The Seven Improvement Steps

images (4)THE SEVEN IMPROVEMENT STEPS

[An excerpt from chapter seven of the book Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, by David C. Couper]

 Step One: Envision: Police leaders must cast a bold and breathtaking vision to ensure a distinguished future for policing.

 ” A GOOD VISION statement should be short, bold (even breathtaking), and those hearing it for the first time should be able to clearly remember it the next day. One quickly learns, however, that this is the easiest step. In order for a vision to work, it must be shared with others whom it affects. But having something shared with you is much different than having your vision become theirs.

“For leaders to have their visions become owned by others takes time and commitment. They must also have passion and persistence. Peter Drucker, one of our nation’s most influential thinkers on the subject of management theory, once described these kind of leaders as monomaniacs with a mission.[1] If we ever learned anything about people in organizations is that to change anything takes time and commitment, passion and persistence.

“Like most chiefs new to a department, I came with a vision that was, at first, a set of expectations as to how I wanted the men and women of my department to conduct the business of policing. These expectations came about through my own learning and experience—the things I thought important.

“From day one as a chief, I began to describe my expectations for the department at every opportunity.  I was in the business of selling organizational change. I found that one of the top opportunities to do this was at the graduation of a class of new police officers.  This was always a big event in Madison. I wanted my new officers to know who I was and what my expectations were—but most of all, how passionate I was about them.

            Employ your full skill at all times and to all persons.

           Prevent, manage, or intervene in situations requiring police service.

          Be open, accept change in this changing world, develop and maintain a broad perspective of your function and the society in   which you work, be flexible and develop the ability to grow with the people you serve.[2]

“Expectations matter. I would continue to use the same set of expectations over my years in Madison because they were what I expected of myself and from every police officer with whom I worked.  These expectations would be the foundation of the Madison Vision. But before my expectations became the driving vision for the Madison department, there was a lot of work that first needed to be done.

“If a vision is going to be sustainable and last beyond the leader who casts it, the process is as important as the product. First, police leaders are needed who are not only monomaniacs with a mission, but who are willing to stay around long enough and to suffer through the pain that inevitably comes with an organization in the process of change.

“Second, there needs to be constant and on-going support by the community including elected officials—those outside the organization—to help make the vision a reality. Leaders must cast their vision outside the department as much as they do inside of it.

“Third, those within the organization must know their leader is willing to engage in a process with them to develop the vision. They, too, must be willing to participate in the work to make the vision become a reality and do all that they can to operate under its direction.

“The Madison vision statement gained more traction within the department as each class of new officers took to the street. Time was on my side. And working closely with members of the department, I began to develop, with them, a more formal vision and mission statement that reflected the values that I sensed we all were beginning to share. The vision and mission statements brought out in 1986 had that support. It defined who we were, what we wished to become, and what our citizens deserved. It laid the groundwork for even bolder steps ahead.

“My job in creating a shared-vision from a set of my expectations would have been more difficult if corruption had been extreme within the Madison department, the internal management mechanisms in disarray, its officers excessively violent, or the existence of seething racial resentment within the minority community. This kind of situation would have set my vision back by years—perhaps so far back that nothing else could have been accomplished except to try and turn around these impediments. I could, therefore, with some confidence, say that my job in coming to Madison was to pursue excellence in policing. I did not dwell on the department’s shortcomings.

“A leader must be able to encourage and enlist a substantial cadre of supporters within the organization, both junior and senior, who will stand up, move out, and help make their leader’s vision their vision. Unless that happens, a vision will never become a reality.

“In Madison, a major amount of my time was spent establishing the value of an operating vision and the steps needed to make it happen—that is, its mission. The process of doing so is called catch-ball.[3] The term comes from the quality improvement days of Deming. The leader is to form a vision and pass it to members throughout the organization. They look at it, consider it, talk about it, and bounce it back. The leader receives their input. They may even have added new ideas and information. The leader ponders and incorporates their feedback, and passes it back again. And so it goes until the vision becomes shared. This is an effective organizational technique in which not only visions, but also ideas and methods, can be passed back and forth within the hierarchy of the organization with the purpose of developing shared visions, ideas, and methods.

“I continued to promote my vision whenever I had the opportunity. As chief, I was in the sales business. And selling involves knowing your product and what your customers need. But if you don’t have a desired product, no matter how hard you sell, buyers will be few.”

The other six improvement steps described in Arrested Development are as follows”

Step Two: SELECT: Police must encourage and select the finest and the brightest to serve as police officers…

 Step Three: LISTEN: Police leaders must intently listen to their officers and  members of the community…

 Step Four: TRAIN AND LEAD: Police leaders must implement professional training and a collaborative leadership style…

 Step Five: IMPROVE CONTINUOUSLY: Police must unceasingly improve the systems in which they work–everything they do…

 Step Six: EVALUATE: Police must be able to critically assess, or have assessed, the crucial tasks and functions they are expected to perform…

 Step Seven: SUSTAIN: Police leaders must be able to maintain and continue improvements to their organizations…

For more click HERE.


[1]“Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.” Peter Drucker. Adventures of a Bystander. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 1994.

[2] At the graduation ceremony of the Madison Police Recruit graduation, August 8, 1974.

[3] The Japanese developed this concept after World War II to develop highly-efficient policy management. The term is “Hoshin Kanri;” literally translated as: “point the direction and motivate everyone to achieve the vision.” The way this is done is by what we in America call “catch-ball;” that is, pass concepts, goals, objectives, and strategies back and forth throughout the entire organization—from top to bottom—in order to improve and share them. See: http://cokepm.com/pmbok3/KnowledgeBase/qualitycorner/700WorkingTogetherUsingCatch-Ball.pdf, and http://www.realinnovation.com/content/c080623a.asp. January 23, 2012; 1035 hrs.

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

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  1. Changing a Troubled Police Department | improving police - April 11, 2014

    […] modeling, and putting them into practice. You can find them described in my book along with the seven steps necessary to improve our nation’s […]

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