8th of April 2021
If an organisation lurches along from one crisis to the next, the first place to look for a solution is management.
It would not be unkind to describe Vitoria Police management styles and processes over the last couple of decades as mediocre, where traditional values of the organisation were trashed, and Chief Commissioners that can only be described as administrators held sway rather than Police leaders.
In the early 2000’s the management tool entitled ‘Rotations’ was introduced primarily to the Officer Rank and overwhelmingly impacting Local Area Commanders (LAC’s), and it has been retained ever since. Not to be confused with the Chief Commissioner’s appointments to meet operational and other specific demands on the organisation, ‘Rotations’ were more an administrative process of vague and spurious purpose.
‘Rotations’, in our view, rates right up alongside the other much pilloried and discredited Matrix Management system, coupled with other management failures that caused Victoria Police, arguably, formerly the best Police Force in Australia, to become a target of scorn through failed management processes.
The current Chief Commissioner has the unenviable task of unpicking past failed strategies and processes to rebuild the proud institution of Victoria Police.
Ironically, most of the poor management processes were imported from the New South Wales Police Force, but, by and large, the Commissioners in New South Wales either modified these strategies dramatically or dispensed with them entirely, reasonably soon after their introduction or as the failings became obvious.
Victoria, however, battled on, and despite what should have been obvious, after close to twenty years of neanderthal leadership, these principles are still in vogue to some degree—usually supported by those who are part of the mediocracy genre.
It was argued, at the time, that ‘Rotation’ of appointments for set periods, usually three years, would reduce the likelihood of corruption (how that was to be achieved has never been explained or the necessity justified) and allegedly give officers broader operational experience.
We suggest it was more about control by an administration that lacked confidence and the ability to manage a Police Force properly. Their inadequacies would never be exposed or challenged by subordinates whose aspirations were to achieve mediocrity.
The threat of a ‘Rotation’ could be held over all subordinates; this equated to Power that fed into an ineffectual centralist management model, a model that has been long held to derisive criticism.
In the real Policing world, where theory is applied to practice, the commissioned ‘Rotated’ Officer spends the first year getting to know their new patch and the third year worrying about where the lottery might put them on their next rotation, with little opportunity to exercise their management prowess, let alone develop and implement strategic objectives or develop clear appreciations of each staff grouping which is the best way to identify (amongst other things) where corruption might lurk.
From a subordinate managers perspective, where the policing, ‘rubber hits the road’, it is a’ conga line’ of Inspectors who change so rapidly that they often did not know they had a new boss or who it was. Again, from where they sit, the rotated officers generally tended to lay scorn on their predecessor, often pulling down any of the predecessor’s policies and directions installing their own, only to be changed with the next rotation.
Subordinates were regularly told that ‘Rotations’ were necessary to give Officers operational experience, but because of current operational structures, this would have been rarely achieved other than a ‘Curriculum Vitae’ that could include an operational appointment, whether it was of value, was apparently not the point.
This process is counterintuitive. If an officer needs operational experience, presumably to equip them for promotion, then the onus should be on them to apply for a position where that experience is available. If not, they were unsuitable for promotion, their call, their career. If that is untenable, pair them up with an experienced and competent LAC to learn the craft.
The ‘Rotation’ process has achieved a couple of goals, decision making is forced up, and the workload is forced down, making what was perhaps a void between Officers and other ranks a chasm.
That is not a good strategy for any organisation, least of all Policing.
On the issue of corruption, one of the traits of the corrupt is to engage in’ The Mushroom Treatment’ of superiors, and the tenure being short ensures this process is effective. Moreover, others who are not corrupt will be loath to trust an Officer they do not really know or have not built up a trust bank with.
‘Rotations’ can therefore nurture corruption rather than suppress it.
There is an apt adage in the Public service –
‘Never stay in any place longer than three years – if you do, your mistakes will end up back on your desk rather than somebody else’s.’
It makes you wonder just how much of the available resources are applied to running these rotations for no appreciable return. These resources could be better applied to catching crooks or some other measurable productivity gains. A simple cost-benefit analysis would put paid to this process quick smart.
The major failure of the Rotation system are;
- It shields incompetence. Offices rotated before the impact of their management capabilities, or lack thereof can be realised and evaluated.
- Accountability is the first casualty. Using the Public Service adage, the consequences of many management decisions cannot be measured in months so that a bad one will end up on the desk of the replacement, accountability avoided.
- Promotes mediocrity. It encourages officers to be totally benign, lest they should be sent somewhere undesirable.
- Stifle’s leadership development. As the system discourages decision making referring all matter up the chain.
- Promotes centralist management. This is arguably the most parlous to the organisation, achieving centralising decisions at the pinnacle of the organisation, the antithesis of good management.
- Suppresses proper assessments. Subordinates do not get an adequate opportunity to be properly assessed by the Officer as equally those of superior rank do not properly assess the LAC Officer. A receipt for fostering mediocrity over capability leading to mediocracy becomes the aspirational standard.
- Stifles leadership development Subordinate Officers are less likely to provide leadership in case their superiors may feel threatened.
- Damages respect. Officer undertaking ineffective ‘Rotations’ diminish the authority of the rank, with subordinates. Respect is hard to earn but easy to lose.
- Spawns PTSD with this process; no manager would have time to identify, let alone fix flaws in their span of control that impact members’ welfare, causing or contributing to PTSD.
- A punitive process Perhaps not the intent by a misguided executive class, the ‘Rotations’ are invariably interpreted as a punitive measure.
- Management ownership One of the most useful management features occurs when the manager ‘owns their patch’, whether that is geographical or otherwise does not matter, but with ownership comes pride and accountability where relationships with staff and other stakeholders are built over time based on trust and respect. ‘Rotation’ stifles these important management functions magnified in the Policing business that is all about people as its core function.
- Negative family impact. An overriding and significant issue is the impact on the members family – the burden of the uncertainty of where the member may end up on the next rotation is the real kicker that can lead to relationships stresses external to policing.
- The financial impact on members. ‘Rotations’ can also have an economic impact on families feeding into more domestic disquiet affecting the member’s performance.
‘Rotations’ and its impact is most poignantly demonstrated at the sharp end of policing, General Duties, and the most dangerous for Police and the community. The logic in sending the least experienced to perform a function that should be reserved for the most experience defies any reasonable logic.
The core business of policing is managed by the least competent managers rather than leaders.
Placing Officers on ‘L’ Plates in charge of Operations is an insult to the members who we ask to put themselves on the line for our community.
Even the community are entitled to the best leadership that can be assigned to their needs.
The LAC positions should be filled by the brightest and best from where future promotions are drawn. If Officers need operational experience, then attach them to work alongside experienced and competent LAC’s, better outcomes would be achieved for the trainee and the organisation.
Good management practices would see a greater reliance on Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to determine staff movement. If an officer, or any member for that matter, is achieving their KPI’s, then why move them for moving’s sake? It also defies logic.
There will obviously be rare circumstances where a ‘Rotation’ is essential to avoid damage to the organisations’ function, but it must not be the default position.
We do not in any way advocate mollycoddling, but consistent and fair management of all staff and managers alike.
Consistency and fairness are a contagion that can seep through the organisation and will add cohesion and a sense of wellbeing across all members irrespective of rank, increasing productivity and reducing negative outcomes like PTSD.
It might even see the emergence again of ‘Esprit de corps’ –
‘The common spirit existing in the members of a group inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and a strong regard for the honour of the group’.