Mutiny of the Mounty

This is originally a post on Psychē, but since it is a little more ‘op-ed‘ than my usual pieces there, I thought I would cross-post. Also note, this is a longer version of the letter to the editor I submitted to the Ottawa Citizen.

RCMP Saluting Obama - Inauguration

RCMP by Connect2Canada

I have been watching with interest the tenure of William Elliott, the first Commissioner of our Royal Canadian Mounted Police who was not a RCMP officer. I am not surprised at this recent mutiny (that is what it is) but not because of anything to do with Mr. Elliott’s management style.

The Allegations

First, some perspective on the allegations against him: One of the biggest complaints is that Mr. Elliott is a petulant –some say passionate– boss, prone to outbursts and paper-throwing (unsubstantiated). It seems to me that the typical beat cop is subjected to more petulance from the public, or even risk of physical harm on a daily basis, than anyone sitting in a board room. You’d hope that the veteran officers reporting to Mr. Elliott were made of sterner stuff, and able to deal with petulance!  This is why I think this is an excuse, not the real reason they want Mr. Elliott out.

The second allegation suggests –more subtly– that Mr. Elliott isn’t capable to lead the force. Much has been made of him being a career bureaucrat, not a police officer. If we extend this logic, we would argue that iTunes dominance of the music business now means Steve Jobs shouldn’t lead Apple because he doesn’t have the requisite experience in the music business. Closer to home, do we suggest a veteran officer can’t lead the RCMP if they haven’t had experience in special weapons and tactics (SWAT), counter-fraud and forgery, musical ride, or any other one of the specialized functions in the RCMP? Top executives need to have the skill to learn what is important, and fast! A career RCMP officer may be good for morale, but the person that leads the RCMP needs to be a skilled bureaucrat first and foremost. Supporting this observation is the fact that the RCMP hasn’t fallen apart with Mr. Elliott in the top seat, and seems to be doing a better job keeping out of trouble (if you really are stuck on credentials, it is also worth pointing out that the RCMP enforces the laws of the country, and Mr. Elliott IS a lawyer).

Is the real reason  for the mutiny that someone is tired of waiting for their shot at the top job? This seems to me the most plausible explanation.

Mutinies Don’t End Well

Leadership change via mutiny doesn’t lead to desired results for anyone involved. Mr. Elliott’s job either becomes more challenging if he stays, or he loses it entirely. However this plays out, the RCMP further establishes its reputation as an organization that is stuck in its ways.

And then there is what happens to the new person if they succeed in their coup d’état: you still have all the same problems, but now you have nowhere to hide. After a 2-3 month grace period, employees will start wondering why nothing has improved with the change in command. While Mr. Elliott provided a convenient scapegoat for all the new requirements placed upon the force, the new Commissioner will see that the pressures that motivated Mr. Elliott are still present and now the buck stops with them. They will also have helped foster a new culture where mutiny is a valid means to affect change at the top, and even more organizational energy will be spent on politicking that before.

What To Do?

It is no surprise that Mr. Elliott has faces opposition from the start. He came in as a ‘fixer’ in 2007 when past commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli left the force rocked by scandal and in crisis, and nobody likes to be ‘fixed’. The RCMP has a strong identity, much of it deservedly positive, but this also gives it a strong immune system when it comes to change. I’ve seen a new ‘outside’ CEO come in to a large organization in crisis (Nortel), and the strong reaction that it will illicit from those that want to protect the status quo.

Mutineers have to recognize this, and decide where their true motives lie. Are they really trying to make the RCMP a more effective organization, or are they trying to promote themselves? Those that can see the latter motivating their behaviour should remember the oath they took, and realize that their job is to help protect citizens, not promote their careers (maybe consider a job in the private sector).

Those that truly believe that changes Mr. Elliott is directing are going to harm the RCMP’s ability to protect citizens and enforce the laws of the land, need to make this very clear. The timing is perfect for them to give Mr. Elliott their support and explain where they see lines being crossed. By doing so, they can avoid a mutiny that will hurt the RCMP, and help create a more effective organization.

9 Responses

  1. It is interesting to note that with all the calls to modernize the RCMP structure and use modern business management practices, you shout mutiny at the first sign of the discard of the command and control mantra associated to the RCMP. What do you do with an obstinate, disparaging boss who throws tantrums and treats people with disrespect?

    You cannot have it both ways, take it because you are the RCMP and you get worse on the street? Well give your head a shake, a modern organization is not allowed to treat its employees in a disrespectful manner, no matter who they are. Your options are to try and deal with it internally which obviously failed for the past years, so now what? You take it a step higher. STANDARD PRACTICE.

    Its not about trying to improve service, accountability, transparency and all the other buzzwords, its about constant mud slinging at an organization that cannot fight back. Fun isnt it? We are becoming just like the Americans. What a shame. It used to be that we helped those that needed it. Now we cast derision and epithets and do nothing to help make things right alongside others.

    “Is the real reason for the mutiny that someone is tired of waiting for their shot at the top job? This seems to me the most plausible explanation.” So all 12 of the “mutineers” cant get the top job, so are you suggesting this is a conspiracy to put just one of the dozen in place?

    Ask yourself, with the Brown report and the two previous reports, why has the top dog not made the changes? He is the main man, he is in charge of a para military organization, he has the backing of his boss, and he has had the high priced management course at our expense. So what is the problem? The problem is that he cannot make a rational and timely decision.

