Reforming the Norwegian Police - Cultural Change as a Restoration of Organizational Ideologies, Myths and Practices
- Side: 167-182
- Publisert på Idunn: 2015-09-28
- Publisert: 2015-09-28
- Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 4.0)
The paper lays out the origins of the organizational culture myth and how ideas from populist movements of cultural change together with organizational control ideologies have come to be adopted as the panacea for the ills of the Norwegian Police. The paper then draws attention to how the above trends can be explored from a process theoretical perspective with a view towards organizational culture as practices emerging from patterns of communication, power, identity and moral ethics. The discussion further deconstructs changes in the mythology of official statements to demonstrate how the changes in the official values are solidifying a fantasy of sectarian unity, which at the same time threatens to collapse the functionality of the police organization. A recent example of whistleblowing demonstrates the antithesis of this development: the importance of breaking the unity in order to avoid organizational collapse and regain constructive functionality by a different understanding of leadership and moral ethics. The paper is a contribution to a broader discussion and a call for deeper knowledge of what organizational and cultural change and reform means both in the Norwegian police and other police organizations undergoing similar processes.
1. The Doctrines of Central Control and the Rise of Contrasting Ideologies
In 1926, Mary Parker Follett wrote about the importance of democratic leadership and employee involvement in order for businesses to succeed (Follett, 1926). Her voice coincided with a growing critique at that time, a critique of the dominating mechanistic and hierarchical ideas of organizations, formulated as part of Frederic Taylor’s Scientific Management (Taylor, 1911) and Henri Fayol’s general principles of administration (Fayol, 1919/1949).
In a series of studies, famously known as the Hawthorne studies, researchers during the late 1920s and 1930s demonstrated the relevance of psychosocial needs and relationships for productivity in a factory environment (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939; Mayo, 1933; Roethlisberger, 1941). This is generally recognized as the start of the Human Relations movement within organizational thought, a counter ideology to the dominating organizational ideology of Taylorism.
In 1956, H.A Shephard wrote about this development: ‘Over the past twenty-five years, some new orientations have emerged from organizational experiments, observations, and inventions. The new orientations depart radically from doctrines associated with Scientific Management and traditional bureaucratic patterns’ (Shafritz & Ott, 2001, p. 205). He went on to argue for decentralised decision-making and delegated responsibility instead of central control as a principle for management of organizations.
McGregor crystallized the two contrasting ideologies and their views on human nature when he proposed that managers of work organizations assumed two different theories about employee behaviour that tended to self-fulfill. He called them Theory X and Theory Y (McGregor, 1960). Theory X holds, in accordance with Taylorism, that people are lazy by nature and that they prefer to avoid responsibility. Therefore, workers must be controlled, directed and even punished to reach organizational objectives.
Theory Y, on the other hand, states that people can self-direct and do not need to be controlled if they are committed to organizational objectives. People utilize their productive potential at work if given the responsibility to do so. Two competing metaphors of organizations had clearly emerged, the machine and the organism (Morgan, 1997).
During the 1960s in Norway, Einar Thorsrud and other researchers engaged in collaboration trials between the Norwegian National Trade Union (LO) and the National Employers Association (NAF) (Emery & Thorsrud, 1969; Thorsrud & Emery, 1969). The researchers took inspiration from the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in England (Trist & Bamforth, 1951), where during the postwar years they had developed an organizational ideology that in organization theory came to be known as the sociotechnical systems theory (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006).
This ideology centered on the notion of human and technological interdependencies and promoted the idea that cooperative and group-oriented forms of organization and management would lead to both better productivity and better quality of work life. Part of the ideology meant moving away from the steep hierarchies of Tayloristic production and the management principles of Fayol towards management groups and empowered self-managed work groups that would take charge of more complicated production tasks (Johannessen & Solem, 2009).
The sociotechnical ideology and the organizational ideologies of Taylorism and human relations have strongly influenced Norwegian and Scandinavian private and public work organizations. The ideologies promote different values, ethics and ideas about humans and organizing of human work without explicitly making culture an object of study.
