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Innovation Summit:

Risk in policing: Taking a balanced approach

OPEN Martin Wilson10th September 2018Martin Wilson, Management Consultant

Are you risk averse or risk tolerant?  Innovation Consultant at Idea Drop and former Head of Innovation for Kent and Essex Police Martin Wilson argues that to be successful the police service must strike a balance between the two.

The pace of change is accelerating as it did during the Industrial Revolution when mechanisation transformed manufacturing processes. Now we’re witnessing a whole new world of possibilities driven by an economic need to change and made possible by an explosion of new technologies – think AI, robotics, process automation, biometrics, facial recognition etc.

To remain competitive, relevant and efficient it is this ability to think differently and to see the opportunities that will become increasingly valuable to us all.

And it’s not all about technology either. We just don’t have the boundaries that we thought we had. It is perfectly possible to move work around the world, through time zones and across continents. Technology has enabled remote working, and this is now changing the actual employment model with a move towards self-employment and contracting.

No longer does a workforce need to be confined to corporate estate either – people can come to work only when there is a specific need to.

The challenge today is not just about embracing technology or new ways of working. It’s also about developing the new skills and competencies that will enable organisations and people to make the very best of the possibilities we have today.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” 
Albert Einstein

In both the public and the private sectors, we are witnessing an unprecedented level of change accompanied by a constant need to innovate. To remain competitive, relevant and efficient it is this ability to think differently and to see the opportunities that will become increasingly valuable to us all.

Risk Types

We each have different personal approaches to risk and there is a sliding scale from the ‘risk averse’ person to the ‘risk tolerant’ and the adventurous. These varied appetites for risk can all add value in given situations – there is no right or wrong way to be, but a problem may arise when there is a lack of balance and when one particular personality type has a disproportionate impact on culture.

Ways of thinking, approaches to risk and responses to failure are all skills and attributes that we should understand. Increasingly this is an area to be considered when looking to develop the capability to evolve and to transform in an organisational context.

The Risk Compass

RISK AVERSE

RISK TOLERANT

(Risk Compass courtesy of www.psycological-consultancy.com)

The Banking Industry

There have been spectacular failures in the banking industry caused by so called ‘rogue-traders’. A value may be attributed to risk taking but where that is not balanced with prudence, deliberation and regulation we can see calculated risk mutating into reckless risk taking. Nick Leeson brought down Barings Bank gambling away £827m, Kweku Adoboli lost $2bn trading equities for UBS and Morgan Stanley lost $9bn on sub-prime mortgages in the US.

An associated problem in the financial industry is the regulatory response to such events – so rare but catastrophic failures are responded to with new regulation and this in turn can stifle change and inhibit innovation. Rather than taking calculated risk there is a temptation to try to design out risk. As we move down that path risk becomes a bad thing and mistakes are met with blame. There is always some risk so what matters is our approach and our response when things go wrong.

Risk in Policing

The same phenomenon occurs in policing where inspection regimes and inquiries lead, over time, to recommendations and new guidance that when taken together can also inhibit or stifle approaches to change. 

The same phenomenon occurs in policing where inspection regimes and inquiries lead, over time, to recommendations and new guidance that when taken together can also inhibit or stifle approaches to change. Perhaps there is always a chance that approaches to risk will be more conservative in an organisation that essentially exists to manage risk down.   

It is all about balance. We need different approaches to risk in different situations. In policing we may not want a critical incident commander who could be described as impulsive, carefree and adventurous. But, equally we may not look for a Head of Change who is too wary, prudent or risk-averse.

Understanding these points leads us to consider how individual approaches to risk are measured and how they are assessed in selection procedures. Perhaps a better approach is to assess and to fully understand how the people and the organisation deal with risk. Taking calculated risk has its place and where organisations really want to engender a culture of innovation this comes with the probability of failure as well as of success.  

Martin Wilson will be taking part in the Blue Light Innovation Summit in Northern England, hosted in partnership with Lancashire Constabulary. The summit takes place 2 October 2018 and is designed to connect, inspire and showcase the best innovation projects and initiatives across blue light services. For more information, please email [email protected]or you can apply to attend here 


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