Progress in a Pandemic: Why Would We Go Back When We Can Go Forward?
Most commentary on Coronavirus revolves around the pandemic as a dampening, braking or slowing force. Of course, we cannot underestimate the human cost of those lost as well as the impact on those left behind and especially those facing up to the virus head-on every day. In economic and social terms, the narrative is about “slowdown” (the UK hasn’t truly reached the “lockdown” experienced elsewhere, despite the headline terminology). Which again is understandable when we see widespread redundancies, furlough and uncertainty, events cancelled, and plans put on hold. The focus is on the things we – as individuals and as organisations – can’t do. The nation collectively yearns to get back to “normal”. As always, policing finds itself pulled in both directions – taking its familiar seat between a rock and a hard place.
However, there are many positive aspects to this change which could actually be seen as accelerating progress, stimulating change and compelling us to have conversations we have shied away from for too long. Countless statistics and commentaries frame the last decade squarely as one where policing (and public service in general) has taken a bit of a battering, to be frank. The pressure to do more with less and the heavy toll on every aspect of the service. So, does this unprecedented period of turmoil represent a storm in which we batten down the hatches, or a powerful wind to propel us onto a new and more promising course?
As Viktor Frankl is often credited with saying:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
Many of us have found more space than ever before – whether through choice or not. A stronger appreciation of a simpler life, the impact of nature and many other positive conversations have sprung up. What then, of policing, where very few officers or staff have had a spare minute to think for years and the default setting has largely been survival?
As someone now on the outside looking in, it’s been fascinating to hear from our clients the variety of responses their forces have adopted: from an immediate move to remote working and individual empowerment all the way through to the tried-and-tested “reassurance” of police carriers full of high visibility jackets clearing outstanding call lists.
The really encouraging work is that which comes from first asking questions like:
“What does success look like?”
“What do our people need to be successful?”
These are questions that we’ve long been working on in supporting police officers and staff through their personal development, careers and wellbeing. Too many of the systems that do exist in those areas are long overdue for review and redesign – or often no effective systems exist. This pandemic offers the chance to build the foundations of a system that actually works and gives people what they need now and for the future – not just sticking to things because “we’ve always done it that way”. We have been told by many officers and staff that their sense of duty means they will stay on to respond to Coronavirus, but once some sort of normality resumes they will be seeking new opportunities elsewhere. There will be a much broader rethink on commuting, remuneration, working on our passions and many other existential elements of our relationship with our work to come – if policing cannot or will not respond to this then we will continue to see recruitment and retention struggle in an increasingly competitive marketplace. More than ever before, people want to work somewhere they are valued and that just represents “a good place to work”.
This acceleration of innovation was brought into focus for our work with Hampshire Constabulary last week. We had been set to provide their leavers with our CPD-accredited resettlement course, which is already a huge step forward from anything previously available because it’s founded on exactly that principle of giving people what they need and empowering their individuality. Coaching rather than training. Nonetheless, we still planned to be in the same room as the group.
Moving to an online delivery style presented many challenges also no doubt being felt in training new recruits, specialist units, regular training refreshers and so on: how do you deliver engaging, informative content when you lose many non-verbal cues? How do you build an esprit de corps on a programme when all we initially see is each other as a small square on a screen? How do we account for individual styles and paces of learning?
Video conferencing is not going anywhere – the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. The message from our course feedback was clear: this needs to be an option that stays, and in fact for many people it is already first choice after just one exposure. No commuting to regional training venues, total control over your physical learning environment from room temperature to cushions to lunch options, the ability to capture the screens you want immediately… the dynamic has changed to a much more collaborative process than the traditional teacher and student approach. Clearly, some courses are easier to adapt than others – there’s not much room in my living room for the mounted branch and my landlord wouldn’t be too pleased if I petrol bombed the kitchen to recreate public order training.
This combination of technology, reassessment of what’s important on a societal level and inevitable changes in the wider world of work presents opportunities and challenges in equal measure for policing. Some of the very fundamentals of “the way things are done” are now up for discussion. How many suspects need to be interviewed in person? What physical estate does a force need? Which incidents are really a police matter? How should training really look? If the pandemic drives the vulnerability to ask and seriously consider the answers to these questions, that is progress. The technology is (mostly) not new – the impetus to think differently is.
There is a note of caution – the wellbeing impact of a team being together physically as well as virtually is immeasurable and no digital tool can “feel”, however powerfully it can “think”. The opportunity though lies in using technology simply as the tool that delivers the change we wish to see. Equally, the “new normal” is unknown and uncertain and will be for years to come. One group of people innately comfortable in such times are police officers, which makes them even more in demand for organisations and businesses finding their feet post-pandemic. If policing wants to recruit, retain and effectively resettle its existing and prospective talent, being an employer of choice will require levels of openness to change and people-first focus that have never been seen before.
Find out more about our resettlement /career transition course here.