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High-Potential Programs Can Help Some Employees And Hurt Others. Here’s How We Can Design A Fairer System

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Companies invest in high potential programs with the goal of developing their star employees into future leaders. As exciting as these programs seem, poorly designed versions of them might cause more harm than good. While there is no secret recipe for a high potential program, here are three ideas to keep in mind when designing your company’s program to ensure it is effective and fair:

1. Companies that invest in high potential programs financially outperform their competitors.1

High potential programs sit in talent management, a practice that focuses on identifying and developing the ‘A players’— those who have the highest leadership potential and are of great interest to companies — with the potential to fill future leadership roles.2 This segmentation of the workforce allows companies to achieve their business objectives and motivates those labeled as high potential A players to strive and thrive. After tracking 300 organizations across 31 countries over 7 years, researchers found that investment in high potential programs correlated with better financial performance.1

These programs are not faultless, however. Regardless of intention, high potential programs can alienate the B players who make 80-85% of the workforce,3 leading to demotivation, a decrease in productivity and engagement,4 and even at times, higher turnover.5

2. The risk is worth the outcome if the high potential program is robust and grounded in science

Talent management experts need to design programs that clearly outline the variables that make a candidate ‘high potential’ if these programs are to succeed. Strong programs use evidence-based frameworks that can define, identify, and develop potential. Companies risk falling into the trap of misidentifying high potentials and losing future leaders if they identify the wrong candidates

3. The Leadership Potential Blueprint outlines key variables you can use to build an effective high potential program

The Leadership Potential Blueprint is a framework used by organizations to develop their own talent management strategies and make critical decisions about talent.2

This framework focuses on a handful of variables that predict potential. These elements can identify (and develop) the ‘A players’. The framework consists of three dimensions, each containing two variables, organized from the most stable to the most changeable skills and abilities.

A) Foundational dimension: Personality & Cognition

The foundational dimensions consist of the two variables that are unlikely to change — personality characteristics and cognitive capabilities.

Personality characteristics are important to consider. They can shed light on a key aspect of leadership: How does this person interact with and influence others? Some of these characteristics are social and interpersonal skills, assertiveness, dominance, maturity, emotional self-control, and resilience.

Cognitive capabilities predict performance6 and, given their stability, can be great metrics for identifying high potential employees. Leaders who address the daily challenges of running a business need strong cognitive capabilities. These include intelligence, strategic, conceptual thinking, and the ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity.

B) Growth dimension: Learning & Motivation

The growth dimension consists of learning and motivation. These skills are the less stable, more developable elements that reflect an individual’s willingness to learn from new experiences.

In an ever-changing world where businesses and markets are in continuous flux, it is crucial for leaders to have (and use) key learning skills. As you identify high potential candidates, stay on the lookout for candidates who are adaptable, open to feedback, agile, growth-oriented, and eager to learn. Once identified, work on developing them further. Ensure your high potential program offers experiences, assignments, and training that challenge your candidates and nurture these skills.

Leaders are expected to motivate their constituents, so naturally, they themselves need to be motivated. Candidates who have motivational skills can achieve personal and organizational success. In the search for your A players, keep a lookout for whether or not candidates have drive, energy, ambition, a willingness to take risks, and a desire for achievement.

C) Career dimension: Leadership & Functional Skills

Finally, the career dimension comprises the variables that are the easiest to influence and develop — leadership skills and functional skills.

Leadership skills refer to an individual’s ability to manage, motivate, inspire, and develop others. As the name shows, leadership skills are critical for being an effective leader. While some candidates might have stronger dispositions for these leadership skills than others, they are developable. Therefore, high potential programs can foster leadership qualities amongst future leaders, especially if candidates get a head start.

Functional or technical skills refer to an individual’s possession of specialized and generalized business expertise and knowledge. Like leadership skills, they can be taught. The specifics of these skills vary across companies, teams, and roles — when you identify and develop high potentials using this variable, it is important to ask: ‘the potential for what?’

The future of high potential programs

Despite the risks, it seems that high potential programs are here to stay. As companies start to design (or redesign) their programs, they should use evidence-based frameworks to ensure they’re assessing and building talent in ways that align with their strategic objectives. For example, PepsiCo, Eli Lilly, and Citibank use the Leadership Potential Blueprint as the underlying framework for their talent management practices. If your company is looking to spruce its high potential programs up with more rigor and robustness, the Leadership Potential Blueprint is a great framework for identifying and developing your future leaders.

Attend to Others – Give Them the Gift of Yourself


I learn from every client.  One lesson in particular that comes to mind came from a young leader with whom I recently worked.

My client was extremely curious about how others saw her.  She worked hard at becoming aware of her own well-developed sides and those she discerned might be less developed.  She was a veritable sponge for learning!

Her growth as a leader was amazing, as she honed skills at dealing with others who might have different styles and perspectives, recognizing her own resistance to change and then setting judgment aside, using the lens of learning and appreciation for others. She worked hard in listening and in taking the time to pause.  It was a remarkable journey to watch.

As significant as her progress was, though, it was surpassed by something deeper and more meaningful for her: The idea of connection with others.  It came in a realization to my client one day as she spoke about the coaching experience.  I asked her what meant the most to her.  She answered,

“I’m very busy as a leader and people seldom take the time to just ask, ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s on your mind?’

The gift you gave to me each session was that you asked me those questions and so many more.  And then you just listened.  You allowed me to explore who I am and how I want to grow.”

As a coach, I nodded and smiled – I appreciated her kind comment.   And I asked just one more question:

“And what did you learn from that experience?”

My client’s profound response:  First, she paused and then she looked at me intently, and said, smiling,

“We all need someone to ask about us, and we all need someone to listen.  We need to give the gift of ourselves and attend to others.”

Such moments are so powerful for a client and her words can provide perspective for all of us.  So much of what we do as leaders is transactional, filled with strategy and the innumerable tasks we handle daily.  Sometimes we lose sight of the need to connect with others – and to remember that the relationship with our people is of paramount importance.  It precedes and indeed should supersede the tasks we handle.

Especially during these challenging times, each of us needs to have someone look at us, ask how we are, and then just give the gift of listening, with our ears, our eyes and our heart.  My client aptly called it “attending to others,” as the greatest gift we can give.

Think about leaders working at home today with no clear lines of demarcation between their abode and the workplace.  Many are trying to be playmates with their children and supervising their schoolwork. They are shopping and cooking and going non-stop.  The stresses are greater than they have been for any of us in recent memory.

We can’t necessarily solve such issues for our people.  And most people don’t really expect us to be able to do so.  We all need to just ask the simplest of questions:

“How are you today?  And what’s on your mind?”

And then just listen. With our eyes, our ears, and our hearts.


This article originally appeared on

How to Actively Engage Your Remote Team Members

gothamCulture’s Kate Gerasimova discusses how to actively engage your remote team members on the Working with People podcast.

Host Harrison Kim and Kate address these questions:

  1. What are the most common reasons for employee disengagement in the remote workforce (are these reasons different than in non-remote workforces)?
  2. What are some tell-tale signs of employee disengagement in the remote workforce?
  3. What are some initiatives to engage disengaged, unmotivated remote employees, and maintain a positive company culture?

The Leader as a “Heat Sink”

In everything from soldering circuit boards to dissipating the thermal energy created by computer server farms, the technological world appreciates the value of a “heat sink.”  Without heat sinks, we would have far more component hiccups or even outright failures.

Heat sinks serve a vital purpose in dissipating energy and allowing a device to function.

But what happens when the leader becomes the metaphorical “heat sink,” taking in all or most of the heat and energy that is emanated from the crisis, the organization and the people with whom he or she is dealing?

Coaching women and men these past four months, I have found myself using this heat sink metaphor often  – inviting the leaders who deal with the current crisis to think about the human emotion and “heat” that has been built up on their teams and themselves.  Some of the calmest and most centered individuals I know today are now struggling as never before, with the weighty issues and unknowns facing their personal and professional world.  And the “heat” from that often finds its way into a ready conduit – the leader himself.  Some call it stress, others call it workload.  My clients readily appreciate the metaphor of “heat.”

