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Leading Transformational Change - Q&A with Maxine De Brunner

Serving as one of the Metropolitan Police Service’s most senior officers, Maxine de Brunner rose through the ranks of one of the most highly pressured working environments that exists.

"The learning from an organisation, alongside where you want to be in the future, produces the vision and case for transformation."

It's especially hard to transform an organisation while continuing to maintain and deliver critical services: but Maxine de Brunner, formerly one of the Metropolitan Police Service’s most senior officers, led one of the most historically significant change programmes to the policing service across London.

From rising through the ranks of one of the most highly pressured working environments (awarded the QPM for her services to policing in the process), to spearheading the largest counter-terrorism exercise the UK has seen, Maxine is well-placed to speak to organisations about transformation, sharing her own experience of what she found works.

Here, she shares some of her advice!

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Serving in the Police for thirty years, I had the privilege of working with some awesome people. As a senior Chief Officer, I was part of a team who could influence and make a difference to what happened in London. 

I'm passionate about London and saw it as my job to do everything that I could to create a safe place for all people to work and live. The organisation had been developing into a more dynamic and flexible entity that still carried the burden of significant risk. Sometimes we got it right, and sometimes we didn't, but the people never stopped trying. The dedication and commitment shown during high-risk operations was ever-present. Policing is a vocation. Our officers and staff cared deeply about outcomes and strove to be the best.

There were many, what I would term, ‘critical incidents’, and I always tried to learn lessons from each one. This enabled us to understand best practice. It is the learning from an organisation, alongside where you want to be in the future that starts to produce the vision and case for transformation. My team had a clear vision and a goal, but the threats we faced were changing significantly.

Cybercrime, in particular, was rising steadily and, to combat this, different skills and abilities were needed. The public wanted to interact with us in a different way, with more online and flexible services needed. I knew that to keep pace with an ever-changing landscape, we would need to be more ‘high tech’ and digital resources, while accepting that our service was steeped in tradition and culture. We wanted to be able to move resources to the area of highest need, and quickly, which meant that we had to be dynamic and, to a large extent, have a core centre that we could oversee and deploy in this way.

I started by developing strong governance aligned to the core objectives. With a large organisation, when the threats you face change significantly, everyone will need to transform because the whole organisation will need to operate in a different way - and the skills needed may be different in the end state. Understanding this in a blueprint, alongside a roadmap to help you get there, is key. Once you understand your current skills and capabilities, alongside what you need in the end state, you can see clearly what needs to alter on your journey towards your vision.

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Keeping up with an ever-changing 'high tech' landscape 

Everything in the organisation interlocked in some way, whether it be what was taught at training school, how intelligence was gathered and managed, or who and (to what level) had investigative skills. It needed to be an organisation who could quickly search all the databases so it would know what intelligence and information was available. Many of the systems did not speak to each other, therefore multiple searches were required. Bringing a number of large systems together and managing the data is a truly awesome task. Any IT transformation programme needs to be intrinsic to the overall programme, so the technology helps you to deliver your objectives.

Austerity and cuts were starting to bite so I knew we had to make changes, but we decided that we would still deliver a better service. This cannot be achieved by salami-slicing existing services.

We had a large number of properties, but we didn’t need all of them in the new world: officers and staff required information at the scenes, but today, many members of the public want and rely upon online services. The size and scale of the transformation challenge was starting to grow. Officers needed new skills; some buildings were no longer fit for purpose; we had a huge IT programme to develop and deliver; and we needed to a strong centralised element to ensure that we could mobilise quickly and make best use of our resources.

When you make large changes to the way a high-risk service is delivered, it, of course, comes with risk, which has to be mitigated. I think the most important factor in making change happen, and then making it stick, is personal and courageous leadership.

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Is your organisation going through a transformation?

Every organisation has a culture, and often people do not like change. To help move culture in a positive direction, all staff need to understand and buy in to the case for change. They will only do that if it is properly explained and shown to them. They will also require training to take away the fear of operating in the new landscape. I found it useful to identify and use key influencers within the organisation. It is the local leaders that can instigate change. Seek out those who can make a difference, canvas their help and influence with key partners and stakeholders. Keep them involved and clear about the mission. Having a network on the ground will give you early warning when things don’t go so well and allow you time and space to adjust.

It is especially hard to transform if you have to maintain and deliver critical services. Staff are already busy, so giving them the extra burden of making change happen will be frightening. Fear breeds negative behaviours so you have to do what you can to allay fears and consider buying in key staff and skills to help manage the transition.

If you think you need to transform,  below are some thoughts that may help:

Know where you are going, what you want to be and why you need to transform.

Lead from the front.

Change is all about your state of mind and behaviours. Start changing behaviours today.

Change takes investment - sometimes you have to buy in the right skills.

Understand your organisation’s capabilities now and what is required in the future, so that you can develop a programme to create the capability from within.

Identify quick wins and do them well.

Don’t give up, it’s in your gift.

Change is a critical incident, control your time and treat it as such.

Change is a continuous process as the landscape and demographics also keep changing. If you don’t transform, you may find you have been left behind.

Looking to book Maxine de Brunner, or for another speaker on people management and change?

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