Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department

This post in an excerpt from The Quality Leadership Workbook for Police by Chief David Couper and Captain Sabine Lobitz (buy via Amazon).

cover image of the New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police

The New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police

Transformational Steps
A Case Study Madison, Wisconsin (1981-1993)

Step 1: Educate and inform everyone in the organization about the vision, the goals, and Quality Leadership. This step must be passionately led by the top leader.

  • Begin discussion with top management team and train them.
  • Discuss and ask employees; get feedback from them.
  • Share feedback with the chief and his management team.
  • Get buy-in from top department managers.
  • Survey external customers—citizens; those who live and work in the community.
  • Create an employee’s advisory council; ask, listen, inform, and keep them up to date on what’s going on.
  • The chief keeps on message; tells, sells, and persuades, newsletters, meetings and all available media.

Step 2: Prepare for the transformation. Before police services to the community can be improved, it is essential to prepare the inside first — to cast a bold vision and to have leaders that would “walk the talk.”

  • Appoint a top-level, full-time coordinator to train, coach, and assist in the transformation.
  • Form another employee council to work through problems and barriers encountered during implementation of the transformation and Quality Leadership.
  • Require anyone who seeks to be a leader to have the knowledge and ability to practice Quality Leadership.

Step 3: Teach Quality Leadership. This begins at the top with the chief and the chief’s management team.

  • Train all organizational leaders in Quality Leadership.
  • Train all employees as to what Quality Leadership is, why the transformation is necessary, and what it means for them.

Step 4: Start practicing Quality Leadership. If top managers within the organization are not authentically practicing Quality Leadership neither will anyone else.

  • Require department leaders to begin to practice Quality Leadership.
  • Begin a system of employee feedback to all department leaders.
  • Top leaders are required to identify three to five things under their control that need improving, inform their employees, work on the improvements, and take responsibility for them.
  • Top leaders required to develop a plan to demonstrate their advocacy for Quality Leadership methods and the goals of the transformation.
  • Top leaders identify and share with each other and their employees on a weekly basis the improvements they are working on and those they have accomplished together with those who they are privileged to lead.

Step 5: Check progress and make corrections.

  • During monthly meetings for first-line and mid-managers, the chief asks them how they are doing and they report their efforts and successes with data.
  • Make changes, if necessary, to make the organization more responsive to Quality Leadership.
  • An elected, rank-and-file police officer, is added to the chief’s management team.

Step 6: Make continual organizational improvements. Sustain the effort!

  • This step is an ongoing process—it is continuous improvement within the organization. It is understood that if an organization stays as it is, it is, in reality, falling behind. Innovation and experimentation become organizational values. Transformational goals are reached and there are data to prove successes.

Along with a plan to transform into a more customer-oriented organization that was internally collaborative and deeply listened to both employees and citizens, Madison developed a leadership style they called Quality Leadership.

You may ask what the role of Quality Leadership was in the transformational process? To put it bluntly, unless Madison changed their top-down leadership style within the organization they knew they were not going to be able to sustain any of the other changes.

This may be the major finding of Madison’s experience!

To get a snapshot of what went on within the Madison department during this time of intense organizational transformation, see the following ten years of organizational effort (1981 to 1993) that occurred and the steps that were taken.

Madison’s Transformational Timeline

Year one

  • An elected Officers’ Advisory Council (OAC) is created.

Year four

  • Committee on the Future of the Department formed.

Year five

  • Committee on the Future of the Department issues its report and the chief acts on the report.

Year six

  • Neighborhood Service Officers are created in six city districts.
  • A mission statement is developed by the management team and shared with the department.
  • Experimental Police District (EPD) planning team is created.
  • The EPD begins to survey internal and external customers as to their needs.
  • The city begins a quality and productivity (QP) improvement program.
  • Twelve principles of Quality Leadership (QL) are developed for police leaders.
  • Employee information sessions are held on the transformation, why it is needed, how it will take place, and what it will look like when it is in place — every department member attends, sworn and non-sworn employees and the chief personally teaches each session demonstrating the importance of this and his commitment.
  • Team leader/facilitator training begins within the department.