2. Organizational Culture as Management Myth
In the early 1980s, a wave of American management literature popularized the idea that organizational culture was the reason behind the Japanese car industry’s global growth and success, in particular so in the US market (Shafritz & Ott, 2001). Literature from this era contains topics about Japanese management (Ouchi, 1981; Pascale & Athos, 1981) and the importance of culture for success in large corporations (Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Peters and Waterman, 1982). Ouchi suggested that culture constituted a third theory of human nature in addition to McGregor’s Theory X and Y. He named it Theory Z (Ouchi, 1981).
Before this, there had been a long-term decline in the competitiveness of US companies in the global market resulting from a failure to increase productivity compared to competing nations. Japan, on the other hand, had turned into a world leader in industrial quality and productivity. The American answer to the competitiveness crisis was to direct attention to various ideas of how to change the culture of organizations, and even governments, so that they could become more productive, flexible and customer-oriented.
Curiously enough, American researchers and consultants had already from the 1950s aided Japanese industry in the adoption of quality approaches in order to increase competitiveness. Deming (1986), Juran (1992) and Feigenbaum were key figures in introducing ideas in Japan that later became known around the world under the slogan of Total Quality Management (TQM).
The 1980s idea of organizational culture also emerged from another historical direction. Academic research on culture in organizations went back to the 1960s, when Edgar Schein pioneered research on processes of socialization and career development, in particular among managers (Schein, 1961; 1968). Working from a perspective of organizational psychology, he later defined various aspects of an organizational culture in terms of physical artefacts and psychological experiences and behaviours (Schein, 1985).
Schein suggested that the artefacts of organizations are the most visible expressions of culture. These are the symbols, technologies, buildings, offices, uniforms and clothes, documents and other physical objects. The norms and values are also quite visible in the sense that people will let a newcomer know how things ‘work around here’, what sensible things to do and say, who to talk to, how to treat the customer, and so on.
Less visible to this normative level are the basic assumptions. These constitute a person’s beliefs and thoughts, ethics and attitudes. Basic assumptions are visible through behavior, language and ways of feeling and thinking, aspects that can partly be hidden or adapted if they collide with organizational norms. However, people are not aware of all aspects of their basic assumptions. Such assumptions can for instance emerge in situations under pressure, when a person or a group is confronted with ethical dilemmas and difficult choices. A person may not always understand his/her reactions and behaviours – or those of others. Basic assumptions reflect unconscious levels of human psychology and include taken-for-granted theories about reality learned and enacted by individuals. Artefacts, norms, values and basic assumptions are woven together as expressions and reflections of organizational culture, according to Schein.
Schein’s perspective is firmly rooted in an organizational ideology emerging from a critique against Taylorism, namely the human relations movement. It is based on understanding organizational life in terms of human psychology and the sociological processes going on in groups. In the same tradition, we find examples of pioneering studies on cultural socialization and behavior in police organizations (Van Maanen, 1973; 1975).
The trend since the 1980s has been that culture and values are transformed into consultancy products and mostly come out as simplified and instrumental ideas for diagnosing and changing culture from a management perspective (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). The prevailing, but rather naïve and uncritical, rituals where leaders imagine that they can bring success by defining a vision and four core values to support the myth of a strong organizational culture, seem to be detached from developing organizations on the basis of any deeper analysis.
3. Culture reform movements: implementing the myth
The 1990s saw several populist culture reform movements emerge in addition to the TQM and Japanese management movement mentioned earlier (Shafritz & Ott, 2001). Not all of them talked about culture in the same way as the populist movement had done a decade before. Their promises, however, were clear: enormous productivity gains could be obtained by changing the culture and management attentions in organizations, no matter what the organization produced.
In 1992, Kaplan and Norton published an article introducing the Balanced Scorecard as a strategic productivity instrument (Kaplan & Norton, 1992). They claimed that not only should the financial situation of an organization be taken into account, that is, measured, managed and controlled, but a number of other aspects would be important too. Customer orientation, innovation, learning and competencies were key aspects to measure in order to gain better performance and outcomes from businesses.
Kaplan and Norton saw an organization as the collective counterpart of an individual, an entity that performed results. Leaders should therefore engage in Performance Management in order to analyse where results or lack of results came from. If companies installed the balanced scorecard system with a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), they would be able to measure necessary and different aspects driving an organization’s performance. The authors were claiming that the scorecard should reflect tangible goals and actions derived from strategic objectives. The strategy should be anchored in a vision. Kaplan and Norton’s concepts and ideas have in different shapes and forms spread across the world and into major industrial and public sector organizations since the 1990s.
