How, Not What

Policing has a long tradition of telling our members what to think as opposed to teaching them how to think.  This is demonstrated in the continuously growing number of general orders and rules and regulations that we issue.  An individual mistake often results in the issue of a new order for everyone.  Often we can associate an officer’s name with the most recent offering from the administration. The effect of this policy is that it robs the organization of the best ideas or innovations of its members and serves to demotivate the outstanding individuals that they have hired.  Individuals feel less ownership and organizational performance falls short of its potential.

How to Think, Not What to Think

The key to closing this gap between the individual need to feel ownership and organizational performance is to give individuals the tools they need to make decisions that both make allowance for innovation and support the Mission of the organization.  Individuals should be given the tools to make good decisions.  They need to understand how the organization wants them to think, not what to think.

Mission and Values

At the foundation of this paradigm is the organization’s Mission and Values.  Organizational leaders need to define the Mission and weave it into the organizational fabric.  All policies, procedure and discipline need to be congruent with the Mission and Mission needs to be a central starting point for organizational conversations.  Organizational leaders also need to define Values and demonstrate their role in establishing policy and decision making.  Values must never be violated and leaders need to demonstrate the way that they apply Values in their decision making.  Establishing Mission and Values as central themes to all organizational activity and decision-making gives leadership the confidence to delegate authority and the individual license to innovate.

Organizations need to develop a decision-making process to assist individual members.  Applying a process  produces good decisions that enhance organizational performance. Cops love check lists.  A check list to good decision-making provides cops the means and confidence to make decisions that the organization will support.  Is your decision congruent with Mission, Values, and law?  Is the decision fair and ethical?  Would you be proud to tell the world what you did and confident in your ability to explain why you thought it was the best action?

Encourage Subordinate Decision-Making

Leaders at all levels of the organization need to encourage their subordinates to make decisions.   When someone looks to you for guidance in decision-making you encourage their growth by working the process with them to develop options and ultimately a ‘best’ decision.  You shouldn’t allow subordinates to just dump problems on your plate.  Suggested or potential solutions should accompany each of these problems.  You have to make yourself approachable so that your people are comfortable in seeking your counsel and confident that you will assist them in working the decision-making process.  You must be constantly vigilant in meeting your obligation of developing your people.

Tolerance for Mistakes

Anytime that decisions are made there will be mistakes.  If the organization demonstrates a zero-tolerance stance toward mistakes the result will be a reluctance to make decisions.  Motivation and performance suffer.  Rather there needs to be an assessment of the nature of the mistake.  Was it an intentional violation of law, Values or ethics?  Was it merely a less than ideal choice based on an imperfect application of the decision-making process?  One type of mistake deserves discipline.  The other should be viewed as an opportunity for improvement and development for the individual.

After Action

As with most of our activities, we should spend some time doing an after action.   Did things turn out as we anticipated?  What were the unintended consequences?  What can I take away to improve future performance?  From the organizational perspective, what tools should be improved or provided to support the member’s decision-making?  If a bad decision was made, what organizational influences contributed to that decision?

We will never maximize motivation and performance until we teach our people how to think rather than what to think.

As always, THANK YOU for your service and BE SAFE!

Please share the best decision-making processes that you have come across.



Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply