Garda culture must change – but it can only do so if all layers of force are onboard

Article in todays Irish Independent by Daniel Denison is professor of management and organisation at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD)

IN THE aftermath of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s retirement, it’s important for An Garda Síochána to pay attention to the Garda culture if it is to retrieve its reputation in the coming years.

Some believe recruiting someone from overseas who is not embedded in Garda culture will quickly solve the problem. As the song goes,

“it ain’t necessarily so…” Fixing a flawed culture requires much more than the removal of the figure at the top. What is needed is to involve as many layers within an organisation as possible in the change mission.

In my recent book, ‘Leading Cultural Change’, I told the story of a disastrous ice storm at New York’s JFK International Airport. That storm challenged many airlines, but JetBlue’s operational infrastructure broke down, leaving passengers stranded on the runway for hours. Getting back to normal took three days and left JetBlue’s reputation severely damaged.

How JetBlue fixed the problem was much more than a single fix. It reinforced the unique high-involvement culture that had fuelled its rapid growth in the first place. It didn’t take a top-down approach. Instead, it brought together a broad, crossfunctional coalition of frontline crew members. This team, with full support from the top, developed the JetBlue strategy for recovering from an interruption in service and solved the problem so that it would never happen again. And it hasn’t.

That’s what An Garda Síochána – and also Ryanair – needs right now. A broad, cross-functional coalition of their frontline people. All looking at the future, not the past.

Kathleen O’Toole, in her management of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, has given an admirable lead in this. She has indicated a reluctance to spend time looking for people to blame for the various scandals emerging in the past few years. Instead, the commission plans to lay out ways to genuinely make the force into what Ms O’Sullivan suggested it should be: “a beacon of 21st century policing.”

The never-ending cycle of Garda revelations is a signal the organisation is badly off track and has been for a long time. It’s going to take a lot to turn it around. The Garda system functions as it does because the dysfunction runs very deep. It is like a bad tooth that has a thousand roots. Corporate culture is both “the way we do things around here” and “what we do when we think no one is looking”. Culture is the core logic, the software of the mind that organises the behaviour of the people, and exemplifies the lessons we have learned that are important enough to pass on to the next generation.

Every organisation should be wary of assuming an initially strong and virtuous corporate culture will travel intact through generations of people working within that organisation. That’s a dangerous assumption, because, over time, practices tend to become detached from their original rationale.

Observation of armies, for example, has shown that rituals associated with the days when horses were important in the frontline tended to survive – and waste time – long after horses disappeared from modern armies.

We all try to use yesterday’s solutions to solve tomorrow’s problems until it just doesn’t work anymore. Nobody would believe a generation of doctors can be trained, graduated – and left to their own devices for the following 30-plus years. Instead, whether it’s the NHS or the HSE, health authorities insist on regular annual training programmes which not only inculcate new knowledge, but help to eradicate the development of bad clinical habits.

The selection of the new Garda commissioner, therefore, should be influenced by a concern that the individual is capable of setting out a clear vision of a future state, committed to the involvement of all layers within the organisation in the realisation of that vision, and resolute about ongoing training to ensure rotten habits – like the falsification of breath tests – never again take hold right across An Garda Síochána.

Involvement at all levels will not be easy, since good people have probably been looking the other

way for a long time. They have had to come up with ‘work-arounds’ to survive and that has also delayed systemic reform (the system kind of works and that’s kept it functioning this long).

THE new management needs to want to hear the truth about what’s going on. And why it is going on. They need to be resolute about focusing their attention on how the organisation should work in the future and not become consumed by the blame game. They need to welcome the whistleblowers in the Garda, even though they can create huge tensions and distractions in the organisation.

Changing the culture of an organisation is slow, timeconsuming work. It involves a lot of leadership at all levels of the organisation and they should always spend more time supporting the people who are doing outstanding work than they are playing the blame game.


6 Responses to Garda culture must change – but it can only do so if all layers of force are onboard

  1. timothy October 20, 2017 at 9:08 pm #

    Mr Denison makes no reference here on the importance of effective staff associations responsibly run and acting on the best interest of its members and the force. I was a former active official of a Garda Staff Ass over 20 years ago now and I am well that management never gave us appropriate respect, just tokenism. Many with ambitions never got actively involved. Staff Ass have a statutory footing which should be acknowledged as such within the memorandum of understanding agreed. Cronyism and patronage, which is patently obvious, for those with influence, political or otherwise, should be tackled. The injustice of this was always a source of dissent and is a root cause of the many problems in the force to-day.