Osborne and Gaeblers (1992) formulated the public sector version of organizational culture reform with their ten principles for reinventing government. The principles were aimed at making government more flexible and market-oriented. They stated the importance of empowering the community, transforming a rule-driven government towards a mission-driven one, funding outcomes rather than inputs, meeting the needs of the customer rather than the bureacracy, encouraging prevention rather than reaction, and decentralizing government. The principles reflected an important part of the Clinton administration’s reform of government formulated in the Gore Report on Reinventing Government (Gore, 1993).
Also during the 1990s, ideas emerged that addressed issues of how to organize large industrial organizations for increased customer orientation and competitiveness. Leaders were to reorganize their organizations according to the ideas of BPR – Business Process Reengineering (Hammer & Champy, 1993).
In a similar way as with the ideas of culture a decade before, the custodians of BPR claimed to have found the solution to the basic problem of American industry’s failure to compete on the global scene. Industry needed to move away from the functional organizing of the early industrial age, where a ‘push-principle’ aiming at pushing large volumes of products off the production line into the market had guided industrial production. Success no longer depended entirely on such internal organizational efficiency.
Now, in the new phase of the industrial age – the era of globalization – competition was harder and production depended more on external customer needs and behaviours (Johannessen & Solem, 2002). Therefore, many argued, the organizing principle should change to a ‘pull-principle’ aiming at keeping production lines flexible and in accordance with concepts like lean production (Womack, Jones & Ross, 1990) and just-in-time (Ohno, 1978).
Hammer and Champy argued that highly cost-effective customer-oriented production could be achieved through a radical reorganizing, which included the removal of hierarchy and internal bureacracy. Customer-oriented process teams did not even need permanent leaders, as long as the teams were empowered and skilled. New information technology, as it was called then, would enable the teams to organize rapid responses to customer demands. The main thing was to create the working processes needed to deliver a product or a service according to customer needs.
However, the various populist culture reform movements dramatically failed to deliver what they promised. In many cases, they brought organizations to the brink of collapse (Cameron, 1995). The 1980s and 1990s culture reform movements had turned into a competition between fads. Each concept was sold to executives as a recipe for success in contrast to other concepts. As one company executive said in an interview promoting the balanced scorecard, referred in Kaplan & Norton (1993, p.147):
«I sense that a number of companies are turning to scorecards in the same way they turned to total quality management, high-performance organization, and so on. You hear about a good idea, several people on corporate staff work on it, probably with some expensive outside consultants, and you put in a system that’s a bit different from what existed before. Such systems are only incremental, and you don’t gain much additional value from them».
4. Reforming the Norwegian Police: The Restoration of Failed Ideologies
Despite the clear signs of illusionary activity and dubious results: by the end of the millennium, the ‘vision and values’-movement along with TQM, balanced scorecard and BPR had reached both Norwegian industry and the public sector, including the police. However, there is little to support a conclusion that the introduction of variations of these ideas in the police has embraced the core organizational revolutions that the cultural reform movements proposed, which were: a dismantling of hierarchy, delegation of responsibility, empowering groups, team-based management, and so on.
Although criticism has been raised, particularly from the Norwegian police unions, against Taylorism and the inefficiencies and dysfunctionalities that come with it, this criticism is rather anchored in the longstanding sociotechnical ideology than in the ideas of the cultural reform movements. The police organization seems to be stuck in the mainstream ideologies with a particular taste for Taylorism. Any new ideas are transformed into more of what is already happening. This is also a pattern emerging as part of the ongoing Norwegian police reform.
Following the 2011 terror in Norway, the independent investigation concluded that culture and leadership played an important role in the failure of the police to protect the public on that fatal day (NOU, 2012). This catalysed a political process to reform the police. The key analysis initiated by the Government to put forward proposals for a reform concluded that such a reform should include strong centralization by reducing the number of police districts from 27 to six. In addition, the analysis suggested that certain ideas associated with Performance Management should be the tools to produce better leadership, quality and ensure cultural change (NOU, 2013).