Where does that energy go once it enters the psyche of the individual?  Under “normal” (a word we often yearn for now), it is readily dissipated after work with a person’s family, or at places like the gym or the tennis court.  It is also diminished because, regardless of workload, there is a certain sine wave to normal work life, with ebbs and flows that allow us to subsume the energy that is built up as a result of events in the workplace.

Today is different.  A 24-hour leadership cycle has emerged and the workplace has shifted to home, with most leaders having no clear delineation between their professional roles and their experience as parents, spouses, and caregivers.  The hours are longer, the stresses of communication more challenging and the issues our people face are often new to everyone – including the leader.  As a consequence, there is little frame of reference and a sort of normlessness can permeate our existence, bringing emotions and so much real “heat,” that we find ourselves reacting in ways we would have never imagined.

And sometimes the buildup within is so powerful that we begin to withdraw from others, including our closest colleagues, subordinates, friends and personal relationships, perhaps because we feel that there is nothing left for us to give.  And when we close down in that way, we can occasionally begin to write narratives about ourselves and others that might not reflect the realities we face.  We might even begin to “project” feelings, words, or what we think are the intentions of others, that are not accurate.  We thus limit or foreclose the ability of meeting others where they are.

As you read these words they may resonate with you.  If they do, take heart in the fact that you are not alone.  In all of my clients I see these times of crisis etched in their faces and hear it in their words.  My role is to help them “unpack” those experiences through questions that are meant to evoke awareness of what they are going through.

Awareness is the key for all of us.  If you can name it, you can begin to tame what is in your head and in your heart.  And by being aware that you have become a “heat sink,” you have made the first step in gaining perspective and understanding of what you are experiencing.

Reaching out to everyone in your life and exploring that awareness is your most powerful tool.  From there you can consider actions that will reduce the heat or help subsume it – and even see it for what it is and recognize that it might not even be heat that you need to take in.  When you reach out to others you can share your perspectives and, by doing so, realize that the realities we all face as individuals alone are really just a part of the larger reality in today’s world.

And, most importantly, you can help others realize that the heat they feel themselves is very real and universally felt.

This article originally appeared on

The Two Best Bosses You’ll Ever Have – Continuing Lessons From My First Sergeant

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was sitting with another G.I., commenting about my commander in the military.  The animated discussion I was engaged in was with a non-commissioned officer – a “NCO” –  commiserating about actions my commander had taken and how I wish he could somehow be different.

The NCO, a U.S. Army E-8, listened intently and heard my complaints – and my venting – for long minutes.  When I finally stopped, he simply smiled and asked,

“So who are the two best bosses you’ll ever have in your career?”

Non-plussed by the question, I sat there in silence, not really knowing what to say.  By then I had spent enough time in the Army, though, to realize that a senior NCO draws on a lifetime of experience leading people.  For those open to learning, top sergeants are always ready to provide perspectives, often in the form of parables or aphorisms.

The First Sergeant let his question sink in and then restated the question more succinctly:

“Who are the two best bosses you’ll ever have?”

As he continued to smile, he provided an ample pause for thought and then slowly offered this answer:

“Think about this, it’s simple:

The guy who just left and the one who’s coming next.

We hardly ever see the current boss as the person who meets all of our needs.”

My first reaction was that the first sergeant was playing games with me.  I laughed and told him that it didn’t make sense.  He grinned and just stared back, challenging me to think about what I had just heard. He slowly sipped on the black coffee contained in his favorite mug, stained from years of use, patiently letting his message sink in.

The meaning of that first sergeant’s message came to me slowly that day.  And I’ve often thought about it in the years since.  Our perspective as human beings is so often shaped so much by the wish of what we really want or need that we don’t take the time to appreciate what we have.  And we spend so much time wanting our boss to change (or our co-worker, our friend or even our significant other) that we don’t realize that while we can’t change others, we can always change how we react to them.  We can become so hardened in our position that eventually we come to believe that the best solution is that the boss simply “should” change.

I know that many readers have examples of “yes, but” that includes their own “impossible bosses,” who make life miserable for others or just don’t know how to lead.  There are indeed situations that may well be untenable.  In such cases, there are limited options for a person, including suffering through it or, if possible, leaving the job.

And yet so often it is valuable to realize that the boss has his or her own capabilities, just as we do.  And his or her styles might well work for most people.  Understanding how our boss approaches the world is indeed the most important step we can take.  To do that, we must first “meet them where they are.”  That involves making human contact and connection with the coworker who happens to be your boss.  And that may well be the most difficult step, especially if we are fundamentally different in our approaches to the workplace and the communication inherent in it.

An important thing to remember is that we can feel resistance in ourselves when someone is different from us.  That resistance must be met with curiosity about what we are truly feeling.  By naming it – be it discomfort with communication styles or even values – we can help ourselves name that discomfort.  And understanding that the boss can feel resistance towards you is of equal importance.  Again, curiosity is our best approach to lean into the resistance we think we feel from the boss.

I have worked with clients who avoid their supervisor or manager because they feel their boss doesn’t understand them.  Initially, this might help us cope, but it can’t help us understand how we can change the way we react to them.  It’s best to lean into what we feel as resistance and use curiosity as our best tool in such situations.  Think carefully about how you word questions to anyone and especially your boss.  The open-ended “What communication style works best for you?” opens up possibilities, while something binary like, “You don’t like my emails do you?” can foreclose any connection or growth.  So too, the statement “I’d value time with you,” is an opening to a larger conversation that can be filled with development of the relationship.

There will always be bosses with whom you just “click.”  And there will be others where you have to work hard in establishing how you react to them.  My guess, based on that old first sergeant’s advice, is that one of those will be the best boss you ever had.  It’s your choice.

This article originally appeared on


Going Slow To Go Fast

Going Fast to Go Slow

In a recent discussion with one of my colleagues, she compared the work she is doing with teams to rebooting her computer. Every once in a while, we realize that we have opened so many files, folders, web pages, and software programs in the course of our work and life that things just aren’t operating as smoothly and quickly as we might expect. To get things back in working order, we need to carve out some time to reboot- to close everything out and to start over. To go slow in order to go fast again.


When this happens, and it happens to all of us, you have a couple of options. First, you can ignore it and muddle through, hoping to avoid the dreaded “blue screen of death”. You can shut the computer down and walk away. Or, you can take a pause, reboot, and clear the decks of all of those things that are no longer serving you well.

Rebooting your team.

This counter-intuitive notion resonated with me quite deeply. As a business owner and the leader of multiple teams navigating through the disruptions of the last few months, I have the relentless voice in my head telling me to be decisive. To move, to execute, to push through. But what if this self-imposed reaction to all of the “chatter” in my life wasn’t something to try to simply push through but, rather, they were signals that it was time to reboot?

What if the fastest and most effective way to get to speed was to slow things down? What if we pressed pause as a team, assessed the current operating context, and worked together to realign in order to enable us to work faster in the long run?

What does a reboot take?

Realigning or rebooting a team takes time and effort and requires bringing people together to engage in sense-making and dialogue. This may mean a series of shorter, video-based, meetings over the course of several weeks, or months, that help your team reset for success in this next chapter.

When preparing to reboot your team there are few critical areas that you should consider in order to ensure that you can move forward with clarity and alignment.


In any change, it is important for teams to reassess their purpose to ensure that it is still relevant to their internal as well as the external circumstances. Gather your team and ‘meet the moment.’ Capture where you are and recalibrate your collective purpose as a team in response to the changes.


The shift of how work gets done between people on a team, such as a shift to remote work and virtual teaming, can trigger some uncertainty around whether or not people are getting the work done and holding themselves mutually accountable to results. Acknowledge these issues and engage the team in agreeing on ways to demonstrate transparency and accountability.


In order to fulfill a team’s purpose, members need to have the right knowledge and skills to do so. Ask your team to reflect on their collective skills and knowledge, and to be creative with how they are leveraged. This is a great way to acknowledge and celebrate the many gifts the individuals on your team can bring to the table.

James Sasser, CEO and President of federal government contractor GovStrive describes some of the unique bridging and relationship-building challenges that his clients working through which are especially challenging during the current COVID pandemic- “We are working with large federal agencies that are faced with the need to onboard new hires remotely, and these employees not only need job-specific training, but also want to establish personal relationships with their supervisors and peers and desire to learn more about the agency mission, culture, and values, so they can be productive on day one.”


