As a former Chief Constable of Lancashire and National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for wellbeing, Andy Rhodes understands the stresses and demands of policing, as well as the danger that the poorly managed introduction of new technology, and lack of ongoing and training and support, can add to rather than reduce those pressures; here he teams up with Me Learning’s Shirley Berry to highlight four key lessons for putting people first when embarking on digital transformation.
Policing is a stressful, demanding, and frequently dangerous profession. In fact, it is well documented that it is twice as stressful as the average workplace. When you dig down to discover what’s actually causing this, the results are really quite surprising.
More and more people are pointing to pressure to embrace digital technology, specifically the systems and tools they use in their jobs. Often, they’re asked to make critical, split-second decisions and at the same time they’re worrying whether they’ve grasped a new software system and are recording data accurately.
“For many people in policing, their emotional and psychological ‘cups’ are pretty full already. When someone cares so much about doing a great job, it’s important to question whether the change you propose is helping or hindering.”
This link between digital and wellbeing is why we’ve teamed up to write this article. We’re on a shared mission to put people first on digital transformation. We’d like to share our experiences on this topic with practical tips to use on your next digital project.
The first thing to say is that for many people in policing, their emotional and psychological ‘cups’ are pretty full already. When someone cares so much about doing a great job, it’s important to question whether the change you propose is helping or hindering.
For senior leaders, change is exciting but it’s also important to remember that for those nearest to the work it can feel scary, frustrating and confusing.
I recall a briefing with line managers on a new contact centre design. Someone stuck a hand up and said: “It might be exciting for you but for us it feels like Groundhog Day!” This simple comment caused me to pause and think.
A big chunk of my capital investment as a Chief Constable went into IT – new systems, new devices and all the process change that comes with them. Yet nobody had taught me to be an ‘intelligent customer’ and to consider the risks associated with failing to allocate sufficient attention to the human factor. I learnt this the hard way. So, here are my top four lessons learnt.
Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand
In hierarchical organisations, decision makers are usually a long way from the work and feedback from the frontline is filtered (nobody likes shovelling bad news uphill). I’ve seen this first-hand with the rollout of a replacement crime, case and custody system. By the time the alarm bells were ringing, it was too late to react.
Next time you’re in a meeting about digital change, don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand what the experts are saying. Think carefully about what skills and training are needed to land your digital change successfully.
Shirley’s advice is that even at an early stage, consider how to engage stakeholders and employees. Capturing hearts and minds is a key part of digital transformation and often overlooked.
Lesson 2: Providers don’t always have all the bases covered
We all know deep down that when you procure anything, price isn’t always the deciding factor. Our personal purchasing choices inform this. Maybe we’re happy to pay a bit more for exclusivity, a personal touch or something unique. Similarly, when you go to market for a technology system, little things can mean a lot.
“The best results are achieved when people and outcomes are given equal importance; where learning solutions provide early engagement, include formal and informal learning and post-live support.” – Shirley Berry, Me Learning
This includes the specialist job of training the workforce. Providers often endeavour to cover this off, but in my experience, they rarely do. This is because they aren’t specialists in training and it’s a mistake to think you can outsource something which requires deep understanding of your organisation.
Shirley adds: “In my many years working in police software and transformation projects, I saw first-hand how change affects people and how adding technology intensifies the mix. The best results are achieved when people and outcomes are given equal importance; where learning solutions provide early engagement, include formal and informal learning and post-live support.
“Our experience supporting local authorities with safeguarding training also shows how important it is to help learners understand the ‘why’ through the training they receive. It’s similar in policing, where the risk of getting it wrong means the public and vulnerable people can be put at greater risk.
“It’s also important to have a recovery plan in place from the outset – a way of pulling things back on track if you’re not getting the outcomes you expect. For example, we worked with Lancashire Constabulary to help them to recover from a difficult situation with role-focused, digital learning, which is still used to support new starters and provide refresher training.”
Lesson 3: Just because we’ve all got smartphones doesn’t mean we’re early adopters
The main error I made was to ignore some basic behavioural truths while I was Chief. Firstly, we don’t like speaking up when we don’t understand something, especially in group situations where we’re the most experienced person in the room.
Secondly, we retain knowledge in different ways; our retention levels are generally very low and fade quickly over time. This means training people for three days, some six months before going live, will inevitably be problematic, especially in a classroom or via ‘train the trainer’ sessions.
“In policing, people make tough calls at 3am and the fear of mistakes can drive stress levels through the roof. Users need to be confident and competent to deal with a wide range of situations, so the tech must work for rather than against them.”
Far better is to invest in good quality digital training, which mimics the technology environment and enables the maximum number of users to develop the skills they need at their own pace, right up to (and beyond) go live.
In policing, people make tough calls at 3am and the fear of mistakes can drive stress levels through the roof. Users need to be confident and competent to deal with a wide range of situations, so the tech must work for rather than against them, and this includes providing people with the opportunity to develop the skills they need.
“Recognising the needs of individuals, their preferred learning styles and pace is a really important part of achieving technology and change adoption,” adds Shirley. “Blended learning solutions work best, mixing learning interventions and formats to cater for different types and complexities of content. For most people, repetition is key, so solutions that allow people to top-up their knowledge any time, and train new starters on the fundamentals at no extra cost, are a must.”
Lesson 4: Poorly delivered digital change is expensive and high risk
As a Chief, I endeavoured to meet every person before they left the force and far too many spoke of their frustrations with a new system. For some it was the reason they decided to leave the job they loved early. More worrying, others pointed to the impact on operational proactivity.
Anything which adds no value to the purpose of our work is seen as a ‘hindrance stressor’ and will generate higher levels of stress. Workload is often cited in the top three causes of work-related stress, but when you delve deeper in policing, it’s ‘work quality’ which matters most.
Reflecting on all this, I’ve come to realise that aspects of policing will always be stressful but it’s easy to reduce the pressures created by technology with the right blend of learning solutions and support.
Shirley believes the pandemic has prompted a huge shift to digital and blended learning for technology and change programmes: “As digital transformation bites and police recruits join in larger numbers, it will be vital to accelerate this style of training to meet everyone’s needs.
“Adopting technology, embedding changes to workflows and policy, and ensuring people know the importance of change and the impact of getting it wrong, are all critical in modern policing. So we need to put people first and think differently about how we deliver continuous learning to provide them with the skills they need for this uniquely challenging environment.”
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