Walking the cultural tightrope

By Marj Moore 28 December 2015, 12:00AM

Making changes, however badly needed they may be, is never an easy task in any organisation. 

That change was desperately needed in the Ministry of Police, has never been under question.

And the need was caused over many years by a lack of policies and procedures, infrequent adherence to rules and regulations, poor selection and training systems and budgetary restraints.   

Individuals and organisations that lead change management in the market place, will tell you that change inevitably creates ‘people issues’ which is what we are seeing at present in the Ministry of Police.

Refer also to the Samoa Rugby Union, and you will soon get the picture. 

And Samoa’s Police Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil is finding that as the man at the top he will be criticized despite the fact he may have the best intentions.

The so-called ‘ghost letter’ mailed to the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi and copied to other Cabinet ministers, the Ombudsman, the Police Commissioner and this newspaper, is one example.

The letter itemizes ‘problems’, namely a lack of loyalty in the Force; the misuse of the Police Association Fund by a senior officer; questions about issues of morality within the Force, including sexual relationships among colleagues and a concern that the Police could be sued for bringing the reputation of the Police force into disrepute. 

The inference is that the Police Commissioner and the changes he has made, are to blame for these concerns and allegations. 

In his response, the Commissioner has stressed that he was appointed to make changes. 

“The government wants change, that’s why they brought me in.”

He says that he is comfortable with the similarities that have been drawn by the ‘ghost letter’ writer to a military type organization. 

“It is in fact, a quasi-military organization,” he reportedly said.

He also emphasizes that he is trying to lift the organization up to international standards. 

“It’s only a few ‘squeaky wheels’ (complaining) – but if you talk to most of the officers, they like the change.”

Well that may well be, but it is the Commissioner’s comparison of the Police force’s modus operandi with the ‘matai system’ that has earned him the attention and displeasure of the Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Leiataua.

One of the oft-quoted pieces of advice when enacting change management is that senior management must themselves have a deep understanding of the human side of change.

That is “the alignment of the company’s culture, values, people and behaviours to encourage the desired results.” – (John Jones, DeAnne Aguirre, and Matthew Calderone)

Another important factor is that the change must start at the top. 

In this case, the Commissioner and his senior team must all be on board with the changes for them to ensure they filter down through the ranks.

So are we seeing change resistance amongst the senior officers in this case ?

Perhaps the  Commissioner would do well to seek the opinions of some of those who were copied into the ‘ghost letter’.     

After all, aligning Police culture as the Commissioner knows it from his experience in the United States, with Samoan culture, where he is now living, was never going to be easy or simple.

Other local organizations such as the National University of Samoa, also face ongoing issues of making decisions operating under the tenet of a ‘university culture’ and/or the ‘Samoan culture’. 

At times it is probably akin to walking a tightrope where the main objective becomes just reaching the end goal - solid ground.

For Fuiavailili, this may be one of those times.

By Marj Moore 28 December 2015, 12:00AM

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