The title of this blog seems a little odd, but I wanted to highlight a case study from the book called “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge. Senge talks about how the Singapore Police Force (SPF) transformed themselves to keep pace with the blistering changes Singapore was going through.
In the 1970s, policework in Singapore was often perceived to be a unchallenging, routine, menial, and unbefitting the new generation of knowledge workers. SPF was run as a command and control orgnazitation and officers in the street were expected to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) that never gave them the room to adapt to dynamic situations and new threats. So they decided to change their organization culture and the nature of the work with the goal of promoting a culture of openness and trust.
Obviously changing the organization culture cannot be done overnight. One of the first steps SPF took was to broaden the job scope of work to include community engagement to help identify and solve local issues around safety and security. Police officers began to help community members take greater ownership of safety and security issues within their own neighborhoods. As police work became more knowledge intensive, the officers had to build their skills in conducting dialog (as opposed to barking orders) and problem solving through systems thinking. Systems thinking is an approach to solving problems by looking at the interdepencies in the larger system and not focussing on the problem as a localized issue. For example, Company A has a poor quarter on account of a weak economy. The President of the company gives all departments a mandate to cut budgets by 30%. The training department decides to do away with refresher courses at the various branch offices to meet the budget targets. As a result, after sales service is negatively impacted resulting in fall in repeat purchase. This is a simplistic example, but many a times, decisions are made without considering the whole system, resulting in amplification of negative results and unintended consequences.
Another initiative the SPF took was to capture tacit knowledge of personal experiences of various officers through use of narratives and story telling – making available personal stories of officers involved in resolving critical incidents. They set up an experience sharing session that provided insights to police offcers on how to deal with difficult situations. SPF also implemented After Action Reviews (AARs) to further increase learning effectiveness and awareness. This was done through an online discussion forum. Lastly, SPF rewrote the the SOPs to stress principles rather than prescriptive instructions so as to facilitate the exercise of discretion based on best practices.