Team collaboration can feel very different in person than it would online. Without properly revisiting what virtual collaboration might look like for a team, members can feel more siloed, and efficiency can drop. Have your team look into various collaboration tools and techniques and bring their recommendations to your next meeting.

“Our clients have been forced to accelerate adoption of virtual technologies. Many of our clients have been pleasantly surprised by how well employees have embraced virtual collaboration through video platforms,” says Clyde Thompson, Senior Vice President at GovStrive. “We’ve worked with our clients to develop remote webinars and engagement platforms for new hires and have deployed personal messaging campaigns that develop and enhance the employee-supervisor relationship well before the new hire’s first day, so they feel like they’re part of the team at the onset of their new job,” adds GovStrive’s Director of Marketing and Change Management, Joe Abusamra.


Even in real time, managing conflict can be a daunting task that people might feel is better avoided. In virtual work, the ability to identify let alone address conflict becomes even more difficult. Borrowing from the research on delivering feedback, conflict is best managed when it is timely. And although uncomfortable, conflict doesn’t have to be feared or negative.


There will always be obstacles that stand in the way of any successful change, whether there are planned or unplanned disruptions. Invite your team to reflect on what they have learned through their experience of this disruption/pandemic, and to share any potential roadblocks they envision encountering as the team continues to work together. Then have the team collaborate to design a plan to overcome them.

Michelle Boullion PhD, Director of Executive Education at Louisiana State University’s Ourso College of Business, suggests that leaders must, “Always be thinking like a futurist.” As many business leaders continue to struggle to effectively adapt to working remotely Dr. Boullion advises that leaders can pave a clear path forward by, “Getting out of the mindset that employees can’t be trained to work remotely.” Though it may be difficult to make this change in such a dramatic and all-encompassing way as a result of COVID, there are lessons that leaders can take from this experience. What is the next challenge your organization may face as things evolve around us? How can you prepare your teams to be ready to adapt quickly to whatever the future holds?

Reboot coaching.

These tips make sense, but they can be a bit overwhelming to think about as you navigate the day-to-day requirements of your work environment. In order to organize and expedite the realignment process, it may be helpful to obtain the guidance of someone who can help organize the effort. Not only does this allow for you to manage all of the balls that are in the air at one time but it affords you with the opportunity to be an active participant in the process with your team as opposed to having to balance the roles of participant and facilitator. Your coach can be a respected peer or colleague, an HR business partner, or an external resource. Whatever path you choose, it is essential that you identify a coach who has the facilitation skills necessary to productively navigate some potentially challenging and emotionally charged discussions.

Regardless of what sector or industry you may be in, the events of the last few months have undoubtedly created some dynamic disruption to the way you get things done. Before diving headlong into the breach and relying on what worked in the past to get you through the current situation, it may be an opportune time to consider slowing things down, reevaluating the current operating environment, and realigning your team to move forward with clarity and purpose.

This article originally appeared on

Podcast: A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with customer experience expert and CEO of TribeCX, David Hicks, and law enforcement officer and mindset and wellness expert, Joe Smarro about taking a citizen-centric approach to police reform.

Released: June 24, 2020

Show notes and transcript:

A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the Gotham Culture podcast, where we talk about any issue you like, so long as those topics are organization of culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the Gotham Culture podcast.

Nationwide, calls for police reform have reached a fever pitch. Systematic racism, the excessive use of force and power by select law enforcement officers over the decades, the militarization of police have created a culture within law enforcement that really is misaligned with the diverse needs of the citizens that they’ve sworn to serve and protect. According to, more than 1,000 people a year are killed by police in the United States. In 2019 alone, 1,098 people were killed, 24% of them being African American, despite African Americans only making up 13% of the United States population. That’s nearly 1,100 people killed by police in the US, compared to other nations like Germany, the UK and Australia, for example, that have police-related killings in the single digits annually. So, something is obviously going on here, and it needs to be examined.

As law enforcement agencies begin to rethink the way they approach their work in order to ensure law enforcement is able to serve and protect in equitable ways, they’re going to be forced to examine the culture of policing in this country to its very core. How did law enforcement’s identity in our society form and evolve over time? What beliefs and assumptions do law enforcement officers and the agencies they serve believe to be true? And how do those beliefs and assumptions stack up against the current realities and the needs of their communities?

This is going to be a difficult process for many to engage in, as it fundamentally asks people to question their own personal and professional identities. One of today’s guests, Joe Smarro, discussed during one of his own recent livestream discussions with several police officers of color. He said, “The system is not broken. In fact, it never worked to begin with.” And his point was that the system was created by white men as a system of aggression. This is a pretty deep thought that challenges us all to take a hard look at the systems that we’ve created or perpetuated only because they make us feel comfortable. We’ll have a link to that discussion in the show notes, and I encourage you to take some time to check it out.

And it’s not just law enforcement organizations that are asking themselves these questions. I recently read an article by Dustin Riker in Northwest Sidebar about the need for law firms to do the same. It’s heartening to see organizations across the spectrum taking time to stop, to learn, to reflect, and to commit to changing for the collective good. We’ll also include a link to that article in the show notes, as well.

My guests today join me in a discussion about how law enforcement agencies might take a very different approach to evolving their cultures by building their reform in a citizen-centric way. Joining me today are two respected colleagues, David Hicks and Joe Smarro. David Hicks is CEO of TribeCX, a customer experience advisory firm that works with organizations globally. Amongst his expansive clientele, David has partnered with police agencies to redesign the way in which they approach their work in order to have more positive impact on the experience of their constituents, those being the citizens that they are sworn to serve and protect.

Joe Smarro is a police officer, and CEO of the wellness firm, SolutionPoint+. He’s also one of the police officers who was featured in the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, which tells the story of the way in which San Antonio Police Department evolved its approach to responding to mental health-related calls, and the impact on those individuals and the community as a whole. I highly encourage you to check out this movie if you have not seen it. It really illustrates different ways of approaching police work. We’ll also include that link in the show notes for you, as well.

I’m thrilled to have David and Joe with me today to share their experiences and perspectives on this important topic. Gentlemen, welcome.

Joe Smarro:

Thanks, Chris. I appreciate you having us.

David Hicks:

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invite.

Chris Cancialosi:

To start off, I’d like to start with you, Joe. As somebody who’s worked in law enforcement for many years, and you’ve worked also with other law enforcement agencies as a trainer around some of the lessons and best practices that you and your colleagues at San Antonio PD have developed in the mental health unit, this was really a seismic shift in the way that law enforcement officers interacted with the portion of the community that was suffering from mental illness, and it had a lot of really positive effects. Tell us a little bit about it, Joe.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, thanks, Chris. Our mental health unit started in 2008, but what people really don’t realize is that what we refer to as CIT, crisis intervention training, it started in 1987. There was an incident in Memphis, Tennessee, where a black individual was killed by police, and there was outrage in the community, and as a result of that, they came together, they partnered with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and they created what is now known as the 40-hour CIT model, and it’s called the Memphis model. So, this has been around for a long time.

In San Antonio, they started this practice in 2002, they started the 40-hour training. Our full-time mental health unit started in 2008 as a pilot project, just to see, is there a need? Can we justify allocating manpower to this type of unit? And it was just two officers, and over six months, they collected so much data that it was like, okay, we have to actually make this a unit. That’s when I came on. It was in 2009.

So, I’ve been serving on the mental health unit full-time for about 11 years, and it absolutely goes against what most would expect when you think of a policing or law enforcement unit, because we wear plain clothes, we drive unmarked vehicles, our weapons are concealed, and we show up, and everything about our approach is different, right? For starters, we introduce ourselves by our names, not Officer Smarro. It’s just, “Hey, my name is Joe, and this is my partner. We’re here to help you out. We’re here to check on you.”

