Can a hostile environment for poor behaviour make a difference?

At the Festival of Work last month, I had the privilege of hearing Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of British Transport Police, talk about changing the culture within the police force.  She began with admirable honesty, acknowledging that some groups of people felt very let down by the police – including women.  She referenced the two recent convictions of serving police officers, and acknowledged that she had led units that included each of these officers, and has to face that she did not see the danger signs.     Perhaps this is the most important start to any programme to improve organisation behaviour – begin by acknowledging our own part in past failings.

At the BTP she has had the opportunity to lead a cultural change programme. Part of that programme has involved developing new values with her workforce.  So much so normal.  What’s unusual is the follow on – she is deliberately setting out to create a ‘hostile environment’ (her exact words) for those who don’t buy into the new values and expected behaviours.    This is not language that most HR professionals would use, but Lucy is not at HR professional, and her mission is to rid the police force of unwanted behaviours.  So much so, that when people are disciplined or leave as a result of inappropriate behaviour, she will say specifically to the rest of the workforce, what the behaviour was, and why it was wrong.  She has sought to speed up removing those who are not working in line with the values, and changed recruitment processes to weed out those whose values are not commensurate with the force going forward.

This is tough love, but if you were a colleague on the receiving end of misogyny, racism, bullying, or harassment, wouldn’t you be relieved.    Of course, the BTP will make mistakes along the way, and Lucy acknowledges she is a long way from making the new behaviours so culturally strong that they are independent of her leadership.    But as a structure – acknowledge what has happened and your role in it; work with all colleagues to set a new course based on meaningful values; remove those who don’t want to work in line with new values – it has much to commend it.

As Lucy said, the vast majority of police men and women want to do a good job, and have been appalled by the behaviour of a few.  But the culture allowed those few to do immeasurable harm.  The whole organisation has to stand up to wreckers, and create an environment where ‘the wrong type of behaviour’ has no chance of surviving.    Food for thought.


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