Ask and you shall receive

I have a little experiment I urge all CEOs to try, especially those in policing and criminal justice.

For one full work week, start as many conversations as possible with questions.

Not just, hihowahya, but thoughtful inquiries that are meaningful to you and the person you are talking to.  Ask the second echelon of leadership –deputy chiefs, superintendents, captains, whatever rank they may hold in your department– to do the same thing.  For example, ask people,

What have you learned in the past week or so about what works in policing?

Tell me about a discretionary judgement you made in the past several shifts, preferably the one you are proudest of. (Not all inquiries come with question marks).

As a department, what do we know today, that we did not know a month ago, about how to do better policing?

What is the biggest crime or disorder problem we face? What do you know about it?

You can even let them think about their answers.  Just be sure to follow-up.  At the end of one work week I believe you will be amazed at how much valuable stuff you will have learned. You also be amazed at how much buzz you generate when people notice.  What are the brass up to, they will wonder.

You will encounter some, we will politely call it skepticism, at the outset.  After all, this is a business in which “Good Morning” can get people wondering what you meant and why you said it.

Jack Welch called on CEO’s to get, “Every brain in the game.” He knew that people often have valuable info but they need to be asked.  In an analogy, Tip O’Neill heard that one of his grade school teachers did not vote for him.  This giant of the Congress was humble enough to inquire as to why.  “Thomas,” she told him, “you didn’t ask me to vote for you.”

Business management scholars Alan G. Robinson of UMass-Amherst and Dean M. Schroeder of Valparaiso University wrote a book called Ideas Are Free. Their research tells us that management asking line workers for ideas can transform an organization.  The act of asking plus what you receive in information, insight and new knowledge are a formula for success.  Some form of this notion is a commonplace in business schools. (See 12 Reads for ’12 in this blog’s archive for more info on this and Jack Welch’s book, Winning). Robinson and Schroeder wrote,

“Ever since Frederick Taylor first advocated that management’s job was to think and the worker’s job to do, this has been the default perspective. In most organizations around the world, the division between thinking and doing is “hard-wired” into policies, structures, and operating practices, although it is rarely explicit or even recognized for what it is…

‘That is why the simple concept of going after employee ideas – when done properly – fundamentally transforms the way organizations are run, allows them to achieve levels of performance well beyond what they were previously capable of…”


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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