But because we are so saturated in this environment, because every call, 100% of the calls we respond to are people suffering from mental health crises, we know what we’re going into. Patrol officers, it’s such a wide variety of calls that they’re going to get, so it’s very, very difficult for them to have to put in the right mindset, if you will, for every call. And some are really, really intense. Some are low drag. And so, they have to be able to fluctuate. We know, every call we go into … Now, granted, they’re all different on some level, but we know, hey, we’re dealing with someone who here is a consumer, and they’re having a mental health crisis, and so it’s much easier for from that stance.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. And what’s the, in terms of the approach, because this is really the way in which you and your team interact with your customers, your citizens, those suffering from mental health crises, and you talked about plain clothes. Talk about the process, interns of how it differs, just in terms of the engagement, interaction dynamic.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, so, for a long time now, I’ve been saying that one of the big differences between us, and again, nothing is one, right? So, I’m not saying 100% of anything, but a majority of patrol officers, their priority oftentimes is time, and when there’s calls holding in the queue, they’re trying to wrap up what they’re doing and get to the next one. For us, we truly, as cliché as it is, the most important call that we’re on is the one that we’re on, and we’ll take as long as it needs until we find a resolution that we’re all happy with.

But beyond that, we focus on the person, not the problem. Just understanding human behavior, understanding psychology, understanding what people are doing when they’re in a crisis. Even if they have a serious mental illness, they’re still human beings, and they’re essentially communicating something. And most often, it’s like, there’s something wrong, there’s something off. I need something, whether it’s attention, whether it’s love, whether it’s housing, whether it’s food, whether it’s medications, I need something.

And so, if we only focus on the behaviors of the individual, if we’re only looking at the surface … And that’s what I teach these officers. I say, your eyes deceive you. Don’t ever react based on what you’re seeing. Pause, take a step back, and think. What is actually happening underneath this? Why is this behavior being presented? And it’s in that curiosity I feel like where, that’s what we teach, is learn to be curious. Yes, this person is over here acting very, very symptomatic to their mental illness because they’re off their medications.

Where some officers, if they’re not educated or comfortable, they’re going to overreact oftentimes, or this is where we quickly see people resorting to a use of force, is because cops are very comfortable handling things through using the use of force continuum, right? We have this old way of policing called ATM, and it was ask, tell, make. I’m going to ask you do something, I’m going to tell you to do it, and then I’m going to make you do it. And it’s very quick. You get two chances, a third one, I’m going to force it on you.

We have to learn to slow down. Patience is one of our best friends. It’s one of the best tools that we rely on. And so, earning how to take a step back and just observe. As long as someone is not being physically hurt or injured, we can pause. We can take a step back and pause, and just observe what’s happening, and then ask ourself, I wonder what actually is going on here? This is a person in crisis.

And then I tell them, hey, learn to have some empathy. Imagine that that was you. Imagine that at 25 or 30 or whatever, that you were dealt this deck of cards, and it was like, you know what? You’re going to have schizoaffective disorder. You’re going to have major depression, or bipolar. How would you deal with that? And so, how would you want to be treated?

We talk about this all the time, but people get so lost or confused, and again, especially with officers, because if you think about everything going on right now, there’s this huge debate about police should not be responding to people in a mental health crisis. And I can understand, from a cerebral point of view, I can get that, because I do believe that if you are a person with a mental illness, you shouldn’t have to interact with the police just because you’re symptomatic.

But what’s the alternative? There isn’t adequate social services. There’s not adequate resources in the community, and because people aren’t trained in mental health, because it’s not a mandatory course, oftentimes people overreact when they see someone who’s simply symptomatic, and they end up calling the police. And then the police show up, and if we’re not trained to deal with it, it’s like, of course this is going to go wrong. Of course this is going to be handled pretty poorly, because I don’t know what it is I’m dealing with. But here’s what I do know how to do: force my presence on people, be overly authoritative, and then put handcuffs on people and figure out what to do with them after the fact. And so, sadly we get there very quickly, sometimes.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that background and that context, Joe. It’s really enlightening. I’ve got a million questions.

Now, David, you’ve got a very different background, as the CEO of TribeCX, working in the CX field, the customer experience field. But you have worked with various law enforcement organizations over the years. Talk to us a little bit about your background, and how your work has evolved within law enforcement agencies.

David Hicks:

Glad to, and I want to pick up from what Joe said, and so, what’s the alternative? If somebody’s got mental health issues, what else could you do? Well, let me take you back a few years. When I started to get involved with this, Tony Blair was responsible for the British government, and they had this interesting mechanism for directing police funding based on some key outcome dials, and how well local constabularies … the UK is split up into not quite state-based institution, and 20 or 30 separate constabularies based on geography.

And the one in Cheshire, where there’s Manchester, so it’s a large number of rural areas, was doing particularly badly in the measures related to stalking and harassment. And a guy from the sort of central police body, the National Police Improvement Authority, saw me speak at a conference, and my area of interest is in helping organizations make change, so as they’re better aligned to their customer and to their stakeholders. Those are large telcos, government institutions, yes, but principally commercial organizations.

But the tools that you use in commercial seemed to be of interest to this guy from the National Police Improvement Authority, that said, we’re putting more and more and more cash into Cheshire to improve their stalking and harassment. The more we do, the more we spend money on that, the worse the actual scores get, the worse the outcome measures are. Can you take a look, and maybe use some of the tools that I’ve been describing at this conference around mapping the end-to-end experience from a customer’s or victim’s point of view?

And I’m happy to dive into that with more detail, Chris, but the reason that Joe’s point stuck in my head was, do you know, there really was a better way of doing it. There’s a whole bunch of folks in the voluntary sector, in the other state institutions like the health professionals. When you stitch together that end-to-end experience with the victim in mind, then you find that the areas where the police service need to be evolved are a lot fewer than they were. They were basically the first call that was made.

And what Cheshire piloted was a different approach, a differently-designed approach, one that had the victim at the center of the whole thing. Good news for police service: they reduced their costs in this area by 70%, seven-zero percent. Massive reduction in cost, and the improvement in the outcome was off the scale, three or four times better in the eyes of the victim.

So, I hope to go into more detail there, but the alternative is, Joe, maybe organizations responsible for the police service and sort of state institutions should do some thoughtful, what’s the best way, from a victim’s point of view, from a person suffering those mental health crises, what’s the best way of actually designing that intervention? Because rarely, when you do it with the customer or the victim at the center, does it cost you more. It ends up costing you less, directly and indirectly, all the downstream issues that those things cause. So, that’s what stuck in my mind from Joe’s point. Police shouldn’t be the first port of call, because there are probably better ways of doing it, if you were to design that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. And from my perspective, as somebody who works in the area of organizational culture, I get why there is the call for reform and change. I also understand why there would be pushback against, that as people who have committed their careers to the beliefs and assumptions that have been there for many decades. There’s a certain way of doing things, and sometimes you start to develop your own professional identity around that, and it’s hard to kind of zoom out and see, and really take a look at what is working, what’s not working, and why.

Joe, from your perspective, I know there seems to be lately, especially in the last few weeks, there are all sorts of announcements coming out from left, right and center in the law enforcement community of police departments making massive changes. It seems from the outside to be reactionary or quick, and that may or may not be the reality of what’s really going on in those organizations. But for example, the NYPD commissioner last week announced the immediate reassignment of 600 plain clothes officers to other assignments, immediately. I’m curious from your perspective, Joe, what are some of the pros and cons of taking on some of those actions so rapidly?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I think, I agree with you Chris. I do believe, this is my opinion, that there are a lot of decisions being made based on emotion, based on the desire to please a part of your base, whatever that is, and there’s also a lot of political pressure, and there’s community pressure, and people are getting squeezed from every side. And so, I think that from leadership, they’re doing whatever they can to survive right now, because in essence this, as a profession, it feels so much like we’re drowning. We’re flailing right now, trying to grasp at anything that we can hold on to.

I worry about, as someone who’s been doing mental health for the last 11 years, we know the significant trauma that comes with doing this job as a first responder in this country, and we know the toll that it’s taken on the officers’ mental health. In the last year, we had 228 completed suicides, and I fear that we’re going to have a catastrophic, hockey stick-type of an increase, off the charts, of officers struggling. Whether they’re quitting out of emotion, and then they’re just negatively impacting their lives and their livelihood, or they’re trying to stay the course and fight the fight, to no avail if they’re not emotionally resilient or if they haven’t been taught self-care courses, or whatever it is, and they don’t have supportive policies in place from their department, and there’s nowhere to turn to.

