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Surprising Lessons From The Minneapolis Police Department

A surprising business lesson on a Minneapolis Police car door

Have you ever looked at a Minneapolis Police Department vehicle? You certainly have seen a lot of them recently.

Here’s something you probably didn’t notice… If you look closely – really closely – you’ll see some words written right on the side door of that law enforcement vehicle:

“To Protect with Courage, To Serve with Compassion.”

Ugh. I think you know where I’m going with this.

How did this go so very wrong?

I’m still in shock that one person could act so inhuman with another person. And I’m horrified that this person is part of an organization that purports to “protect” and “serve” our society. How did this go so very wrong?
We have to start by acknowledging that this is not just about the failure of one human. This is about systematic failure. There is a long history over the past century that helped make this moment in Minneapolis possible, or even predictable.

But I’m not here to point fingers. Because I can’t. I know this isn’t just a “police thing” – it’s a “human thing”.  While my work has never involved guns and tasers, I do have that responsibility for “protecting” and “serving” my constituents in some fashion.

Maybe my work doesn’t have the same directly lethal impact as being a bad cop, but being in “business” doesn’t have a stellar reputation these days either. I find myself asking how I am helping companies make the world better, rather than just trying to help them “sell more stuff.”

If we’re not working for good, then what good are we?
If I’m honest, I have to admit that the same “systematic failure” that plagues the Minneapolis Police Department also infects and reflects other institutions (like “business”) with which it operates.

It’s about a human failure common to us all. We all can veer “off mission”. The strong and growing response of people all around the world weeks later shows that humans everywhere believe we need to be a force for change wherever we are.

Three questions to ask ourselves

We can shift this more ethereal reflection to actionable steps if we look at the three levels of this situation separately.

  1. Start with Why – what’s on your “cruiser door”? Do your employees and customers care about it or even know it?
  2. Check your How – what do your employees and customers think of working for and working with your company?
  3. Improve your What – what is your action plan for closing the gaps between what you say and what you actually deliver on?

We need to look at each of these a little deeper.

What is your mission? Do we even have one?

Being in business is not a mission. It’s just an activity. Like patrolling the streets. That doesn’t make you a good cop.

Being a good company – a company that attracts top candidates because they want to be part of your team – starts with having a mission that encourages people to be their best selves. Just increasing revenue or growing market penetration by themselves are not so motivating for employees (and especially millennials).

The next condition is that people know your mission. If you polled them, how many of your employees would be able to guess your mission?
Would they even think you have one? And what would they think of it? (Does it pass the “eye roll” test?)

Having your employees aware of and believing in your mission is your first defense against getting “off mission” like the Minneapolis police.

The importance of this has multiplied as remote employees have scattered from a few corporate offices to myriad home offices. The need for “internal marketing” has never been greater. But that’s the easy part…

How well are you delivering on it?

But where the rubber really hits the road is among customers… and prospects who want to be customers. That means we need to translate our mission into something valuable to them and measure its attraction among customers and the marketplace. This is where the gap between the words on the pretty Lucite desk ornament and reality can become painful (like in the photo above).

There are many examples of companies that have also veered “off mission”. I’ll offer just one recent one from the Wells Fargo vision statement: “Customers can be better served when they have a relationship with a trusted provider that knows them well…”  Ouch.

The point here is NOT that mission statements are bogus. The problem is almost always that the company has failed to deliver on them! Having a real mission and really working towards it with the customers we serve is the only way we can “police ourselves” in business. (clever, eh?)

What can we do to realign with our mission?

So how can we stay on mission when “to veer is human”. The answer is continual course correction. Companies need both a continual process (like NPS or similar) that identifies where they are off mission and a commitment to change. This is where new possibilities (or “REpossibility”) begins and that is a whole post in itself… or even a book!

Where are you? And where are you going?

I hope these thoughts are both encouraging and helpful. To be honest, this post was one of the hardest I’ve ever written. I would love to hear your reaction. The whole point of this is dialog. And I hope I’ve left you just a bit further along your path than when you were three minutes ago…