The reform proposal strongly advocates more standardization, steeper hierarchy and central control, in line with the ideology of Taylor and Fayol, the ideology that the culture reform movements rebelled against for failing to deliver necessary productivity and quality in modern industry.
The Norwegian police reform, then, voices rhetoric of two opposing organizational ideologies, both of which have shown to fail in different ways. On one hand, Taylorism with its rigid organization principles, organization by function and task, authoritarian power hierarchies and obsession with measuring internal production and control. On the other hand, the ideology of the cultural reform movements with their wish to create flexible non-hierarchical organizations with empowered employees and strong quality cultures, focusing on team performance, creating organizations that are ‘lean’ and responsive to external customer (societal) needs.
5. Shifting attention towards a process theoretical approach
In his process theory, the American pragmatist philosopher and social theorist George Herbert Mead (1934/1977) explains the evolution and emergence of human and social identity as dependent on acts of communication. Individual and social realities emerge without being representations of an outer reality or an inner experienced world. They are rather perpetually recreated and changed as inward and outward acts of communication. In such processes, understanding is neither shared or the same, and in that sense not common in any way. Understanding is rather different for different persons. However, different understandings are adequately similar for people to enable them to go on communicating and be engaged in coordinated action.
According to Stacey (2001), values, norms and basic assumptions emerge from such concrete acts of communication between interacting people. Culture is thus a phenomenon of experience, on one hand temporal, on the other hand recreated in habitual forms. The continous communicative responses must necessarily consist of variation and interpretation with respect to personal values created from previous experience. In actions, there are contradictory experiences of values. These kinds of ongoing processes cannot be brought under organizational and management control. They can only be experienced and interpreted while they are happening and with hindsight.
Values, by this account, are emergent feelings of identity and personality structures constructed through relating (Stacey, 2001). They are themes of communication repeated and enacted as behaviour and action. Official value documents cannot change or reflect the full spectrum of such communicative themes, although they are efforts to create and influence certain communicative themes.
Mead’s view is that even if every person has a life history and experiences, which are different from those of others, people in a society develop similar understandings of others – and by this the ability to coordinate actions – through social relating. This constitutes a paradox where people are both the same and different at the same time. To be human is a unique bodily experience, which means that humans cannot share anything of their experience with others. They can just express themself through actions of their physical bodies and account for their experiences through communication acts where immediate fragments of their life experience become available to others in the medium of bodily gestures and language. Other people will interpret these acts of communication into their own life experience, which in many ways could be similar, but never the same. The result is that social experience contains difference and similarity at the same time.
From this perspective, communication patterns are emerging, self-organizing and paradoxical processes (Stacey, 2010). They are also conflictual collaborating processes where different understandings are sufficiently coordinated for purposes of moving on, even though the relational and communicative process often breaks down (Johannessen, 2011). Normal communication processes are therefore conflictual and filled with tension. Communication processes are processes of the known and the unknown, of repetition and novelty. Communication between people can produce both vigorous creativity and endless repetition.
To view communication as the most central aspect of human behavior and identity implies that power is an enabling and constraining aspect of communicating and organizing. Calls for common understanding and common values are attempts to join a group or an organization together. At the same time, they are powerful statements, or statements from the powerful, to curb and suppress conflictual views and create harmony and unity. If successful, however, this means a serious breakdown in communicating and organizing, because both communicating and organizing depend upon conflict and power differences.
Power is not only associated with conflict and confrontation, but also with collaboration, because collaboration means constraining and adapting to each other. Power is also a precondition for submission and false collaboration, where actors adapt to the behavioural patterns of the organization or society, in fear of disturbing whatever is established as the order (Havel et al., 1985).
The paradoxical process of conflictual collaboration is in this sense an identity-forming process. The experience of who a person is, what the person wants to say and do in organizational contexts, influences the degree a person contributes to the repetition or change of patterns of communication. A leader can find him/herself drawn into a particular role in relation to the group he/she is in charge of. If the leader becomes accepted in this particular role pattern, both the leader and the group might find it difficult to communicate something different from what is expected. Consequently, a leader could find it difficult to be in control of cultural change – of communication, power and identity – because the leader is dependent on how others understand and co-create the relations and communication patterns in which both repetition and change emerge (Elias & Scotson, 1994).