I can tell you, as a first responder, our agency hasn’t done anything drastic yet. It’s like status quo. Everything is just happening. And what’s even more compounding to this is, it’s right on the heels of COVID, right? So, we were already dealing with this pandemic and the quarantines and all this stuff, but now, since the killing of George Floyd, it’s like this is a whole different thing that we’re dealing with. And so, when you talk about automatically saying we’re going to move 600 people, those 600 people are like, whoa! How come … it feels like a punishment. I had my job, I had my duties, my responsibilities, and now suddenly I’m just going to get moved over here just because of something that happened somewhere else.

And one of the frustrations internally, there’s no … I really am not trying to be insensitive about any of this, but we are all aware in this country of what happened in Minneapolis. Many are aware of what has happened over this profession in law enforcement. But when you make changes nationwide based on a singular incident, or even a trend of incidents, which we can then say have happened over the course of time … Again, there’s data for all of this stuff, but you could say, let’s look at the last 25 killings, whatever, and changes are being made just sporadically throughout, or universally across the board. It doesn’t always make sense.

And again, as the end user, as the officer who’s being told, we’re just foot soldiers, right? So it’s like, hey, you’re going to do this now. Yes, sir. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s not being communicated, but I know that I have to just say yes and do whatever I’m told. And so, all this ebb and flow, the wishy-wash and the go do this now, no, no, we’re going to do this now, it’s clear that there’s just a lot of attempted effort to please the constituents and keep the community at bay and keep them happy, but at what cost, is my fear.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thanks for that perspective, Joe. And David, for your perspective on this question, I’m curious from you, what are the costs of not including all of the stakeholders in this process, so that we really understand what’s going to be most positively impactful for the citizen, in this case, or the customer?

David Hicks:

Well, I’m not qualified to comment as Joe was from a policing point of view, but I was listening to him and nodding, because it reminded me of the major changes that commercial organizations are facing, of necessity. And these are organizations where people have put their whole life into careers, and there’s a degree of positional power, and the onset of digital, onset of different competition sets and so on, meaning the very fabric of their organization, the very fabric of their lives are being ripped apart. And they have no control over that, and people feel pretty bad about it. What folks will do is what they believe is a good job.

It reminds me, do you know, of a situation. There was a guy, I think his name was Dr. Dao, a Korean dentist who got on a plane to O’Hare, a United plane, to fly south. Last plane of the evening to this particular airport, and three pilots needed to get there for the next day. So, the United Airlines crew said, “Anybody want to get off?” Nobody did. They said, “Well, we need to take the last folks on the plane off,” and the three folks were a family, it was a guy and his two daughters, and they refused to. So, they went and got staff from off the plane, and they dragged this poor guy off. They dragged him out physically. They knocked his teeth out, apparently. Everybody was filming this, and it wiped a massive amount of value off the value of United Airlines.

I was fortunate enough to talk to the folks, the leadership of United Airlines. I said, “What did you end up doing with those folks?” And they said, “Well, we kept them off, because we couldn’t in all honesty do anything about that,” because they were doing what they thought was a good job. The good job is, you’ve got to be able to get pilots in the right part of the world. It’s a very different context, Joe, to your point, but folks will do what they believe is a good job, and in the absence of clear understanding as to what’s important and why, they’ll do what they sincerely believe is the right thing, even though that’s often at the cost of the other stakeholders: the passengers, and in this case, the shareholders. In complete innocence, they’re doing what they believe to be the right thing.

So, it strikes me that there’s some real things to be learned here, because the scale and pace and extent of change that folks face in not just the police service, but in many walks of life, there are some practical things that are proven to work, in terms of giving folks support, being clear around that purpose and intent. All the good stuff I was seeing Joe talk about in his shows, that helps folks to actually understand, to recalibrate, and to make the right sorts of choices when they’re executing their roles, whether it’s a police officer’s role, or any role that’s facing folks.

We’re crazy, frankly, not to be leveraging those sorts of proven approaches, because the casualties are the folks getting the rough end of it, but also, you’ve got to really, obviously, wonder about the police officers. I mean, you were quite earlier on, Joe, about the 220 folks that took their lives because all their career and belief systems are being eroded. They don’t know which way is up because of the changes that they’re facing. That’s what happens. I can give you some corporate examples.

A great example, a tragic example, in the French telco sector, they massively changed the way that telco was working, and people threw themselves out the bloody windows. I mean, can you imagine that? That was happening because their whole set of priorities and beliefs were being challenged by the commercial realities of that company. So, you do this role, and there are casualties at every level, every layer in the organization.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. It kind of goes back to this concept, the word that keeps ringing in my ears as I’m listening to you both, I mean, it’s about learning. We have to be comfortable enough to be uncomfortable and say that maybe, just because we’ve done things for a long time a certain way, maybe that’s not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s not necessarily an indictment that you are a bad person, but there may be a different and better and more equitable way to do it, and accomplish the results that you want in that career to accomplish to begin with.

We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about what this might look like, really, from both of your expert perspectives. If we were to truly look at law enforcement reform through the lens of the citizen or customer, how might that change things in a way that are sustainable and positive and equitable? So, when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion with Joe Smarro and David Hicks. Be right back.

Chris Cancialosi:

This epsidoe of the Gotham Culture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post-production support for organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at

Chris Cancialosi:

Okay, welcome back to the show, everybody. I’m joined today by Joe Smarro, CEO of SolutionPoint+, and Mr. David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX. Let’s continue on with our conversation. David, I’d like to start with you on this one. Really, from your perspective, in order to take a truly citizen-centered approach to re-imagining policing in our country, what will need to happen? And I’m curious because I’d love to learn more about your example you were talking about earlier in Cheshire.

David Hicks:

Right. I think the answer to the first question is, you do this one piece at a time. I’m not sure if throwing everything in the air works in any context, whether it’s commercial or police. But you do this one set of problems at a time. And I mentioned the National Police Improvement Authority doing a pilot in Cheshire around stalking and harassment, and what we did, Chris, was we basically got the various stakeholders involved. There was the local health service, the volunteers, victims, of course, and we basically mapped out everything, from before I’m even a victim and I learn about these sorts of issues, through to I’ve had an incident, I’m reporting it, and I’m an ex-victim. All of the possible stages, and all of the possible sort of points where I touch institutions.

In commercial terms, you call that a customer journey map. We called it a victim journey map. Two great female colleagues actually run this project, and what emerged was a map, for the first time, from the victim’s point of view, of all the possible touch points. And that was invaluable, frankly, not just from the police service point of view, but from the point of view of all of the stakeholders involved there.

And then, you started to ask the victims, “Okay, where were the really touches that were really, really important to you as a victim?” And they had a chance to vote. And then we said, “Where, in your view, were things broken? Where did they actually cause you hurt, cause you discomfort and pain?” And what you’re able to do was to look at those really critical touch points, and the ones that were broken. And the ones that were both critical and broken, they needed to be redesigned first.

So, we did some very basic things around who’s best to deliver that, what is it that’s important, in terms of the needs of the victim at that point, and just redesigned, reallocated the really critical points first, and tried it. We actually tried to change the delivery of that service in Cheshire.

We piloted it and tested it, piloted it and tested it, and over about four or five months, what emerged was a redesigned, re-imagined end-to-end experience that really had, not because anybody was trying to minimize the amount of police involvement, but police weren’t helpful from a victim’s point of view, to be involved very much. What was more important was to have the victim, support groups and other volunteers and professionals involved.

So, when this was running after five months, we baked it into a process that was actually scalable. We did it for the rest of the Cheshire constabulary, and took it back to the national body for police officers in the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers, it’s called, and that’s where we shared it. We described it. The home office, this is the central governmental body, endorsed it as a proven practice.

So, that was very pleasing, but what was also interesting was, we always, six months after, we can go back and ask how it’s working. And we sat down with some of the victims that had been involved, the two folks who did the delivery. Said, “How do you feel?” “I still feel the victim.” And that wasn’t expected. So, somebody asked the really dumb but incredibly smart question, said, “What would it take to make you not feel the victim anymore?” And the women, it was all women, they said, “I want to stop this happening. I want to get in front of the game. I actually want to stop these guys doing this to other people. So, we need to build something, create something at the front of this whole process that gets people like me out to school, social clubs, and so on, so I can actually educate women not to become victims.”

