I was speaking with a Captain about an officer who just did not seem to grasp the agency’s vision. Although clearly communicated over the last two years in agency-wide meetings, in-services, e-mails, social media, and personal conversations the officer just refuses to “get on board.”
This Captain is fully committed to the city, the agency and the progressive vision of this administration. The officer, uh…..not so much. In our last conversation about this officer the Captain asked, “Why can’t he just see what we are building here?”
I replied that he is a “laggard.” He knew me well enough to understand that there was more, much more behind that term. Enjoying the dramatic pause, so I followed with “and you are an innovator!” He was still not convinced my response addressed the adversarial officer.
How do great ideas spread, what does it take for a product to catch the public’s imagination or why do organizations adopt behaviors as acceptable? There is a term originating from the social sciences called Diffusion of Innovations.
The term seeks to explain how, why and at what rate do new ideas and technology spread through various cultures. Consider the domestic application of fire. Someone’s great, great, great…grandfather had an experience with fire in a manner positively affecting the quality of his life. This also benefited the community, thus the culture of early human groupings and prosperity.
Had that innovation been quenched by an elder for the sake of maintaining tribal traditions, where would we be today? Literally; in the dark. Obviously this innovation was replicated by the few with a capacity for appreciating, understanding, and promoting the domestic use of fire. Even though, how did a torch in Asia Minor spread to the Pacific Northwest?
Fire, like the progressive vision of an administration, requires four elements influencing the adoption, implementation and sustainment of the vision.
2. Communication channels
4. Social systems
Relying on human capital to promote the wide-spread adoption of the new idea is critical for establishing it as a cornerstone of an administration. A Neanderthal passed that first torch, who then passed the next torch, and so on. A Chief of Police (sometimes called a Neanderthal) shares their fire with a new vision, an organizational ideal or an operational paradigm shift. Then they wait for the agency to openly embrace the progressive public service direction. Then wait and wait.
Stop wasting your time waiting for something to happen. It won’t, and you will be like the solo caveman before the successful caveman who introduced fire to humanity. The first one probably sat in a cave alone thinking how awesome and hot his new idea was. He never shared that flame, that fire, that passion for improving the collective culture. He probably expired in the cold after that flash extinguished.
I understood this concept as a new chief and strategically planned the introduction of my vision for organizational change. It was not wrapped around ego, but founded upon scientific principles of administration, theory, data analysis and old-fashioned accountability.
The Innovation element was the organizational reliance upon data with NHTSA’s Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS). This proven philosophy has realized significant reductions in social harms formerly plaguing communities deserving a better quality of life.
The Communications Channels used agency-wide introductions, e-mails, social media, public presentations and personal conversations to share the vision with actionable items for achieving quantifiable goals and performance standards. The element of time is the most difficult, because as chiefs we want it done yesterday. It is our idea, so it must be great and accepted immediately.
Time is critical, as is timing. I always reassure my staff that I will not be out worked or out waited. If you have been on the job more than a year, you know what I mean. Time can be your friend or your enemy. In a fraternity where the primary goal becomes earning pension, they also know how to leverage “time” against your innovative ideas.
The final element required for achieving diffusion of innovations are Social Systems. Who do you go to lunch with regularly? How many mealtimes have you and posse in tow walked out past other officers? As the leader of any organization it is vital that you do not allow that sense of comfort to control your actions. The perception of segregation or elitism spills water on the flame of your vision. Re-engage your team with your time and sincere attention.
Back to Officer Laggard. I explained to the Captain that an idea needs to reach a point of critical mass before becoming part of the culture. Reality is, not everyone will adopt your vision, as not everyone thought the “Flowbee” was great for cutting their own hair.
After convincing enough in your agency that the passion behind the vision produces sustainable results, they will also promote your vision and embrace it as their own. The good news is, you do not have to gain the support of every individual to obtain critical mass.
This is where I should have paid more attention in math and statistics courses, but here it goes. Remember the Bell curve that spared so many of us from failing grades? It’s here again to demonstrate the phases and population adoption percentages for achieving critical mass (acceptance.)
The Diffusion of Innovations “S” Curve chart
Cultural innovation, be it fire or an IPhone involve four types of people. Only a small percentage of the culture is Innovators. Only one Steve Jobs, William Bratton, or you! These innovations are embraced by the Early Adopters. These are the officers embracing the new zero tolerance for DWI enforcement, or the first in line for the IPhone 76. They will carry the flag of your vision faithfully, regardless the cost or inconvenience.
Your first big slice of the culture’s population is the Early Majority. Great news is, you are no longer the single voice preaching the powerfully positive influences of your vision. You’ve collected other Innovators and Early Adopters to carry your banner. You have now achieved critical mass, and your policies, practices and persona are eligible for cultural sustainment. Eligible I say, because nothing is guaranteed.
Rounding down the employee pool is the Late Majority who will comply because the others seem to be benefitting from it. This group will not respond to your motivational plea, only to your very specific directions for what it is you want them to accomplish. These employees are not contrary to the agency’s objective, but they are a reality and must be included in the vision sharing.
Finally, Officer Laggard. He will only embrace your ideology when placed in personal jeopardy. Let off the pedal and they are back to a dead stop. While you may rejoice once Officer Laggard retires, resigns or finds employment in a scrapyard, it is short lived euphoria. There will always be a percentage, although a very small subculture of your population, as laggards.
Maintain your focus and your presence. Laggards drain your creative energies and distract you from providing your best positive mentoring attentions to those officers willing to trust the new direction.
Being successful in leadership also involves the wise expenditure of personal energy and equity investments. A sure way to fail in supervision is believing you can satisfy everyone. Don’t neglect fanning the flames of your “team” because the laggard wants to sit out in the dark. Maybe the nocturnal wolf of unemployment will snatch him!
Learn more about this article here:
Rogers, E. M. (1960). Social change in rural society: A textbook in rural sociology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.
Scott Silverii, PhD is a native of south Louisiana’s Cajun Country and serving as the Chief of Police for the City of Thibodaux, Louisiana. Spending twenty-one previous years with a CALEA accredited Sheriff’s Office allowed opportunities for serving various capacities including 12 years narcotics, 16 years SWAT and Divisional Commands. Chief Silverii earned a Master of Public Administration and a Doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans, focusing his research on aspects of culture and organizations. A member of IACP’s prestigious Research Advisory Committee, Chief Silverii, author of “A Darker Shade of Blue: From Public Servant to Professional Deviant” and contributor for TheBadgeGuys, is available at [email protected], @ThibodauxChief, or http://scottsilverii.com