6. Norwegian Police Culture as Conflictual Organizational Practices
Drawing on the process theoretical thinking partly described above, Johannessen (2013) has developed a theoretical approach for describing organizational culture in the Norwegian police organization in terms of practices. The approach sees culture as identical to practice, and describes four global organizational practices within the Norwegian police organization. Such widespread practices are ways of doing things, which are recognizable and meaningful to the people who enact the practices. Organizational practices are patterns of behavior interwoven into each other, partly taken for granted, partly amplified as identity conflicts. In the police, we find such widespread practices in the form of an operational practice, a bureaucratic practice, a union practice and an academic practice.
These practices can be described and understood in terms of organizational and relational patterns of communication, power, identity and moral ethics. The way these phenomena enter into each practitioner’s practice helps the practitioner exclude and include other practitioners. The practices are therefore patterns of exclusion and inclusion (Johannessen, 2015). Police employees are in various unconscious and conscious ways socialized into their practices by their understanding and transforming of everyday activity. The practices/cultures and their potential changes in the police can be readily explored on the basis of the differentiations and identitites created within and between the organizational practices.
The organizational practices in the police have different purposes, and the basic phenomena (communication, power, identity and moral ethics) have different meanings and priority within these practices. These differences contribute to different motivations and tendencies in the enactment of the practices. It is such differences between priorities, tendencies and assumptions that strongly influence the patterns of behavior, which is exclusion and inclusion patterns between people and between groups (Dalal, 1998). Defining who is inside and who is outside the various constellations of organizational practice in the police, is a matter of how the practitioners understand communication, power, identity and moral ethics.
Everyday life in professional organizations such as the police is a stream of social negotiations between individual’s priorities within their practices. Through these social negotiations, efficient collaboration and constructive conflict emerge, but also destructive conflicts and dysfunctionalities.
The formal organization of the police mirrors the differentiations between the practices: The bureaucracy, the operational units, the union, and the Police Academy. Nevertheless, the different practices are much more complex, because they infiltrate each other in detailed, dynamic and complex ways, for example, when an operational unit has bureaucratic routines, or when staff trained in academic institutions are included in operational units.
In addition, there are variations within practices. In an operational practice, there might be different views about operational issues, for example, whether statistical analysis (academic practice) or ‘street information’ (operational practice) should be used to decide where operational resources should be allocated. Another example is the bureaucracy, which is an instrument for carrying out government policies, at the same time as it is supposed to detach itself from politics and be an instrument of rules, regulations and law. The bureaucracy is supposedly independent of political practice at the same time as it is dependent on, and weaves itself into, political practice.
This view of communication, power, identity and change clearly differs from the view of the promotors of the documents that underpin the Norwegian police reform. They claim that change happens by applying particular management methods down through the hierarchy where everyone should submit to a holistic fantasy about the Oneness of the Police. One instrument for creating these ideas of change is the official value statement.
7. Reformed Police Values as Sectarian Mythology: A Deconstruction
Recently, as part of the reform work, the Police Directorate issued a new set of official values to replace the set of values defined some years ago (Politi.no, 2015). Before, the official values were ‘Openness and honesty, Visible and clear leadership, Cooperation and involvement, Responsibility, Clear goals and focus on results.’ Now these values have been substituted by the formulations «I am courageous; I am holistic; I show respect; I am hands-on». The new values are supported by the vision ‘One police’.
What does the official value statement in the police tell us about changing ideologies and culture in the police organization?
‘One police’ is clearly impossible in terms of practice, because it would require identity and power relations, that is, difference, to disappear within and between the practices. The ‘One police’ statement is not a reality, but represents a sectarian myth about the police organization emerging as a single unit in which experiences and practices are consistent. It is a rhetorical expression of an ideal of a single group identity where power relations are not questionable, but natural, that is, forever given and taken for granted.
The most obvious change in the value statement is the shift towards the ‘I’ in the new values. This represents a clear and, in the sense that it is coherent throughout the document, extreme orientation away from values as social phenomena, towards an ideology that views the individual as an isolated repository of values. Each person is alone to make a decision aligned with the value statement. This view assumes that the values are either up to each and everyone to decide the meaning of in their practice, which is an extreme relativistic and subjective worldview, or that there exists a single meaning of the values that everyone shares, understands and acts upon.