Now, when we did that, we’re about six months later, boom, that was when something magical was happening. Those folks didn’t feel like victims, plus they’re actually just reducing the whole number of women that got involved, in terms of stalking and harassment, as victims. So, it was … it still chokes me up to even describe this, but it was a fantastically powerful, very cost-effective, from an economics point of view, but the service that was delivered to the victims was significantly better than what was there, and all of the stakeholders felt better about it, more specifically, the really critical ones. The victims, they actually took control, and they felt great, or I guess as best as you can as a victim, that they were actually taking charge, taking control of this, and preventing young women getting involved and becoming victims in their own right. Those tools enabled all of that to happen.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for sharing that, David. What a fascinating story. In terms of just an outsider looking in on that story, it is interesting because you don’t often hear about any organization, law enforcement or otherwise, bringing in all of the stakeholders, including the customer or victim in this case, to have a discussion about what the issues are and what the best solutions would be. And I would imagine that the relationships that were built between those people that were engaging in dialogue, coming to the table, wanting to do the right thing, and able to learn from each other and have honest conversations with each other, was something really, particularly magical.

David Hicks:

Yep. And also, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It helped because the funding, just to be really cynical for a second, there was some significant funding implications to getting this right, so that helped. The net net was it cost less. Some of the discretionary funding available from central government flowed in the direction of those places that were doing a better job. But yeah, at the end of the day, it’s about the leaders of those institutions just being brave, and what’s the worst thing that could happen, just getting some folks together and humbly listening? And giving folks some of the basic tools to listen, not to be defensive, not to react crazy and sort of fishbowls, as we call it, where you just sit down and listen to everybody before you have a chance to respond.

And you can see people growing and developing, and it was cathartic, frankly, for everybody involved. So, what’s the worst that could happen? People would start shouting at each other? What’s the best thing that could happen, is you can actually end up with something that’s better for everybody, and people grow in the process.

Chris Cancialosi:

And David, what was your experience, or I guess, what was the experience of the officers in that process? How easy or difficult was it for them to shed certain identity, take on different aspects of an identity?

David Hicks:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question, and is, they were frustrated, Chris, to be truthful. I mean, they were deploying standard operating procedures that were there in the Cheshire constabulary. They were doing the right thing, and the more they did the right thing, the worse the numbers got, which was perverse. So, they were actually, at the end of this process, it was those folks who were involved, the officers who joined me at the Association of Chief Police Officers, to actually describe how it felt being part of that team in Cheshire.

And they were very different. Sorry, I feel emotional talking about it, but you actually had people in tears, saying, “I actually feel I’m making a difference now, rather than being part of the problem.” So, it was truly transformational for those folks. They wanted to do a good job. I mean, that’s the irony of this, that the procedures are getting in the way of folks doing the right thing.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Joe, I mean, as a law enforcement officer yourself who has been re-imagining, you’ve been part of the process of re-imagining law enforcement with a mentally ill population of your community. What needed to happen in order for that to be accepted within the culture of the police department? That was a rather, it may not necessarily be a new concept anymore in your organization, but it was for a time. What did it take for people to be open to really reimagine that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, it really came down to having an excellent delivery and a really good product. The original, again, the CIT model believes that you should only train about 25% of each agency in the 40-hour crisis intervention. I don’t agree with that philosophy. I believe that if you’re in law enforcement, until there’s a day where you get to pick and choose what calls you respond to, you shouldn’t get to pick and choose how prepared you are to respond. And so, I think everyone needs to have a certain level of training, at least a basic level of training. And so, for me, I think even the 40 hours, while it’s great, I still think it’s quite introductory.

And so, to say that it’s only for voluntary officers that wanted to volunteer to sign up for the training, here’s what we learned when our chief mandated it, and we’re a large department, right? 2,300-plus officers. And the original goal was 10%. I’m going to strategically place officers on certain shifts, at certain substations, and any time there’s a call involving a mentally ill person, we’re going to deploy one of those trained officers. Well, the problem was that as soon as we hit our 10% mark, the calls were still so far beyond our manpower allocation for that call that he finally was like, okay, let’s just do 100%.

Now, as the trainers, we were like, whoa, this is going to be a huge undertaking. But here’s what we learned, and this is why I believe it should be mandated. First, anytime you mandate anything to first responders, law enforcement officers, there’s pushback, right? It’s like, why are you going to make me go do this? If I wanted to do it, I would have done it. Why are you making me do it?

But here’s what we learned, a very, very valuable lesson by mandating this training: the officers that would show up by force to be there, on that first day, Monday morning, they were the most outspoken, like I don’t want to do this, I don’t believe in this type of stuff, this isn’t police work, this is social work, I shouldn’t be doing this, and just mad about it. They let us know. And then, when I started, I had four years on at the time, and so these guys with 20 years on at the time were like, what the hell do you think you’re going to teach me with your four years on? I’ve been doing this for two decades. But I’m like, okay, here’s your seat right over here. Enjoy the class.

And we learned by Friday, because our delivery is good. It’s based on experience, because we’ve really fine-tuned it over the years. The people who were most outspoken on Monday became our biggest advocates on Friday. And just like David was saying, they became our champions, because they were like, mind open, blown. Because of the way we structure our training, we were identified under Obama’s administration as the gold standard in 21st-century policing for having this national standard of CIT.

So, so many people were looking at what we created, and it was really based on collaboration. Again, it was put the end user in mind. On Thursdays of our training, we bring in consumers with lived experiences, and we let them talk to the officers, not on a call during crisis, but in a moment of training to learn. And for them to have that shared experience, it really is for the officer like, whoa. They see them as a human being, not as a problem, and the person with the lived experience sees the officer as a human being, not an authority. And so, just to see those relationships established is a beautiful thing.

And so, yeah, I believe in the mandated training, but also, too, I think there’s this whole thing of CIT isn’t for everybody, or everyone’s not for CIT, but CIT is for everyone. Again, I think it’s something that needs to be mandated very early on. I know that there’s departments making these emotional reactions. I think San Francisco was like, effective immediately, we are no longer responding to non-criminal-type calls. There’s departments that are being stripped from responding to any type of mental health related call, and they’re saying, we’re just going to create some arbitrary city department to handle this. I think we really have to be slow to respond on things like this, and not just think we’re going to put some team together.

And it goes both ways, too. I hear officers, out of frustration, and it’s funny to me, it shows that they care. They complain a lot about these types of calls, right? Because not only are they emotionally taxing, but they can be time-consuming. But hearing that they’re going to be taken away from us, it’s like, what are they going to do, just send clinicians out there to handle these types of calls? Good luck. It’s only a matter of time before they get shot or stabbed. I’m like, why does it immediately have to go there?

And then I ask them, how many mentally ill calls have you handled where you’ve been shot and stabbed? And they kind of looked at me like … And I was like, exactly. Our mind goes to worst case scenario, but I’ve never been killed one time on my job, and I’ve been doing it 11 years. Thousands of interactions, and I’ve yet to die. And so, to just assume we’re going to send clinicians out there and suddenly it’s going to be deadly, I don’t think that that’s a fair jump.

Chris Cancialosi:

As you guys are talking, and it’s really going to take us, again, being courageous enough to sit down and say, hey, none of us have it all figured out. We have to be willing to engage each other in dialogue and not just in throwing memes around and hashtags. There’s a lot of emotion about it, rightfully so, but there are productive ways to handle this.

Joe Smarro:

Let me jump in real quick, Chris, on that. I want to make a point I was going to say earlier when you were talking about learning, and you’re touching on it again right now. I think what’s also important is that we focus on what we are learning, because I believe, it’s much like the public education system in this country. We’re teaching kids how to take a test, to pass standardized tests. We’re not teaching kids how to become adults in this country.

And I believe it’s the same thing in law enforcement. We’re teaching the wrong things. The emphasis is misplaced. We’re prioritizing so much, and if you really peel back the layers on all things within law enforcement, you can Google or YouTube any police agency in this country and look at their recruiting video, and so many times it is this high speed to heavy metal, and it’s showing this minutia to police work that just doesn’t exist. It’ not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s so infrequent. But you’re going to see the helicopter, and people rappelling, and the K-9 unit and the SWAT members, and they’re clearing houses and doing all this stuff that 99% of police officers are not going to do.

