Can Bratton Save New York? Part 5: Preparing for Change


We’re entering the second half of our seven-part series analyzing the tensions between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio. In the first three parts – the Diagnosis stage - we identified the underlying systemic challenge, which we believe to be the root cause behind the turmoil we saw in New York in the second half of 2014:

The underlying challenge is a misalignment in acceptable police tactics, especially in regards to use of force.

Last week in Part 4, we responded to our diagnosis by developing a comprehensive strategy to address this challenge. The resulting strategy was composed of a three-pronged approach:


This week we begin the Execution Stage of DSX with Step 5: Build the Foundation.

Now that the strategy has been developed, it’s time to start executing that strategy. But, we can’t begin implementation just yet. We need to prepare for change, else we risk being another cause that gets sidelined and spit out. Who are partners that have bought into our vision and are ready to forge ahead? Which stakeholders are more suspicious of our agenda and are taking a tenuous position? Are there some around the table that don’t believe in the strategy at all and are waiting to voice their resistance as soon as the first misstep occurs? This week’s goal is to construct the atmosphere that prepares all the players for change.

The outcomes from this step are that the key stakeholders have been engaged and we have created an environment that optimizes the likelihood of success. Effectively, this step builds a foundation amongst the players so when the going gets tough (as it inevitably will), there is a common underpinning that will keep everyone in the game.

The Holding Environment

One thing that differentiates adaptive work is that it hits both above and below the neck. Most of our days are filled with problems that only require an intellectual understanding of what needs to be done and how to engage. In Part 2, we described this as technical work. Recall the process or engage the expert and you’re on your way. Adaptive challenges require this intellectual capacity, but this alone is insufficient. Adaptive work requires emotional resilience.

To describe a holding environment, we like to use the metaphor of a pressure cooker. Ordinarily, people operate (or try to operate) in familiar territory with as little added stress as possible. This is the equivalent of simply sitting in the empty pot. Nothing’s getting done. For the pressure cooker to do its job, there must be a flame. Similarly, for progress to be made on systemic challenges, there must be a simmering, and sometimes, even boiling. There is an emotional discomfort that needs to take place, below the neck, so that it becomes painfully clear that existing tools and tactics are insufficient. Only when it is accepted that our typical routines will not adequately serve us, does the space open for innovation and creative thinking.

Simmering and boiling are both needed for progress, but if we apply too much heat (just like in cooking) the pressure cooker can burst. This is what we saw last December and will likely see again if the challenge is not adequately addressed. New York’s holding environment was unable to tolerate the strain under which it was placed and we witnessed the pressure cooker fracture. In the wake of the Eric Garner non-indictment, there were protests in the streets, two brave officers lost their lives, and the Unions, the NYPD and the Mayor’s office were slugging each other out in the media. All efforts had to be placed on the quelling the unrest. There simply wasn’t any capacity for adaptive work.

Before we can implement our strategy, we must build and fortify the vessel that will allow us to do this work. We must build a stronger holding environment so that people can sustain the added pressure they will feel.

There are two fundamental components of a holding environment: vertical and lateral bonds. Vertical bonds are composed of the relationships, trust and confidence that individuals have with those up and down the chain of command. It is belief in the authority structure and a conviction in those in positions of authority. Similarly, lateral bonds are composed of the relationships, trust and confidence that individuals have amongst peers. This takes the form of a camaraderie and understanding that colleagues build.

While it’s preferable to have robustness in both dimensions, this is not required. We’ve seen resilient holding environments that have had relatively weak vertical bonds, but only if the lateral ones overcompensate. The opposite can also be true.

Step 5: Build the Foundation

For each of the three arms in our strategy, we recommend the following environment-building tactics. The purpose behind these tactics is to create reinforced structures so that when pressure and heat is applied, there will be resilience and the players will stay in the game.


An initiative of this magnitude and complexity will require a number of people for which this is their top priority. Thus, the first step is to assemble a small task force, reporting directly to Commissioner Bratton. The task force will have one simple, yet audacious mission based on the challenge we identified: gain widespread alignment for police tactics in New York.

When selecting members for this team, there is one overriding criteria: an ardent belief in the team’s mission and a fanatical commitment to its aspiration. Success will require that this work is infused with purpose and meaning for those shepherding the effort. So, belief and commitment is paramount.

The team will then need to recruit a working group of partners from across the NYPD, spanning both geography and rank. The task force should seek out working group members that have a similar belief in the task force’s mission. They will serve as reform ambassadors for the task force, also being the eyes and ears of the initiative. The working group should create and enforce norms of confidentiality at meetings as it will be expected for members to “break rank”, openly engaging in vigorous debate.