The call for ‘One police’ suggests the latter interpretation. The ‘I’ does not really reflect an individual view. It is the collective chanting of the ‘I’ absorbed in a unitary ‘We’. The value statement is signalling to the members of the organization the need to be part of a collective ritual. The statement comes in the format of mythological propaganda directed towards the individual, so that everyone should know how to understand themselves if they are to be acknowledged in this organization.
The mythology is further enhanced by the turn away from ethics (doing good) and moral (doing right) towards an abstract world. Previously, the values were voiced in terms such as openness, honesty, cooperation, involvement and responsibility, all of which point to the view that being an ethical police officer means aspiring to realize social qualities associated with democracy, collaboration and diminishing power distances between people both inside and outside the formal police organization. The new values put the ego at the centre, and talk about being holistic and hands-on. These value statements say nothing about ethics or human social realities. They rather reflect abstract mythologies.
The old values invited the group to think about value tolerance, diversity and trust (openness and honesty) while the new values calls for more neurotic control (I am hands-on). The old values invited the group to team activity and small power differences (cooperation and involvement) while the new values call for restraint in the hierarchy (I show respect). The old values invited responsibility, which takes seriously the paradox of being a social individual, that is, thinking about individual actions as relational and social; while the new values call for annihilation of the individual by fusing it into the unitary whole (I am holistic, One police). In this particular context – a uniformed institution uniting under the flag of ‘One police’ – there is nothing individualistic about an organizational value statement that shines light on the ‘I’. Quite the opposite, it is the sourcing of an ideology from the past, promoting central control, steep hierarchy, authority, standardization and monoculture.
8. Leadership and Values
The document sketching out a set of values and a vision in the police clearly does not take into account the differentiation of values between and within the various police practices. No matter how much a person or a group would want to act in line with the official value statements, it is simply not possible to do so independently of others, because the official values do not define action, they define a state of no conflict, a non-existing situation.
For example, it is impossible to know which act should reflect the statement ‘I am courageous’. People must negotiate and discuss this in daily situations where it is relevant. What one person deems courageous, others might regard as stupid. Clearly, to be courageous in an operational practice is different from being courageous in a bureaucratic practice.
Value statements are part of organizational cultures or practices in that they have become a norm in themselves, a norm that many leaders feel they must fulfill. In this sense, they are expressions of the uncertainty leaders feel at the thought of doing anything that might break the fashions of the day in relation to popular management literature and the expectations of others. A document with an official value statement has much to do with conforming to expectations and not challenging the mainstreams of management thinking.
However, leadership is closely linked to ethics (Griffin, 2002). The way leaders understand ethics, values, ideals, morals and norms in organizations does say something about the way they think about leadership and the nature of the organization (Taylor, 2005). A paradox of the value statements is that they could mask the most important realities of the themes of ethics and values in organizations.
Norms and attitudes emerge in organizations influenced by powerful people (leaders), even though groups can behave very differently from what their leaders want. The real behavioural patterns played out in groups can be very diverse. Leaders might take to official value statements in order to deal with diversity. At the same time, they are communicating myths and illusions, because the statements can only be interpreted and made real in a variety of conflictual organizational practices.
When people talk about and experience values, it is always a struggle between the liberating effect of ideals and the disciplinary demands of morals, which constrain thoughts and actions (Joas, 2000). Moral ethics is doing what is right and doing what is good at the same time. The differences between morals and ethics surface in situations of choice, as the case in the following section shows.
9. Whistleblowing As an Act of Ethical Leadership and Prevention of Organizational Collapse
Recently, a case of whistleblowing emerged in the Norwegian police organization (Schaefer, 2015). The whistleblowing exposed organizational dysfunctionalities, in this case incompetence in the investigation of the death of an eight-year old girl.
Some of the leaders saw the exposure of the incompetencies as a breach of the norms of the organization. They regarded the act of public exposure as illoyal, wrong, and hence immoral. The whistleblower, and certainly the family of the victim and the broader society, saw it as an act of doing good. The whistleblowing act is in this case both ethical and immoral at the same time, depending on where the involved persons are located in their power relations.