And so, we’re attracting people the wrong way, and then we get them into the academy, and right away we start telling them about the dangers, and we’re showing them videos of ambushes and cops being killed while they’re eating at a restaurant, and so we’re instilling paranoia to a certain level in these officers, and they graduate terrified, thinking my goodness, I’m going to get out here on the first day, someone’s going to kill me because I’m in this uniform, and it’s so scary.

But I want to point back to the data and the numbers. 228 officers killed themselves last year. 59 killed in the line of duty. And while that’s terrible, it’s not even close to the amount of harm we’re doing to ourselves. And yet, the emphasis is so much on preparing for the enemy, and I feel like we just really could do a better job of restructuring, I mean, entirely.

And just to David’s point of one thing at a time, I think that that is a great place to start, is let’s take an honest look at our academies. We’re so decentralized. Nothing is standardized. Some places academies are eight weeks. Some are eight months. Some are three month. It’s just, you can make up whatever you want based on your location and your own set of laws. And then, your training curriculum, even that, we’re going to pick and choose what we’re going to train you. And there’s so much of this warfare type training and militarization of policing in this country.

And I tell people, you cannot wear an outer carry vest with nine magazines and tasers and drop holster guns and all this stuff, and show up to someone in crisis, and say, “I’m just here to help. My name is Joe and I want to help you.” They are so terrified by your physical presence that you’re not going to be able to get that interaction or their engagement. And again, it can happen, but it’s not likely.

And so, why not be honest about what are we really doing? What’s the message that we’re communicating to the communities that we’re claiming that we’re here to serve, and how are we training our officers to prepare for this job? And I think that there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely, and it’s interesting, because having been in the military, I can obviously tell the minute differences when I look at images of certain police and soldiers. But to a layperson, I bet that they would be hard pressed, in many cases, to tell the difference. It’s a really interesting point, just the way you show up, the way you look, it sets a tone. That’s where a lot of this dissatisfaction and anger and frustration and rage that we’re seeing is coming from. It’s disproportionately affecting people. I’ve never had somebody in combat gear knock on my front door. That’s for damn sure.

Joe Smarro:

It’s no different than when we have a jumper. A person, clearly unarmed, wanting to jump off of a bridge or an overpass. And you’ll have 15 cops show up. They’ve got shields, helmets, long guns, screaming commands, and it’s like, what the hell are you actually communicating here? How is this an attempt to help somebody? And we believe, because all we know is showing force, oftentimes. I have such an issue with this, when we’re talking about, whether it’s someone who is suicidal or someone in crisis, and I argue that a vast majority of police calls, people don’t call the police because things are going well in their life, right?

So, there’s always some level of emotional disturbance happening, and so having people trained, having people experts and knowing how to deescalate, and having that be their mindset, not rushing to the scene, adrenaline pump hitting, acting irrational, just so you can show up and start screaming and pointing your gun at people, which is just going to exacerbate the problem. Very rarely does that deescalate someone, when you’re pointing weapons at them and shouting commands at them.

Oftentimes, we’re just not willing to take that honest look at ourselves and say, are we responsible for things going wrong sometimes? The answer is yes. I’ve seen it so many times in my career that we showing up is what escalates the situation, because immediately they want to challenge us, and if you show up in that turtle gear, and you’ve got shields and helmets and armor and all of this, they’re like, the assumption is you’re going to inflict harm or pain on me, and then the animalistic response to that is I’m going to fight back, or I’m going to flee, or do something, which again just creates a bigger problem.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right, and we see that happening daily in the last few weeks, with protests and beyond. So, David, let me ask you. We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and I think the lesson for me is, it’s all about the dialogue, and bringing people to the table, and establishing authentic relationships, so that we can solve the issues that we’re confronted with today. There’s a law enforcement official listening to this program right now, saying, holy cow, yes, I get it. Where the heck do I start? What would be your response to that person?

David Hicks:

I’d probably give them the same answer that I often ask that in commercial context, and I say, start where there’s … maybe an inappropriate analogy. Start where there’s blood on the floor. Start where there are problems, because you can actually help and improve things. Or start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader. Or better still, start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader, where there’s blood on the floor, because you’ve got all the things pointing in the right direction, and then start. I mean, start with dialogue. I mean, your earlier point, Chris, is around getting people in the room, the stakeholders in the room, humbly listening to each other. That can only do good.

I’d say, for law enforcement, a leader, to take a look at the metrics by which you run your organization. What we’ve been talking about here is, there are rational and emotional components to policing, yeah? There’s a what you do and a how you do it. And you leave that to accident, people gravitate to what they believe is right. You need to deliberately design that. And when folks turn up to jump, you need to deliberately design how you present yourselves, or you’re quite likely to present yourselves in the wrong way.

So, there’s a rational and emotional. There’s a what and a how. And the measures, certainly the RCMP and the British police service, when I was working with those guys, they were saying, these are our metrics. The number of miles our patrol car has traveled every month. The number of arrests we’ve made. The number of firearms that we seized. The amount of drugs we seized. Those are activity metrics. Those are input metrics. Relatively few of them were actually measured on how safe, how policed do I feel as a community?

Now, that’s a much harder thing to actually go after, but candidly, that’s the reason why, as taxpayers, we’re investing in our police force. I want to feel safe and secure. I want my family to feel safe and secure. And that’s an outcome metric that I would imagine is relatively rare, in terms of police administrations worldwide.

So, I would say to that police leader, the worst you can do, you get groups of stakeholders together, the worst you can do is actually reflect on what your success metrics are, and tackle those two pieces. Start there, and that will start to highlight where maybe you should redesign.

And in terms of some of the things that I mentioned, the mapping of the end-to-end experience, what’s our intent? It’s a commercial tool that seemed to do very well when they’re applied to policing. UK, Canada, US, it’s been useful in all of those contexts.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that, David. And Joe, we touched on it earlier in the intro. You’ve got a lot of great content out online, and being one of the primary subjects of the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, really goes into the work of you and your colleagues. I mean, you’ve got a really unique perspective on all of this. From your perspective, same question. I mean, you’re talking to the law enforcement leader out there somewhere listening to this right now who is just kind of overwhelmed by it all. Where do they start? What do they do?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I love what David said, and I agree, and I would just add that you have to be willing to take an honest look at yourself and your department. And again, in this country, it depends on where you are, right? Not every city has the same problem as every other city and town and county and state. And so, it does matter geographically where you’re located.

But to the point David was making, if the people are paying for the service and they want to feel policed, but they’re saying they’re not, it does no good to defend it or start talking about things you’ve done well or right. And this is one of the problems that I’m seeing, is police chiefs and sheriffs are coming out and they’re promoting the good things that they’ve done. Now is not the time. People don’t want to see or hear about that right now, and also, all it’s being met with is just, “And?”

Policing, it’s the equivalent of, say, a pilot. The expectation is 100% pass rate, right? You don’t get to crash your plane with everyone and be like, “We messed this one up, let’s get the next one.” There’s massive fallout, and that’s what we’re seeing right now. We’re not allowed to have the errors that we’re having, and the entire profession takes a toll.

And so, if I’m a law enforcement leader, I genuinely want to meet with the community, but not to defend my stance, not to promote anything that we’ve done well, not to say, well, what about this and this, and we’ve done this, or you guys do this. No. Healing starts where listening begins, and I feel like we have to be willing to listen and have those difficult conversations. You have to be willing to listen to what people are actually communicating.

But I think that’s just a piece of it. There has to be, then, an outlet. Okay, I’m hearing you. I’m listening to what you’re saying, but now what? And I feel like if we’re truly going to move forward from where we’re at, there has to be a true integration, and we have to allow the communities to come in and be a part of. There has to be some civilian oversight. There has to be not just the optics of it. I’ve seen it where it’s like, this is just for show. Yeah, we have a civilian board, we have civilians involved, but really, they have no control over what’s actually happening internally.

And so, not just doing something for the points or the show, but genuinely doing something, allowing civilians to have some type of oversight role, so that there is more transparency, because I think transparency is the best disinfectant. When you start hiding things, and you’re trying to shove things, or you’re trying to keep things out of the public eye, all we’re doing is further pushing their trust away. And so, just open yourself.

