely and for a moment they had nothing going for them but their own momentum.  The turnaround leaders at General Motors knew just when to cut the old corporate image loose and trust the momentum of the decades old American business icon to move them through the void to a brand new look and way of doing business.  Is there anyone in Ottawa with this kind of courage?

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.

One Comment
  1. Johnny Bhoi permalink

    RCMP Senior Management and Canadian government using the Bashar Al Asad method of change.


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