Can Bratton Save New York? Part 6: Executing Change


We’re in the home stretch of our seven-part series investigating the tension between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio. We began this series by conducting a thorough diagnosis to identify the systemic challenge that we believe is the root cause behind the turmoil in New York. We responded to our diagnosis by developing a comprehensive strategy to address this challenge.

Last week, we began our execution phase, which prepared the factions and key players for change. Had we rushed into implementation, we risked being another cause that gets sidelined and spit out. Instead, we needed to construct the atmosphere that prepared the players for change. This week we dive deeper into the Execution Stage of DSX with Step 6: Implement the Solution.

While it’s time to jump into action, we still need to be deliberate with the process, acting judiciously and with intent. Can all of the components be initiated at the same time? What do we do if we start to see certain elements failing? Is it wise to be authoritarian with our implementation process, or is there a more savvy tact? This week’s goal is to implement the strategy that we developed in Part 4 and prepared for last week.

The outcome from this step is momentum for change. We have spent the last five steps preparing for this moment. Now, we apply all that preparation to generate impact towards our challenge.

Step 6: Implement the Solution

It is tempting to think that after painstakingly developing a strategy, it will adequately and completely solve the problem. After all, isn’t that the point of a strategy? Unfortunately, solving our challenge isn’t like solving a math problem. It’s not as simple as setting your eyes on the goal and then finding the quickest route to get there. There is no easy ready-made answer. A sustainable solution will only be reached through an experimental process, filled with iterations and course-corrections.

The implementation process, thus, becomes an exercise in three tactics: giving the work back, orchestrating conflict, and thinking politically.

Giving the Work Back

One of the most common ways that people succeed is by being good problem solvers. Provide solutions and you’ll likely win over that next job interview or guarantee your next promotion. In fact, most people in senior leadership roles have gotten there by solving problems and executing better than their peers. In the case of aligning police tactics, however, this tactic will be ineffective.

To make progress, we must first recognize with whom the work lies. The work doesn’t lie with Commissioner Bratton or even the task force that we recommended he form. They have been assigned responsibility to make progress, but the work itself lies with the factions. The factions themselves must take ownership and come up with their own ideas for there to be sustainable headway. Any other approach is almost certain to lead to only a short-term fix or outright failure.

Consider Commissioner Bratton or the task force using an authoritarian or dictatorial approach with NYPD reforms. The chain of command may “step into line” for the short term. They may even publically agree with the new policies, heralding Commissioner Bratton’s leadership. But soon, resistance will emerge. The change is going to be too uncomfortable. Some will advocate reverting to traditional routines. The more authoritarian the approach gets, the more resistance emerges. Soon, the issue is no longer about acceptable police tactics but about Commissioner Bratton himself. The entire issue becomes personalized and the likelihood of success diminishes.

In Part 4, we outlined six tangible recommendations as the Internal NYPD Reforms arm of the strategy. However, we left the rest intentionally vague. The precise means to institute these recommendations will come from the NYPD working group. This is why it so important that the working group (that the task force recruits) be adequately diverse. It will be their responsibility to use their vast knowledge to come up with techniques that withstand resistance across the Department.

In this way, the purpose of the task force is not to take the place of Commissioner Bratton, commanding and controlling, but to ensure that the work stays at the center of the working group’s collective attention. Their role is to mobilize and pace change for the only group that can effectively institute NYPD reforms: members of the NYPD itself.

Orchestrating Conflict

Last week, we discussed the concept of a holding environment and how we like to use the metaphor of a pressure cooker. For a pressure cooker to do its job, there must be a flame. Similarly, for progress to be made on systemic challenges, there must be simmering, and sometimes, boiling. As unpleasant as it may seem, only with emotional discomfort does clarity emerge that existing tools and tactics are insufficient.

The primary tool for generating this disruption is conflict. We need to orchestrate conflict so that the players are provoked outside of their comfort zone and out of the status quo. Remember, only after it is accepted that our typical routines will not adequately serve us, does the space open for innovation and creative thinking. To produce this conflict we might:

  • Draw attention to tough questions

  • Shorten the deadline

  • Reduce the budget

  • Give people more responsibility than they are comfortable

  • Surface interpersonal tensions

Orchestrating conflict takes a keen eye because sensitivity to conflict varies. Some are able to withstand considerable friction, while others are quite sensitive to it. It is important to remember that a customized approach will be necessary, regularly gauging tolerance. Furthermore, not all conflict should be produced at once. Sequencing and staggering will be necessary so that fatigue is managed.