And again, an apology goes a long way. We’re all human. We make mistakes. If you’ve done something wrong, own it, apologize, and then let’s say how we’re going to move forward from here.

Chris Cancialosi:

Brilliant. Joe, David, I thank you so much for your insights. It’s a real honor to have you both sharing your perspectives, here. We’ve covered a lot of ground, and honestly, I feel like I could crack a beer and talk about this subject with you two for hours and hours and learn a whole lot. There’s a question that I close out all of my episodes with, and I’d like to keep that tradition going, but acknowledging we have talked about a lot, what haven’t I asked each of you that I should have? Joe, what do you think about that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, Chris, if I’m sitting here thinking, and I am, because I wasn’t prepared for this question, so that’s on me. But if I’m thinking about something you should ask me that you haven’t, I guess I would say, do you feel hopeful, or should we feel hopeful, that things are going to improve from this? And my answer would be absolutely yes. And the reason that I choose to have hope, and again, I do believe that hope is a choice. We can choose to be negative, we can choose to see the ill in everything, we can choose to go down all those paths. To me, that’s very easy to do. But also, we can choose optimism, and we can choose hope, and we can choose a better way forward.

I genuinely believe that we’re in an important part of history in this world, right now, that we’re fortunate. I choose to see it as a part of my gratitude, that we get to experience times like these, because there’s so much learning that’s about to happen. We’re witnessing, we’re a part of, we’re right in the middle of massive police reform that’s about to happen, that I would argue is long overdue. I am wary about the knee-jerk reactions and the emotional decisions that are being made, but I do feel that over the course of the next couple of years, there are going to be significant changes that are long overdue, and they’re going to be made for the right reasons, with intelligence, that have been thought out.

And so, I am excited about that. I do think that there are a lot of things that need to be looked at within law enforcement. I do feel like there needs to be some community buy-in, and there needs to be some responsibility placed on other community partners and stakeholders to help, and this needs to be a more collaborative approach to dealing with societal failings, but I am hopeful, because I believe in people, and I believe that while all people are entitled to having a bad day or a bad moment, I believe all people want the best, not only for themselves, but for each other. And so, I would end with that, Chris. Thank you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you so much. We focused this discussion around law enforcement, but this conversation can extend to any industry, any sector. Every organization should be thinking about involving their stakeholders and really understanding the impact they’re having. Intentionally or unintentionally, you’re impacting other people, and if we can be intentional and thoughtful, we can be equitable, we can be the things that we want to be. The things that 99.9% of this world wants to be when they wake up in the morning. So, thank you so much for sharing that.

David, same question to you. What haven’t we asked you that we should have?

David Hicks:

Well, Chris, you lead a world-renowned cultural change organization, and you know that what’s critical about cultural change is just making it stick. When the spotlight is off, how do you actually make sure that these changes aren’t window dressing, aren’t the flavor of the day, they actually get embedded and adopted? Maybe we should speculate a little bit about that, lasting change, actually getting through to everybody that’s involved, not just police officers, but the support structures around them, their other stakeholders. And so, how do you make sure that this sticks?

And that’s not easy. It’s something that requires persistent, consistent effort to make sure that things do stick, you’re finding your champions. Joe made the lovely point earlier on about when you run these sessions, the folks that were the loudest at the start, showing the strongest resistance, became the greatest advocates. It’s finding those gems, because they’re the folks that anchor this, and make sure that you get adoption. So, maybe you could draw it into that a little bit more, on how to make sure these changes, once they are decided, get adopted and stick. Not easy, but there are some levers there that you can use to give it the best chance of success.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. David, thank you for your insights. I want to thank our guests, colleagues and friends of mine. I’m really, really blessed to have a diverse network of folks out here, and what an honor it is to have you both join me today as we discuss something that’s really important in my view, and something that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It doesn’t escape me that we are three white guys talking about topics. While we have our own perspectives, there’s only three of us here, and we need to broaden the lens and invite more people to the table to have conversations about this.

Joe, I know you do a weekly livestream that we’ll definitely link to in the show notes, but I listened to your one last week, and you had three different folks on, all people of color who are involved in law enforcement, either police officers or administrators, and I was really thankful that you did that. I had never experienced the ability to sit down and listen to a conversation like that, and I think that’s really important in my own personal learning. It’s time everybody stopped knowing all the answers, and start seeking to understand.

So, thank you both from the bottom of my heart for joining me, and I wish you both a wonderful, wonderful day.

Joe Smarro:

Thank you, Chris. It was a pleasure sharing space with you, David. Thank you.

David Hicks:

And a pleasure joining you guys, and your family, Chris. Thank you for the opportunity to join you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you, gentlemen.

Thanks for joining us this week on the Gotham Culture podcast. Make sure you visit our website,, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational cultural challenges.

Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky, at

Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

On a personal note, there are folks out there who really get up in arms about discussing the need for police reform. There are people on all sides of the issue, many of whom would prefer to lob hate grenades over the fence at each other, rather than engaging in some thoughtful and productive dialogue about some tough issues. This topic of police reform, to me, is not about dissing the police. We all need law enforcement to hold citizens accountable to our collective social contract, and I believe that 99.9% of the people who go to work today, regardless of if it’s in law enforcement or some other profession, go to work trying to do the very best job they can.

To me, this is about working together to figure out better ways to build trusting relationships that enable the police to be effective in their mission by re-imagining their approach from the perspective of the diverse communities that they’re serving. Doing this opens up doors for learning and dialogue. It opens up possibilities for a brighter and more equitable future, and in the end, it makes us all better.

Thank you for joining us today on the Gotham Culture podcast. If you are interested in learning more about police reform, or the ways in which other industries are grappling with the same cultural change efforts, check out our show notes for some resources and links. I challenge you, regardless of the industry you work in, to engage your colleagues in real, uncomfortable dialogue. Take time to learn from others, and really ask yourselves how you may evolve or revolutionize the way you do things in the spirit of creating a more equitable and anti-racist world. Thank you.

Podcast: Going Slow to Go Fast

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast about her experience realigning teams after disruptive events. Like those of us who keep way too many applications open on our computers for too long, slowing our ability to get things done, sometimes our teams can experience the same effect when grappling with mounting priorities and disruption. When that happens, it may be time to reboot.

Show notes: Shawn references an interview with Storied CEO Michael Margolis titled Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

Podcast: Mental Wellness and the Short- and Long-Term Impacts of the COVID Pandemic on Your Workforce

As the United States looks to begin a scaled approach to reducing pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks and months a hidden enemy lingers that is not getting much attention. While many healthcare workers are facing the brunt of the risks associated with supporting pandemic response, they are certainly not alone in shouldering stresses associated with the last few months. The acute and chronic stressors during difficult times may have negative repercussions for many people and organizations for years to come. During this episode, we talk with Joe Smarro and Jesse Trevino of SolutionPoint Plus, advisor to healthcare systems, education systems, first responders, and corporate clients in the areas of mental health, wellness, and resilience.

Released June 5, 2020

Show notes: Below are links to mental health information and resources mentioned in the show:

Imposter At Arms

Every veteran eventually faces the same thing: the day they leave military service and venture into the civilian world to start the next chapter of their life. This is an exciting and uncertain period in a veteran’s life, where they’re thrown into the wild “real” world with only the skills they’ve honed as a servicemember. This transition period forces veterans to translate their existing skills into a value-add in civilian life and to figure out how they’ll engage the business community.

The process a veteran goes through in order to understand where their skills are valued and required in the private sector can take months or even years. It’s a process of self-discovery, devoid of the formal, regimented guidance veterans are used to having. Transitioning from active duty requires setting new civilian expectations for themselves, identifying how they want to use their skillset and ultimately picking a new career.

When transitioning into the civilian workforce, however, veterans often place unrealistic expectations on themselves and misinterpret the way society views them and their abilities. This misalignment of self-expectations and societal perceptions commonly results in a phenomenon known as imposter syndrome.

Seventy percent of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life. Experts describe imposter syndrome as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in individuals who are highly successful but unable to internalize their success.” The syndrome often manifests itself through overworking, discounting successes, low self-assessments and anxiety about fear of failure. To understand how veterans develop and experience imposter syndrome, it’s helpful to take a look at their previous military environment. Read More…

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