Take Policing From a Training Culture to a Learning Culture


I just did a soon to be released podcast with Brian Willis on the importance developing adaptive leaders and shifting police training cultures to a more resilient learning culture. As luck would have it I came across a great article over on the Association for Talent Development "From a Training Culture to a Learning Culture" by  Stephen Gill that in my humble opinion we in policing could learn a lot from. In policing we often look at training as an event driven, instructor centered delivery of information designed to tell people what to think. If an instructor did not teach tell you what to do, well, then you were not trained. If you did not attend, or go online and take a class, then you were not considered to be trained. In a learning culture, learning is constant. As the graph illustrates above the clear differences between a linear training culture and an evolving learning culture. as Peter Senge explains, a learning organization is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.

This means that organizations need to develop a culture that supports learning. Organizational culture, according to Edgar Schein, has three levels: deep underlying beliefs and assumptions, values and principles that structure action, and the symbols and artifacts that are visible in the workplace. Culture shapes the behaviors of people in the organization. Do managers encourage employees to learn and develop competencies? Do employees have the opportunity to learn in the work flow? Are they allowed to seek out knowledge and skills on their own? Can they take risks and experiment? Are the structures and activities of the organization aligned with sharing information among business units? Is the workplace conducive to social learning? 

Considering the types of environments, crises and adversaries the police officer will probably face on the streets of the future is it not time for a change in the bureaucratic processes associated with training to a learning system that affects individual and organizational decision making and sustaining cohesive departments? A police cultural change that embraces fully a philosophy of a decentralized bias for action based upon a high degree of professional trust and confidence between leaders and the led.

This type of learning philosophy will provide principles for exercising good judgment in unique situations, not formulas and checklists. Although specific tools i.e. weapons etc. and basic procedures are ingrained through training and repetition, this philosophy advocates adaptability in the application of the techniques on the street and the lessons learned from every incident.

A learning culture is about continuous improvement that achieves the outcomes they seek. These outcomes measured in tangible and intangible factors in context with the actual circumstances that took place, the decisions made and the rational behind those decisions.    This is quite different than training that offers a a school solution, policy and procedure, checklist or standard operating procedures to a list of problems that may be encountered. Instead a learning culture understands policies and procedures must be written in such a way that specifics are left to the cops on the street facing the problem, a bottoms up approach whose vast experience and education will allow him to pick the right solution for the right situation (mutual trust is crucial here).

A learning culture recognizes at the tactical level, an officer will make decisions according to the particular conditions of environment, the adversary or crisis his own resources and the overall mission and intent set by the leaders of the department using his best judgment. Currently, police training centers on teaching specific techniques or habits so they can be repeated in a consistent manner regardless of conditions.

The difference between how we currently train and prepare versus the philosophy of learning I am advocating is similar to the difference between techniques and tactics. Techniques require inflexibility and repetition, while tactics require flexibility, good judgment and creativity. Officers can only gain the ability to execute this new philosophy with experience and education, stressing learning day to day, on every call.  Training is about developing people and to develop people we must take advantage of every opportunity to make problem solving and sound decision making as fluid and effective as we can.

In a training culture, the training and development function is centralized. The training department controls the resources for learning. Employees and their managers assume that if new competencies are needed, they can rely on this centralized function. In a learning culture, learning is decentralized. The entire organization is engaged in facilitating and supporting learning, in and outside the workplace. 

In a training culture, departmental units in the organization compete for information. Each unit wants to know more and control more than the other units. This competition can result in short-term gains for those units and even for the organization as a whole. In a learning culture, knowledge and skills are shared freely among units. Everyone is working to help everyone else learn from the successes and failures across the organization. This creates a more sustainable and adaptable organization. 

Do we continue to solely Train and Tell Them What To Think and Do…or is it time we adapt and develop a Learning Culture That Teaches Them How To Think and Do? The answer seems obvious to me. What do you say?

Stay Oriented!