Leading the way to a new era of CPD

How coaching transformed Oldham police division's approach to leadership development - By John Baxter, head of public sector, LSN

Bob Jones, Chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, has said of the police services' approach to leadership development: "There is a habit of throwing people in at the deep end and hoping that they will swim."

If you agree with Mr Jones's assessment, you are in good company. The National Police Improvement Agency has identified leadership development as a critical area for UK police forces to improve upon in the coming decade. More collaborative approaches that go beyond the force's traditionally disciplined and hierarchical managerial style will be critical to ensuring strong, community-minded police leaders for the future.

To support the police's current leadership programme, Oldham Police Division, part of the Greater Manchester Police, implemented a focused internal coaching training programme as a cost-effective solution to increasing the division's focus on leadership and talent development.

It is well proven that using staff currently in post to identify and help train future leaders is a successful method for personnel development, but has historically been overlooked by many police departments due to a culture that favours tactical knowledge and training over the softer skills of professional development, such as leadership, mentoring, and coaching.

Beyond developing internal talent, for Oldham solutions-focused coaching was a way to resolve other internal management issues, including:

• Working more effectively across silos
• Encouraging managers to delegate more
• Helping staff better identify and troubleshoot obstacles
• Building confidence for managers to take more responsibility more quickly
• Encouraging individuals to take greater personal responsibility

In collaboration with LSN trainers, Oldham Police rolled out two coaching courses: coaching skills training for managers, and a more specialised course to develop internal coaching champions, who could in turn help other managers build their coaching skills.

Coaching skills for managers

Recognising that it did not have the systems in place to identify and foster high potential staff, Oldham's senior leadership team saw training middle managers in coaching and mentoring as a good first step toward fostering internal talent development. LSN and Oldham initially offered a management coaching skills course to 60 middle managers working across the division - a mix of staff and officers. Some officers admitted to being sceptical about the training before attending, believing that soft techniques would not be effective in a 'disciplined organisation' like the police, where staff is much more familiar giving and receiving directive orders, rather than encouraging or empowering their teams.

However, LSN's solutions-focused approach gave staff and officers practical steps to make their management style more effective. LSN knew what Oldham wanted to get out of the training more widely (delegation, motivation, and increased personal responsibility), so it worked with managers to develop the tools and techniques to address these issues within their teams when they returned to work. Specifically, the managers focussed on: helping their teams to solve seemingly permanent problems; improving their overall management styles; and identifying and supporting high potential staff to develop their skills, confidence, and leadership potential.
Following the LSN training, those sceptical managers admitted that gaining the soft skills to coach others was a major benefit not only to themselves, but was also having a positive impact on their staff and the force as a whole. Successful coaches make staff work harder and more efficiently, while also giving them freedom to make decisions and overcome problems that had previously seemed impossible to fix.

Most importantly, Oldham found that once its managers were trained coaches, they had the confidence to begin identifying future leadership talent, and fostering that talent through a combination of individual coaching and more formal training.

Internal coaching and mentoring

Despite its success, Oldham looked beyond middle management coaching training to achieve its goal of embedding coaching into the day-to-day ethos of the organisation. Working with LSN to deliver internal coaching training, Oldham selected a dozen high potential managers within the force to participate in an intensive bespoke course that prepared them to share specialised coaching techniques with colleagues and coach/mentors across the organisation.

Throughout the internal coaching training, the selected leaders were shown a range of tools to engage staff in "owning" projects, to help junior teams realise advancement opportunities, and to develop a culture of mentoring and support from above that would become the norm within the Oldham police force.

Following the successful "training the trainers" initiative with LSN, Oldham now invites all new staff members to an introductory session with a coach, where it explains the critical role coaching and mentoring play within CPD and career progression within the force.

Oldham's HR Manager, Tracy Booth, said that as a result of the training, "Oldham has seen individual staff members take more responsibility for their learning, and team members are reporting that their managers' leadership skills have improved.

Coaches provide support to junior staff, run effective teams, and are great talent management scouts to support our HR function. All in all, coaching has been a huge success - it has improved our officers' sense of team work and responsibility, as well as putting the proper processes in place to develop internal leaders."

To learn more about LSN's leadership training and bespoke CPD solutions, please visit www.lsnlearning.org.uk or contact John Baxter on 07500 799 280.

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