Culture in Just 4 Words

THE SETUP: A few months ago, another sergeant asked how my squad of mostly brand new police officers was having such great success on the road and in the community. I attributed it to the culture that we had created as a squad in the briefing room and then worked hard to exemplify each shift on the road. When he asked what my squad’s culture was, I quickly rattled just 4 words – Positivity, Activity, Teamwork, and Humility. As I said these 4 words aloud, the other sergeant looked at me like I was holding out on him and I replied, “No really . . . that is our culture in just 4 words and it works.”

THEN IT HITS ME: The realization that came to me as we continued this conversation was that a strong, sustainable culture should be just that easy to define, explain, understand, and apply. Culture has to be tangible and not just something that is said. It also has to be easily articulable and reproducible by all that are involved within it.

THE HOW: I pulled out a piece of paper and divided it into 4 boxes. At the top of each box I wrote one of the words that I had told the other sergeant about – Positivity, Activity, Teamwork, and Humility. Knowing that culture is defined by our actions and attitudes, I made sure that I could define each of the words in terms of both. Here is what I came up with . . .

POSITIVITY

  • Know your “why.”
  • Community service – treat everyone with dignity and respect.
  • Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
  • Recognize each other for good police work.

ACTIVITY

  • Strive to be the most active squad in the city.
  • Calls for service are our priority, but initiative fills the gaps.
  • Take pride in your beat, know your beat, and work it as such.
  • Be a leader on calls – step up where others fear to.

TEAMWORK

  • We before I.
  • Many hands make light work – have a “how can I help” mentality.
  • We back each other up – stay safe.
  • No gossip, no complaining – find solutions.

HUMILITY

  • Get involved – policing is experiential learning.
  • Don’t fear mistakes, learn from them.
  • Remain humble and continue learning.
  • Take training seriously; continue growing throughout your career.

The above 4 words and defining bullet points are what best describe the actions and attitudes of my squad and what we want to project to everyone we interact with in the department and the community. The next step was presenting it to the squad.

THE PRESENTATION: On the presentation day, I explained to my 7 officers the conversation I had with that other sergeant and how this all got started. As I spoke about each of the 4 words and their corresponding bullet points, I used specific examples of times when I had seen these actions and attitudes displayed previously by them. I wrote each of the words on the outside of a box that I had drawn on the whiteboard. When everything was said and done, I explained that if everything they said or did on this job could fall into the confines of this box then they would know that they were doing policing the right way. It is only when actions and/or attitudes don’t fit into that box that problems occur and build distrust between police departments and their communities.

REINFORCEMENT: Whenever a new squad member comes to the squad, I go over these same 4 words in the same way as described above. The only thing that changes are newer, better examples. This serves 2 purposes. First, it reinforces the importance of our culture to the officers that have heard it before and keeps it fresh in their memory. Secondly, by going over this on the new officer’s very first day of joining the squad it solidifies how important we take our culture and begins to quickly assimilate them into the fold. If there are no new officers coming to the squad, then I make sure it gets discussed at least once every couple of months.

Between squad expectation presentations, it is vital to positively reinforce the desired culture. Whenever my officers handle a tough call, solve a problem, or demonstrate a great attitude about a tough situation; I make sure to mention it in briefing the next day and thank them for their outstanding service and commitment to our squad expectations. I make sure to specifically attribute whatever they did to the word(s) it best corresponds to. Culture in 4 words has gone over even better than I expected. In fact, they now recognize each other in briefing when they see something on a call that I was not able to get to. This reinforcement creates a positive cycle that just continues building and building and building.

THE CHALLENGE: Obviously, if you are still reading this far into the blog I have peaked your interest. Answer the following questions to get you started . . .

  1. If your squad was running exactly the way you wanted it to, what 4 words would you chose to describe your squad’s culture?
  2. Once you know your 4 words, list 3 – 5 specific actions or attitudes for each word that exemplify specifically how you would like to see that word expressed by your officers.
  3. Present your 4 words to your squad.
  4. Take the time and make opportunities to positively reinforce the 4 words of your culture.

Squad expectations need to be about establishing culture; not rules. Police departments have plenty of rules, laws, and policies to follow; that’s what those big books of general orders and revised statutes are for. If you get the culture right; the rules will take care of themselves. So, I challenge you to discover your 4 words and get them out there to your squad.

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time and Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement. Your thoughts or comments on this blog are always appreciated either below or on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @tbl_leadership.

Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

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