Imagine a police force that handed out firearms to its officers without training them.
Or one that chose to opt out of established good practice for investigating serious crime.
Or one that refused to work with partner agencies because it didn’t feel like it.
Or a force that allowed untrained officers to pursue criminals at high speed in fast cars.
The consequences would be predictable and these sorts of irresponsible actions would quite rightly attract criticism and incredulity.
So why is it any different for performance management? How can individuals be expected to use performance information wisely when they don’t fully understand it because they’ve never been trained? How can some managers be allowed to ignore the widespread evidence that dysfunction is likely to result from certain practices, such as the use of numerical targets, binary comparisons or league tables? Why are untrained people handed such responsibility and just expected to ask the right questions about the right things?
It’s time to professionalise police performance management.
Leaders at all levels must be equipped to ask different questions, using legitimate forms of performance information as a starting point for understanding the whole system – they also need to stop asking for products that are fundamentally illegitimate, simply because they are comfortable with the format.
Decision makers require trusted expert analysts to act as specialist tactical advisors, providing them with fit-for-purpose, contextualised performance information. It’s no different to calling in expertise from hostage negotiators, search specialists, firearms or public order tac advisors.
The police service needs clear national guidance and bespoke training programmes that provide leaders with a real understanding of performance measurement and management, along with its implications. We need to completely reframe and reorient the performance conversation from one that fixates on simplistic concerns about whether something appears to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to one that uses performance information as an evidence base for making good decisions, understanding, learning and improving. We need to stop trying to out-do each other, blaming individuals and using the wrong mechanisms to ask the wrong questions about the wrong things.
Finally, dare I say it, but there’s probably even a place for HMIC, ensuring that forces don’t flagrantly disregard good performance practices simply because they feel like opting out – I’m sure there would be outcry if a force chose to ignore its responsibilities to protect vulnerable children, or let untrained officers loose with firearms, and quite rightly so.
Managing complex investigations, running firearms operations and driving fast cars requires high levels of training, professionalism, and responsibility.
It shouldn’t be any different for performance management.