To build vertical bonds, the chain of command needs to be strengthened where there is weakness. Vertical bonds are particularly vital in organizations that require strong hierarchical structures, such as police forces. To strengthen these bonds, specific attention should be placed on those departments where commanding officers have materially lost the confidence of their subordinates. Department wide, vertical bonds can be fortified by either revisiting past initiatives that are still priorities, or openly communicating they are being discontinued. Leaving loose ends is a metastasizing cancer that causes confusion and discord.

For example, there was a department-wide survey that Commissioner Bratton distributed upon his appointment. It was a breakthrough initiative for an organization that has only recently begun to solicit feedback from below. There have been few, if any, follow-ups on the information submitted. It is these sorts of practices that erode confidence and raise disillusionment.

There is a special type of solidarity that is pervasive in public service organizations, particularly those where individuals are choosing to put themselves in harms way. Thus, it is our estimation that lateral bonds are strong. To maintain this, continue practices where relationships can thrive amongst peers while on duty and otherwise.

COMMUNITY Engagement

One or more members of Commissioner Bratton’s task force will need to oversee the Community Engagement arm of the strategy. Similar to the selection of an internal reforms working group, the community building effort should start by targeting neighborhood and community activist / organizing leaders with whom to partner. Again, ample diversity in geography and community affiliation is desired alongside a belief in the task force’s vision.

Selecting community leaders is important, as the task force wants to be in relationship with someone the communities have decided to trust. However, the task force needn’t only approach those holding positions of authority. Community leaders who have great informal authority, but don’t hold a formal position would also make effective and valuable partners. Every community has those members who aren’t in the spotlight, but nonetheless provide valued counsel and influence decisions. These individuals should be sought out.

Even the mere process of building these relationships will take time as the task force will be combatting scar tissue from years of distrust stemming from abuses of authority, both real and perceived. The building of this foundation is crucial, so task force members will need to continue to find ways to engage, to be of value, and to be helpful to the community leaders. With persistence and time, the past will begin to fade in light of coalescence around the shared mission and purpose.

As the bonds between the task force and community leaders / activists continue to build, it will be similarly important to monitor the bonds between the community members themselves. Keep in mind that both need to strengthen together to have a robust and resilient holding environment. It may be tempting for task force members to celebrate as trust forms between them and the community leaders, but this is not a victory if it comes at the cost of lost confidence by the community or amongst themselves.

One quick environment-building tactic the task force can use is to start producing public service announcements (PSAs) as part of a public relations campaign that shines the light of transparency on police procedures and educates the public. There is a wealth of misinformation that is spread due to a simple lack of awareness. Better managing of that message is a straightforward tactic that immediately adds to the foundation. Another example is hosting youth events that highlight human side of NYPD officers with their community. Sports are a universal connector that should be explored, such as community softball games or basketball games that put police and citizens on the same side of a friendly competition.


The Media, the Unions and the Mayor’s administration are each complex institutions, but we group them for our purposes as they each derive their power and legitimacy from their constituencies. The Unions are present to serve their members of the NYPD and the Media and the Mayor’s administration each serve the community or public at-large. We’ve outlined tactics to prepare each of their constituencies. If executed effectively, momentum will build and these institutions will respond to the needs of those they serve.

That said, institutional inertia is a powerful obstruction and Commissioner Bratton can only help himself by engaging with these institutions to lower the amount of momentum needed to activate a shift. To that end, Commissioner Bratton is already well positioned in his role to directly interface with Mayor de Blasio. He should continue to garner support through his service as a trusted advisor and partner directly with the mayor as strong coordination will allow them to achieve mutual interests.

The task force can simultaneously leverage relationships of well-placed, like-minded individuals in the Unions and the Media. It’s our understanding that, in the past, there have been obstructionist practices towards reporters and journalists. In an effort to engender trust and goodwill, any legacy habits should be phased out. Similarly, with the Unions, we’re happy to see that four out of the five unions have ratified contracts with the mayor. Any progress that can be made on the outstanding issue with PBA will only serve to lower friction and pave the way for this effort.

Now that we’ve built the vessel that will support and contain the work, how do we implement the strategy? Can all of the components be initiated at the same time? And, what do we do if we start to see certain elements failing? We’ll pick up there next week with Part 6: Executing Change.

In summary, this week we:

  1. Moved from the strategy stage into the execution stage to start effecting change on the systemic challenge by putting the strategy into practice.

  2. Resisted forging ahead on a blind implementation path only to be prematurely sidelined. Instead, focused on identifying the right supporters internally.

  3. Prepared the players and the atmosphere by building vertical and lateral bonds resulting in a robust and resilient holding environment.

This week, we continue to Step 5 in DSX: Build the Foundation. How can we prepare for change to create the highest likelihood for success?

This week, we continue to Step 5 in DSX: Build the Foundation. How can we prepare for change to create the highest likelihood for success?