Following the Hillsborough inquest verdict, I wrote an article for The Guardian on leadership culture in policing. At the most recent meeting of Chief Constables’ Council we built on that idea with a number of papers and guest speakers.
Matthew Syed joined us and gave a presentation based on his book, “Black Box Thinking”. In it he argued that learning - rather than fixed qualities like talent or genes - is the key to success for both organisations and individuals. Blame, on the other hand, stifles debate and diverts energy away from rational progress and improvement. He argued that, “Greatness is not about how much one knows at a particular point in time, it is about how much one is learning, especially when the world around us is changing.”
Sir Robert Francis QC shared his observations on his inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and what parallels there might be for policing. Dame Anne Owers, the Chair of the IPCC, also talked about the importance of learning and accountability in the police complaints system. We have agreed that we need to develop our thinking in this area and a small team have volunteered to work on this with me.
On a similar theme, Chiefs talked about the need to have a group of accredited colleagues who can provide peer support. The next Chief Constable of South Yorkshire welcomed the recent peer review of that force and will use it to inform his approach to his new command. It was clear that there are sometimes tensions between seeking honest appraisal in this way and the regulatory inspection regime. However, we were all clear that we have a responsibility to share expertise in order to protect the public and any tensions need to be managed.
We also spent a lot of time discussing the most serious threats: terrorism, organised crime, cyber crime and child abuse. It is these areas where it is particularly important that we have a networked response and we support each other. But I want to touch on the people issues which were equally prominent. Chiefs agreed that, while in time we may want to reduce the number of ranks, the most important priority is to have flatter structures. Several forces are implementing a five level approach and this seemed to make sense to most present. In particular, the need to have a less hierarchical approach and the encouragement of individual contribution were themes from the Leadership Review which were supported.
Chiefs also discussed the importance of staff wellbeing, having signed up to the Workplace Wellbeing Charter for better physical and mental health last year. The CEO of the Police Dependents’ Trust, Gill Scott-Moore, gave us an overview of the role of the charity and explained that there was £3 million available for investing in wellbeing initiatives. This is very welcome and I reflected on its importance later that evening as we attended the Police Bravery Awards and were reminded of the psychological pressure officers are frequently subject to. The Police Dependents’ Trust support is very welcome.