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Deborah Hartung

Personify Change

SPARKFluencer: Sparking Ideas Influencing Change

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The Met Police’s toxic culture: Five steps to fixing it

There can be no doubt that the new leader of the London Met Police will have their work cut out for them. Where should they begin?
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Cressida Dick, the head of the London Metropolitan Police, has resigned amidst ongoing complaints about the Met Police’s toxic working culture. What started with Uber’s ‘aggressive’ culture in 2017 has become an unstoppable global tide of change, highlighting that financial performance and organisational efficiency mean nothing without happy and engaged people. 

Your culture becomes the worst thing you are willing to tolerate.

In seeking to transform a toxic culture, there can be no doubt that a new leader at the London Met Police will have their work cut out for them. If I was advising  this new leader, here are five practical tips I would share on how to change a destructive working culture. 

1. Gather data  

There’s simply no way of knowing just how good or bad things are, without data. An annual employee engagement survey won’t cut it, so invest in working with a technology partner that will enable you to gather critical data about workplace culture and behaviours across every single team. Things might be fantastic at one site and abysmal at another. Data provides insights that better inform decisions on ensuring the right interventions in the right teams. 

2. Co-create the culture 

Designing the desired workplace culture is not a task reserved for senior leadership and HR professionals. Instead, it should be co-created with the input of your employees, ensuring that all voices are heard. Meet with marginalised groups at work and listen to their experiences and ask how you can do better.

3. Bring culture to life 

Workplace culture is a living, breathing organism. It lives in the way people interact with and treat each other. It comes alive in the way teams and individuals communicate, collaborate, make decisions and resolve conflict. 

Culture thrives or dies by the behaviours we reward and those we refuse to tolerate. Bring your culture to life by:

  • Committing to and publishing a list of ‘even over’ guidelines (such as ‘ideas even over hierarchy’ or ‘people even over profits’) and live by these in all that you do 

  • Having a set of clearly defined values and supporting behaviours 

  • Having every team complete a culture canvas and agree on how they will bring the culture to life every day through meetings, decision making and feedback 

  • Ensuring that you’re able to maintain your culture and course correct by measuring culture once per quarter and gathering regular employee feedback through pulse surveys and other tools

4. Build capacity 

It’s only through changed behaviour that we can gauge whether we have truly shifted the needle. Deploy formal interpersonal skills training interventions, as well as ongoing coaching and mentoring to help solidify the desired workplace behaviours.

Teach people how to give constructive feedback and how to resolve conflict. Encourage a culture of regular check-ins and ongoing dialogue and improvements through coaching conversations.

5. Celebrate, don’t Tolerate  

Your culture becomes the worst thing you are willing to tolerate. So don’t tolerate even the slightest hint of behaviour that is not aligned with the culture you have set out to create. There is no such thing as ‘harmless’ or ‘locker room talk’ at work. 

It is important to recognise and reward values-congruent behaviour and actions that amplify the desired culture. But it is equally necessary to take swift and decisive action and seek to correct (or ultimately punish) actions and behaviours that detract from it, consistently and across the board. 

Workplace culture is forged on a daily basis and it is shown in the behaviours that are tolerated, the people who are promoted and the achievements that are celebrated. Changing a toxic workplace culture isn’t easy, but – as leaders such as Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber and Satya Nadella of Microsoft have shown – it’s definitely possible.

Interested in this topic? Read ‘Four ways HR leaders can tackle a toxic work culture.’

One Response

  1. Your point taken, but I doubt
    Your point taken, but I doubt it will ever be implemented, I’m fresh out of the Met resigned as simply couldn’t take the covert racism anymore, I heard and helped an officer who took offence to a N word comment by a supervisor (sergeant) this was brought to the attention of back police association, I then became the target of number of spurious allegations both misconduct and gross, even tried criminal too, almost as if they were leave the job or we will keep comparing about you. The sergeant in question always openly boasted how he had links with senior officers around organisations, how he go on operations and would make contact those officers he know and influence whatever he wanted to act in his favour, it could be something like promoting a pc he liked or a group of officers that are in his friends circle, I dread to think what he wished on those he didn’t like, I was never in his favourite books he made that clear to me in several occasion, once he was talking to another pc who had served in the military for two years prior to police, the conversation was open so I joined in and started to tell him my experience in the British army 12years of it and multiple tours of Afghan and Iraq, he had simply just ignored me and walked off signalling the rest of the officers to as well. This is just the icing on the cake — many more things has happened
    Importantly that sergeant is still in the job along with his colleagues who are actively encouraging behaviours like that, the met will find another Asian black or an ethnic minority they don’t like and make a scape goat out of them and mask their own wrong doings
    It will never change
    I live with regrets every day how I had to give up career I loved I was proud police officer, my uniform was always clean pressed and polished, my crime reports were always updated and nothing missed, well trained officer who is no longer in the job because they were simply racist to me

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Deborah Hartung

SPARKFluencer: Sparking Ideas Influencing Change

Read more from Deborah Hartung
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