Garda cul­ture must change – but it can only do so if all lay­ers of force are on­board

Irish Independent - - Comment - Daniel Deni­son

IN THE af­ter­math of Garda Com­mis­sioner Nóirín O’Sul­li­van’s re­tire­ment, it’s im­por­tant for An Garda Síochána to pay at­ten­tion to the Garda cul­ture if it is to re­trieve its rep­u­ta­tion in the com­ing years.

Some be­lieve re­cruit­ing some­one from over­seas who is not em­bed­ded in Garda cul­ture will quickly solve the prob­lem. As the song goes,

“it ain’t nec­es­sar­ily so…” Fix­ing a flawed cul­ture re­quires much more than the re­moval of the fig­ure at the top. What is needed is to in­volve as many lay­ers within an or­gan­i­sa­tion as pos­si­ble in the change mis­sion.

In my re­cent book, ‘Lead­ing Cul­tural Change’, I told the story of a dis­as­trous ice storm at New York’s JFK In­ter­na­tional Air­port. That storm chal­lenged many air­lines, but JetBlue’s op­er­a­tional in­fra­struc­ture broke down, leav­ing pas­sen­gers stranded on the run­way for hours. Get­ting back to nor­mal took three days and left JetBlue’s rep­u­ta­tion se­verely dam­aged.

How JetBlue fixed the prob­lem was much more than a single fix. It re­in­forced the unique high-in­volve­ment cul­ture that had fu­elled its rapid growth in the first place. It didn’t take a top-down ap­proach. In­stead, it brought to­gether a broad, cross­func­tional coali­tion of front­line crew mem­bers. This team, with full sup­port from the top, de­vel­oped the JetBlue strat­egy for re­cov­er­ing from an in­ter­rup­tion in ser­vice and solved the prob­lem so that it would never hap­pen again. And it hasn’t.

That’s what An Garda Síochána – and also Ryanair – needs right now. A broad, cross-func­tional coali­tion of their front­line peo­ple. All look­ing at the fu­ture, not the past.

Kath­leen O’Toole, in her man­age­ment of the Com­mis­sion on the Fu­ture of Polic­ing in Ire­land, has given an ad­mirable lead in this. She has in­di­cated a re­luc­tance to spend time look­ing for peo­ple to blame for the var­i­ous scan­dals emerg­ing in the past few years. In­stead, the com­mis­sion plans to lay out ways to gen­uinely make the force into what Ms O’Sul­li­van sug­gested it should be: “a bea­con of 21st cen­tury polic­ing.”

The never-end­ing cy­cle of Garda rev­e­la­tions is a sig­nal the or­gan­i­sa­tion is badly off track and has been for a long time. It’s go­ing to take a lot to turn it around. The Garda sys­tem func­tions as it does be­cause the dys­func­tion runs very deep. It is like a bad tooth that has a thou­sand roots. Cor­po­rate cul­ture is both “the way we do things around here” and “what we do when we think no one is look­ing”. Cul­ture is the core logic, the soft­ware of the mind that or­gan­ises the be­hav­iour of the peo­ple, and ex­em­pli­fies the lessons we have learned that are im­por­tant enough to pass on to the next gen­er­a­tion.

Ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion should be wary of as­sum­ing an ini­tially strong and vir­tu­ous cor­po­rate cul­ture will travel in­tact through gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple work­ing within that or­gan­i­sa­tion. That’s a dan­ger­ous as­sump­tion, be­cause, over time, prac­tices tend to be­come de­tached from their original ra­tio­nale.

Ob­ser­va­tion of armies, for ex­am­ple, has shown that rit­u­als as­so­ci­ated with the days when horses were im­por­tant in the front­line tended to sur­vive – and waste time – long af­ter horses dis­ap­peared from modern armies.

We all try to use yes­ter­day’s so­lu­tions to solve to­mor­row’s prob­lems un­til it just doesn’t work any­more. No­body would be­lieve a gen­er­a­tion of doc­tors can be trained, grad­u­ated – and left to their own de­vices for the fol­low­ing 30-plus years. In­stead, whether it’s the NHS or the HSE, health au­thor­i­ties in­sist on reg­u­lar an­nual train­ing pro­grammes which not only in­cul­cate new knowl­edge, but help to erad­i­cate the devel­op­ment of bad clin­i­cal habits.

The se­lec­tion of the new Garda com­mis­sioner, there­fore, should be in­flu­enced by a con­cern that the in­di­vid­ual is ca­pa­ble of set­ting out a clear vi­sion of a fu­ture state, com­mit­ted to the in­volve­ment of all lay­ers within the or­gan­i­sa­tion in the re­al­i­sa­tion of that vi­sion, and res­o­lute about on­go­ing train­ing to en­sure rot­ten habits – like the fal­si­fi­ca­tion of breath tests – never again take hold right across An Garda Síochána.

In­volve­ment at all levels will not be easy, since good peo­ple have prob­a­bly been look­ing the other

way for a long time. They have had to come up with ‘work-arounds’ to sur­vive and that has also de­layed sys­temic re­form (the sys­tem kind of works and that’s kept it func­tion­ing this long).

THE new man­age­ment needs to want to hear the truth about what’s go­ing on. And why it is go­ing on. They need to be res­o­lute about fo­cus­ing their at­ten­tion on how the or­gan­i­sa­tion should work in the fu­ture and not be­come con­sumed by the blame game. They need to wel­come the whistleblo­wers in the Garda, even though they can cre­ate huge ten­sions and dis­trac­tions in the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Chang­ing the cul­ture of an or­gan­i­sa­tion is slow, time­con­sum­ing work. It in­volves a lot of lead­er­ship at all levels of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and they should al­ways spend more time sup­port­ing the peo­ple who are do­ing out­stand­ing work than they are play­ing the blame game.

Daniel Deni­son is pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment and or­gan­i­sa­tion at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Man­age­ment Devel­op­ment (IMD)

Photo: Don Moloney

Gar­daí Cil­lian Fitz­mau­rice, Jonathon Burke, Gary Far­ren, Colm O’Cuiv, and Bren­dan MacAr­tain were among 188 gar­daí to grad­u­ate this week from the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick’s first Bach­e­lor of Arts in Ap­plied Polic­ing pro­gramme.

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