Year seven

  • All department leaders are trained in Quality Leadership.
  • A customer survey form is developed, pretested, and sent out to randomly- selected citizen-customers who have had police contact.
  • The first department transformational coordinator is appointed by the chief.
  • A Quality Leadership Council (QLC) is formed consisting of “champions” throughout the department who have committed themselves to help the chief keep the transformational improvements going and support the 12 principles of leadership.
  • The QLC begins work on and solve the number-one problem identified by police officers: the existing promotional system.
  • The OAC given final decision-making authority on the selection of patrol vehicles and personal weapons.

Year eight

  • An experimental police district is established in South Madison. The first step in achieving the vision of a decentralized, citizen-focused police service.
  • A three-day training program is held on Quality Leadership, the system of transformation, and the bold vision the department is pursuing.
  • The reorganization—top staff and bureaus of the department are organized into functional working teams.
  • The chief holds progress checks and listening sessions with all leaders during one-day sessions – the vision, Quality Leadership, and systems of improvement are the topics.

Year nine

  • The Four-Way (360 degree) check is expanded and requires all leaders to solicit input from subordinates, peers, the chief, and then to do a self-assessment as to how they are contributing to the transformation.
  • Leaders’ “check-ins” with the chief continue.
  • As part of the implementation of the Committee on the Future of the Department, planning for the Quality Leadership academy begins (which is part of the new promotional process).
  • The chief continues to highlight, inside and outside the department, what the department has so far learned and achieved.
  • The police union president joins the chief’s management team as a full voting member.

Year ten

  • The leadership academy begins for all aspirants for promotion and is one of the recommendations from the OAC.
  • Field operations are decentralized into four areas of the city – central, south, east, north and west. At this point, only the EPD has a building.
  • The chief continues to stress teamwork, Quality Leadership, and use of improvement methods in order to continue the process of transformation.

Year eleven

  • The department focuses more intently on who their customers are.
  • The department begins city-wide customer surveying.
  • The chief begins check-ins with detectives regarding decentralization and how their work can be improved.
  • The number of neighborhood foot patrol officers are increased.

Year twelve

  • A leadership workbook is published describing what the department has learned during the transformational process. Other departments call for and purchase the workbook. Others send members to look on-site at what the department is doing.
  • More neighborhood foot patrol officers are added increasing the number to thirteen. They staff independent, foot patrol assignments in key areas of the city.
  • A citywide cross-functional team is begun with other city departments as to how we can work together and learn from one another. Trained facilitators are shared with other city departments.
  • A neighborhood intervention task force is created to address growing gang and drug problems within the city.
  • Information from the Customer Surveys is broken down by neighborhood districts and shared with them.

Year thirteen

The envisioned future

  • Continuously improve.
  • Achieve excellence.
  • “Customers” are highly satisfied.
  • The Quality Leadership is the norm.

The important questions that still need to be asked

  • What is the business of policing?

    The care of people; specifically, meeting their safety and protection needs which contribute to the overall quality of life in our city.

  • What is the goal of policing?

    To create a feeling of comfort and security within the city for all people; to achieve this goal within the rule of law and U.S. Constitution.

  • How will that be accomplished?

    By being a visible interactive police presence in city neighborhoods.

    • Citizen involvement and mobilization.
    • Determination of citizen identified problems.
    • Investigation and resolution of those problems.
    • Preventing those problems whenever possible by working with others.
    • Managing conflict.
    • Identifying and sanctioning offenders.
    • Coordinating services with other criminal justice and social service agencies, and
    • Operating the department based on the Principles of Quality Leadership.
  • What are we trying to become?

    A community oriented, decentralized, highly interactive, diverse police department staffed by members who share organizational values, are well trained, committed, sensitive and courteous and who are able to make critical customer service decisions consistent with our mission at the frontline of the organization.

    An organization that is noted for its high-level community confidence, intense level of support, the respect and trust it shows its members and for high degrees of teamwork, openness and continuous improvement; that is, the best city police department in America.

    The ultimate, constant and continuing challenge to leaders and those whom they lead is this:

    What is being done to identify problems and remove barriers in our work systems so that what we do is continuously and constantly improved.

  • What was learned?

