Leadership Spotlight

Recognizing Your Organization’s Culture

Stock image of a silver police badge.

In today’s world, police are under the proverbial microscope like never before. Each action is scrutinized both internally and externally. With the advent of body cameras, security monitors, and other technological advances throughout society, our officers function in a “fishbowl.” Leaders must do everything possible to stay ahead of the awareness curve and identify potential problem areas in their organization’s culture.

What is organizational culture? I will offer a couple of key points pertaining to this broad topic. Organizational culture is unique to every agency and comprises specific values, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and customs.1 Your culture results from both your written and unwritten rules. It can be what people think of when your organization is mentioned.

Police leaders must keep the concept of organizational culture in the forefront of their minds and constantly evaluate how their agencies are perceived. And, more important, why! An excellent tool to accomplish this is Dr. Edgar Schein’s model, in which he divides organizational culture into three categories.

1) Artifacts include anything about your agency that is published or constantly visible to the public.

2) Espoused values encompass how your organization accomplishes its mission. They are more visible to those who interact with your agency.

3) Underlying assumptions or beliefs drive the way your organization does business. If they remain consistent with published and trained organizational values, your agency’s culture likely is sound. Sadly, here is where practice may not meet policy. Unwritten rules, shortcuts, or inadvisable practices that are rationalized or tolerated usually reveal themselves in a critical incident or scandal.2

If police leaders meet regularly as a team to identify or reidentify their artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions or beliefs, they likely can find trouble spots before a critical incident or scandal occurs. This can be accomplished even at the unit level. What it takes is intentionality in remaining aware of your organization’s culture.

Supervisory Special Agent Matthew Rebuck, an instructor in the Executive Programs Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at mwrebuck@fbi.gov.

1 For a full definition, see Business Dictionary, s.v. “organizational culture,” accessed August 27, 2019, http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/organizational-culture.html.
2 Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 4th ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2010), accessed August 29, 2019, https://archive.org/stream/EdgarHScheinOrganizationalCultureAndLeadership/Edgar_H_Schein_Organizational_culture_and_leadership_djvu.txt.