  2. noel October 21, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

    It has to be stated that Daniel Denison’s article in yesterdays Independent “hits the nail on the head”. Pointing out that it is important for An Garda Siochana to pay attention to the Garda culture if it is to retrieve its reputation in the future is definitely the road to travel. Recruiting some one from outside Ireland who is not embedded in Garda culture will not work as I have already pointed out on this website. I totally agree that fixing a flawed culture requires much more than the removal of the figure at the top. All layers in any organisation must be involved in solving problems as suggested by Daniel. I was a member of n Garda Siochana from 1955 to 1987 and during that time I observed many instances of a dictatorial regime in operation. Indeed I can recall an occasion during my service in An Garda Siochana when a senior officer from the Commissioners ranks called a conference in Dublin Castle where he addressed a group of Detectives that “Something must be done about all theses bank raids that are taking place”. When a certain member of Inspector rank in that group pointed out to him that “we would need this and that in order to comply with his instructions” he turned around and pointing a finger at him said “listen here sonny enough of that from you”. End of story. I am assuming that it will be the Government of this country who will decide who to appoint as the next Commissioner of An Garda Siochana. Could I suggest, before doing so, that they study the life of St. Don Bosco the founder of the Salesian Order back in 1859 in Turin to look after homeless boys and are now involved in practically every country in the world including Ireland. It is time to change and forget the Stalin and Hitler attitudes. I am quite sure that there are several suitable candidates among the current Deputy and Assistant Commissioners who could follow in the footsteps of Don Bosco who knew how to deal with the top and the bottom in society. (I rest my case!!!!!)

    Noel Hynes-GSRMA, Naas.

  3. patrick joseph mc October 21, 2017 at 7:30 pm #

    The biggest danger facing the Garda SIOCHANA and indeed Society is “Throwing out the Baby along with the Bathwater ” I feel like writing an article what is being overlooked by many experts is and was the good done by individuals ,Many deserve honours and do not receive them but it is better not to receive them and deserve them to receive them and not deserve them. No regulation or traiming can replace basic human decency

  4. John Brennan October 26, 2017 at 7:06 pm #

    Earlier this week there was a gent running wild around South Dublin with a sub machine gun, hijacking cars and threatening people. The only group to respond to this were the brave men and women of An Garda Siochana. There was no sign of the usual whingers who are looking for a change of culture. When my door is being kicked in at 4 in the morning by some thug it isnt Mr Denison and the gobshites in the Dail that I will call. Its the local Gardai who I know I can depend on to respond and who will do their best with limited resources while Josephine Feehily and the rest of the Policing Authority sleep easily in their beds

  5. timothy October 29, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

    Yes indeed. Fine words eloquently delivered fall easily from the tongue. It is the follow up action by all concerned that falls short. Looking for scapegoats seems the answer for many of those theorists and they generally look down not up.

  6. Arthur O November 28, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

    The operational service provided by An Garda Síochána is second to none.

    Men and women are out there 24/7/365 putting life and limb on the line, working under very difficult circumstances without near adequate resources and personnel. Security is one of the key cornerstones of a democratic society.

    Nobody can deny but that all or most governments down through our history have covertly done everything in their power to control and negate the effectiveness of our policing service. It has been a sham by successive regimes that have not only destroyed the police service but the country as well. Is there not overwhelming evidence to back up what I would term as treasonous intent?

    Culture and a good example badly needs to change and filter from the very top down. The least amount of culture change is required at the coal face, where all of the action takes place and where the worth and work of our exceptional police officers on the ground is to be generally admired and commended.

    That “Garda culture must change” only refers to the hierarchy within the service and its closeness with politicians in governance in matters of justice and home affairs, where there must be a much greater remove.

    Policing does not require rocket science, just commonsense and a positive policing direction that is allowed to prosper for the common good.

    Based on a very long service experience in policing and observance of criminality at its core, and close fraternal interest since, I must, with regret say I’m disgusted and ashamed by the untruthfulness and blatant corruption palpabable in the highest echelons of government by politicians and higher level civil servants. It is very hard to understand and accept why we end up being governed by the likes.

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