Organizations are not functioning well if they dissolve the paradoxes of morals and ethics. One-sided morality means locking behavioural patterns into repetitive and narrow experiences of communication, power and identity, leaving no room for change. One-sided ethics creates idealism and passive harmony or intense conflicts and threats to power and identity that can tear an organization apart. Conflictual tension and constrained flexibility holds the organization in the functional paradox of stability and change at the same time.
Organizational dysfunctionality emerges if the organization tends to get stuck over time in a dominant pattern of removing the paradoxical nature of the organization’s dynamics, for example by surpressing conflictual views. This increases the risk of reducing diversity in the patterns of action to the point where the whole organization breaks down, as witnessed in the whistleblowing case. The organization where this happened showed all the signs of a neurotic group or organization in the way described by De Vries and Miller (1984).
For leaders who drag their organization into neurotic behaviour, such dysfunctional patterns of behaviour will threaten the organization over time, for example by obsessions with detailed control. Centralization and excessive bureaucracy are further indicators of neurotic organizational behavior with a potential to create dysfunctionality in an organization. Neurotic behavior creates marginalization and exclusion of anyone who disturbs the routine way of communicating. In the case which the whistleblower revealed, preserving the routine communication, the established power and identity relations and the morals that came with it, meant more to the leaders than solving the murder of an eight-year old child.
For leaders who tend towards psychotic behavior, a similar threat to the organization would come in the form of obsessions with myths, visions, ideals, fantasy and utopian thoughts: behaviour which undermines efficient and realistic actions in the organization (Stacey, 2003). The developments in the Norwegian police show tendencies to both neurotic and psychotic group patterns, both carrying a potential for organizational collapse.
To uphold the paradoxes of morals and ethics is not a particular exercise for implementation, as should be clear from the whistleblower case. Threats and defence of moral ethics and organizational functionality happen while people conduct their social actions in everyday activity. The nurturing of the moral ethical paradox as leadership includes a sustained movement and tolerance of the known and the unknown – the expected and the unexpected.
This paper has provided a discussion of the origins of the ideologies and myths of organizational culture, and how they have come to be adopted and transformed in the Norwegian police organization.
In the wake of the 2011 terrorist attack, Norwegian politicians demanded cultural change and reform in the police. The official reform work has so far been charged with ideas from two opposing organizational ideological movements. One is the early twentieth century control ideology of Taylorism, with its decentering of human psychological and social needs and appetite for production and control. The other is the performance ideology of the 1980s and 1990s populist movements of cultural change, which included a critique against Taylorism for being dysfunctional and unproductive. Performance cultures, in contrast to Taylorism, argued in favour of human relations and team orientations. As a conclusion of this part of the paper, the Norwegian police’s attempt to reform culture is mainly a drift back to early twentieth century control ideologies wrapped in the rhetoric of the popular organizational culture reform movements from recent decades.
Furthermore, the paper has offered a deconstruction of the newly reformed value statements and has shown that they represent a shift from the ethical and socially charged old values towards mythological abstractions calling for a fusion of the individual police officer into a holistic and sectarian mythology. This further reinforces the notion of downplaying conflict and diversity in order to create a controlled monoculture of ‘One Police’.
Such tendencies, taken together with the affinity for central control and production, raise serious questions whether the Norwegian police reform is heading for organizational dysfunctionality and potential collapse because of the reduction of social and human diversity and flexibility.
In this context – as a contrast and potential insight – the paper engages in a generalized discussion of organizational culture in terms of a process theoretical approach that directs attention away from mythology towards conflictual practices, which are constructed and enacted by people’s understanding of communication, power, identity and moral ethics.
A recent example of a whistleblower is included in order to show the importance of preventing a police organizational glide into the monoculture that is proposed by the reform documents. The mythology of the official values, which calls upon the individual to declare loyalty and at the same time integrate into the sectarian group, effectively tightens the space for individuality and diversity, and thus, for future whistleblowers of serious flaws in criminal investigations and malpractice.
In contrast to the current police reform’s suggestions, the argument here is that understanding the complexities of organizational culture and change is crucial in order to provide a broader and deeper discussion, and raise necessary criticism, both in the Norwegian police and in other police organizations undergoing reform.