    The transformation went through seven specific improvement steps.

  1. Envisioning
    • We started with a bold vision statement – it was essential.
    • It became a shared vision.
  2. Selecting
    • We attracted and selected the best and brightest to join us.
    • They were trained and led to share our values and vision.
  3. Listening
    • We listened intently and continuously to those with whom we worked, and
    • We listened intently and continuously to members of our community and their leaders.
  4. Training and Leading
    • We acknowledged that leaders train and trainers lead.
    • Leadership is about respecting others.
    • Leaders help those whom they lead to grow.
    • Leaders are collaborative with others in their work decisions.
    • Leaders recognized that work should be creative, challenging and fun.
  5. Improving Continuously
    • We learned improvement never stops.
    • Improvement is the constant pursuit of excellence.
    • Improvement is pursuing world-class excellence together.
  6. Evaluating
    • Evaluation helps us know what to improve.
    • Improvement can be measured.
    • Decisions are made on data, not emotions.
  7. Sustaining
    • We are a learning organization.
    • We share and teach others what we have learned.
    • If we continuously improve, learn, and teach others, we will sustain our high quality progress into the future.

David Couper served over three decades as a police officer, detective, training officer and police chief. Over 20 of those years were served as Chief of the Madison, Wisconsin police department where he lead a major organizational transformation involving mission, leadership style, and collaboration both inside the department and with the communities he served.

photo of David Couper in uniform with photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi on his office wall.

David Couper as the Madison Wisconsin chief of police.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology and Public Administration. This is his fourth book on improving policing and he authors a blog: Improving Police. He lives west of Madison with his wife (and collaborator), Sabine Lobitz, who retired as a police captain with the State Capitol Police. He is passionate about police and their continuous improvement.

Related: Quality Processes in Unexpected PlacesQuality Improvement and Government: Ten Hard Lessons From the Madison ExperienceThe Public Sector and DemingThe System Will Produce What It’s Capable of Producing


This additional short excerpt on Quality Leadership is included in this post to provide a very basic idea of the nature of what that means in this context.

In 1987, I had the opportunity to lead the Experimental Police District in Madison. It was an experimental, pilot precinct where we defined, refined, practiced, and tested Quality Leadership. This style of leadership was based on a mixture of Total Quality Management (TQM) and a values and character based leadership approach to encourage an organization’s continuous improvement; improvement being high quality services defined by the satisfaction of citizen-customers. But equally important, Quality Leadership also focusses on strong personal relationships, statistical analysis, employee empowerment, and the influence of others.

We relied heavily on the teachings of such quality leaders as W. Edwards Deming, Philip B. Crosby, Peter Senge, Warren Bemis, Tom Peters, Kaoru Ishikawa, and Joseph M. Juran. When brought together, these teachings consisted of customer-driver quality, dispersed leadership, continuous improvement, action based on facts, data and analysis, and employee participation.

Quality Leadership emphasizes the importance of knowing customer needs, a focus on the continuous improvement of work systems, processes and services, involvement of employees in decisions, minimizing the use of coercive power while maximizing the use of data-influenced decision-making.

5 thoughts on “Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department

  1. Robert Drescher

    Hi John

    A clear example of the importance of top level support for any type of transformation to succeed. It also clearly shows it takes time and effort, before you begin doing anything you first have to win the support and respect of everyone in the organization and the people you are trying to serve.

    Taking their time and doing it right and the chiefs heavy involvement, went a long way to show his people that he respected them and cared for them. He built a relationship with them, and listened to their needs, and together they listened to the needs of their community winning their respect in the process.

    One of the things that helps keeping it going is that they are constantly working to improve, listening both to frontline workers and the community. It shows a great example of servant based leadership. Leaders may have the ability to make decisions, but those decision gain extra support when people see the were made based on information gathers through collaboration with them.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Quality Beginnings: Deming and Madison, Wisconsin « The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

  3. may phat dien cu

    Taking their time and doing it right and the chiefs heavy involvement, went a long way to show his people that he respected them and cared for them. He built a relationship with them, and listened to their needs, and together they listened to the needs of their community winning their respect in the process.i like comements this.

    Reply

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