If conflict is used too bluntly, people are going to reach their limit and will respond using one of the three F’s: fight, flight or freeze. At that point, they will become triggered, will be too consumed with the conflict, and will be unable to contribute to progress on the challenge. Orchestrating conflict is very much walking a tightrope: produce too little and nothing will get done, produce too much and you overload those you need to make progress.

All three arms of our strategy will require that conflict is orchestrated, but this is particularly salient within Community Engagement. One of the goals of working with community leaders and activists will be influence them to face their own communities to surface ways in which they must change internally.

To get community members “simmering” so that they begin to think and act innovatively will require deftness and grace from Bratton’s task force, knowing when to turn up the heat but also when to cool it down. We would be remiss if we overlooked naturally occurring conflict. There is a national conversation occurring regarding police tactics in a way that it has never occurred before. This, in of itself, is stoking the fire. Most recently, we’ve sustained another tragedy, the murder of Walter Scott in South Carolina. For some communities this event will be a catalyzing force that compels them to work faster to find new tactics. For other communities, however, this is a triggering event that tests their tolerance. Asking anymore at this moment would be unwise and unproductive. Remember, the pressure cooker only works when it “cooks”, not when it explodes.

Thinking Politically

For many, Thinking Politically is akin to thinking like a politician, doing anything to achieve your goal, no matter how morally bankrupt (e.g. Frank Underwood from House of Cards). We are not advocating acting disingenuous and duplicitous for personal gain. Instead, Thinking Politically refers to placing deliberate attention on relationships and the personal side of the mission.

At the end of the day, it will be the strength of relationships that will create the conditions to produce alignment. To that end, there are basic things that can be done to bolster relationships:

  • Accept responsibility – Each of the factions has in some way contributed to our current reality, even those who are leading the charge towards progress. Accepting this, vocally, increases the willingness for others to partner with you.

  • Model the behavior – Words are simply not enough. It is the action that convinces people that you really believe what you are saying and that you are willing to commit.

  • Keep the opposition close – Even those opposing you have valid values, loyalties and losses. They are critical to your success, so you must keep them close and consider their opposing viewpoint.

  • Acknowledge loss – It is not change that makes adaptive work difficult. It is the loss. You are asking people to accept loss for some purpose. Discounting this does everyone a disservice.

As antagonistic as union leadership has been in the media, it would be appealing to label them as an impediment to progress, and to actively exclude them from the process. Doing that, however, would be a critical error. It would be far more destructive to our cause than whatever convenience we may gain.

Though their rhetoric has been incendiary, the fact is that they represent a valuable perspective and are far more useful as an asset than an enemy. Instead of dismissing them and what they represent, they should be actively engaged and kept close, acknowledging the loss we’re asking them to sustain and understanding the values that are in opposition. Furthermore, it’s not so far-fetched that what is portrayed in the media is only the most salacious version of the truth. What is said behind closed doors could be much closer aligned than what is broadcast.

Now that we’ve kicked off implementation and are using tools that allow us to collectively solve our challenge, how do we know if we’re succeeding? Is there a way we can measure progress? And, how do we manage ourselves when things are going awry? We’ll conclude our series next week with Part 7: Developing Success.

In summary, this week we:

  1. Channeled all of our planning and preparation and focused it towards implementing the strategy.

  2. Adopted an experimental mindset, understanding that our strategy is only the starting point, not the end game. Iteration and course-correction will be necessary.

  3. Instead of directing, used the tools of giving the work back, orchestrating conflict, and thinking politically to mobilize factions for a sustainable solution.

This week, we continue to Step 6 in DSX: Implement the Solution. The time has come to jump into action, but how do we execute judiciously and with intent?

This week, we continue to Step 6 in DSX: Implement the Solution. The time has come to jump into action, but how do we execute judiciously and with intent?

The factions themselves must take ownership of the work. Any other approach will result in only a short-term fix, or outright failure.

The factions themselves must take ownership of the work. Any other approach will result in only a short-term fix, or outright failure.