    Its time that the government set up a non government hack infested board to oversee the RCMP and its duties.

  2. All evidence points to an organization that is resistant to change that is badly needed. I am an RCMP outsider, but the few people I can get an inside opinion from say things still badly need to change.

    Unfortunately for the people put in charge of government organizations, results are expected quickly, and culture change is very slow. I can understand why the person at the top is getting very frustrated; which may explain his ALLEGED behaviour, even if I don’t condone it.

    What isn’t alleged, but is basic fact, is that someone below is trying to oust the top executive by undermining him, which only serves to undermine the organization. I think this is going bad places as noted above.

    And now they bring in someone from CSIS to evaluate… I don’t see that organization having any more credibility in this area than the RCMP.

  3. Going to your boss’ boss with legitimate complaints is hardly trying to oust him. Rightly a work place assessment is underway. Persons contracted to do this may be suspect in the political arena however.

    The things that need to change are not rooted in the high echelons of power rooted to the office of the Justice Minister. Anytime that level acts, it is in the political realm. You would need to remove the RCMP from the government and put it back where it came from, detached from the government. The governments of the day have systematically protected themselves from the RCMP quite nicely since the dredging scandal, the sky shops affair and sundry investigations outing parliamentarians as crooks. The RCMP cannot even serve a search warrant on any MP or MP’s office without going through a charade of protocols designed to ensure the great unwashed police know what they are doing, and the politicians can tell them they are on the “right” track.

    The everyday police officer in the RCMP in the contract Divisions are overworked, understaffed, under gunned, over bureaucratized, and left to their own devices to do “more with less”. They are shot at, spit at, and killed in the line of duty when simple preventative measures could be enacted to prevent death, bodily harm, overwork, and burnout.

    Mr. Elliot has done precious little to alleviate the daily burden of the officers who patrol the streets and try to keep a lid on criminal activity. His appearance at a northern RCMP office in Alberta and his disdain for questions and sincere explanations was so evident, the ranking officers were embarrassed at his display of condescension and rudeness. This is the leader of the RCMP? Not much support from the courts either, but that is a debate for another time.

    Since when has the government been able to handle any activity without politics, bureaucracy and ineptness? The RCMP is not resistant to change. It suffers from change fatigue, daily bureaucratic foisting, and political ineptness. Ask any officer willing to speak to you.

  4. Thanks for your comments ‘getsome’. Based on our dialogue I have revised my view on the causes of the conflict:

    I hope you don’t mind being quoted.

  5. I do not mind being quoted. As for solutions, some broad strokes need be applied. First the Commissioner should be moved out of the government as the office had been previously. Second, there should be a civilian oversight board of non government hacks. The CPC should either conduct business with regional offices set up across the country, or turn over investigative responsibility to Provincial agencies. The RCMP should be given separate employer status.

    Can you envision the initial result of such decisive action? The collective sigh of relief from the membership would be audible. No more political wrangling or turf wars between the Federal and Provincial entities. You could then move onto the problems encountered starting from the basics.

    I am quite sure that the membership of the organization hardly care who is running the ship, if its run effectively. Control over its hiring, firing, funding, operations, and promotion, all geared toward its mandate of safe homes and safe communities under the law, would be all that they would ask. Allowing them to consolidate services, cut useless programs and an end to the perennial “do more with less and less” would produce higher morale and more efficiency.

    Maybe the Commissioner should do the “undercover boss” thing like on television.

  6. “Maybe the Commissioner should do the “undercover boss” thing like on television.”

    Funny you make that suggestion, I was having an email exchange with someone else on this post and came to the same conclusion!

    So from reading your comments above, it sounds like you feel the problems are more structural than tied to any one personality?

  7. Sorry for the delay, holidays you know. I would suggest that primarily the issues are with the structure, but at the highest level. The organization suffers at the will of the seated government. That is the crux of the problem.

    For an example, the raise that the RCMP fought for and agreed with the government in the end on, was summarily rescinded by the government on a cost cutting binge. The government dictates that the organization hire to reflect the ‘cultural mosaic’ and has imposed quotas if you will to ensure visible minority and French levels. Competence be damned. Purchasing of equipment is done utilizing treasury board guidelines and directives. No matter that you can purchase locally for less in just about every area, you have to spend from the guidelines. Do more with less has become an ingrained mantra, and trying to do this has cost people their lives. The only thing that moves the rock forward is some issue that creates headlines.

    Despite the best efforts of the out of touch Ottawa politicos, the organization is not cookie cutter across the country. The problems facing the front line of the RCMP in Langley are quite different than those in Jasper Alberta. Yet Ottawa demands that the political agenda be adhered to.

    Because of financial mismanagement in Ottawa, in other departments, the RCMP are shackled with the resultant raise of authority levels for expenditures which are needless, cumbersome, restrictive and counter productive. Because its all the Federal government, what affects the Tax department affects the RCMP. Not a proper situation given the mandates of each organ.

    These few examples are indicative of the need to sever the RCMP from the government and its dictates. One personality in the soup, who is specifically tied to the government affects little. Even if he wished to enact sweeping change to one area, its not the best interests of the organization that are evaluated, and indeed the evaluation is not done by the organization membership, its approved and implemented from the government.

    Elliot cannot do this. Neither can anyone else given the stranglehold by the government on every facet of the organization.

  8. Thanks for taking so much time to educate and inform on this topic!

    I hope others have got as much out of your insight into the RCMP’s troubles as I have.

    Many thanks!

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