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Hogan-Howe: communication is key

Sir Bernard – now Lord – Hogan-Howe, the former Met Police Commissioner, was the opening speaker at the two-day BCI World 2017 conference on business continuity on Tuesday, November 7 (pictured; the exhibition floor).

Asked from the floor what was the key personality trait in a leader, he replied: communication. He said that was one of the things he always looked for when he was looking for leaders, giving the example of a chief superintendent as a borough commander. Hogan-Howe described how he would put it to the applicant that they were going to lead 1000 people; and he would ask the applicant to say what he would say to them, on the first morning. The best, according to Hogan-Howe, would be fairly short; and something memorable enough to remember. Hogan-Howe would also ask what the applicant would say to a public meeting that night; bearing in mind that the borough would have had other commanders lately. How would the new commander explain what they stood for? Hogan-Howe would look for consistency; and again, it had to be memorable, and short: “And hopefully I agreed with it. For me, the ability to communicate to your own people and in my world to the public and the stake-holders. Unless that is in place, the other things don’t work, because leadership is about influence. If you don’t communicate, influence fails.”

That insight into the work at the very highest levels of UK policing came at the end of an equally interesting hour when Hogan-Howe was on stage, introduced by the chairman of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), James McAlister, who as it happened as the former business continuity manager of Merseyside Police had once worked for (and recalled reporting to) Hogan-Howe while he was Chief Constable of Merseyside Police. While Hogan-Howe began with a review of what the Met does, he went on to offer advice with a business continuity slant, drawing on his time at the top of the Met. A senior person has to challenge, and know detail, and keep asking questions, he suggested, that senior person ‘as the litmus test for your organisation’.

He offered a ‘police-specific idea’; the special constables, the volunteers, unpaid, who do work in uniform and as civilians for the police. Is there any way, Hogan-Howe asked the public sector in the audience particularly, how you can encourage volunteers to help you as a public-spirited action? He wondered aloud if retired colleagues could be included in a list of helpers, who may be prepared to help, if asked.

He turned to terrorism, encouraging the audience to think whether their organisation has any ‘tripwires’ whereby you can know when terrorists are using your resources. He gave the example of car hire, as used in some vehicle-borne terror attacks. What if someone was paying cash, and not providing the details the hirer would normally expect? If the car hirer was worried, it would be helpful for the police to hear. Likewise hotels will notice unusual things. Lord Hogan-Howe asked how could hotels build ‘trigger mechanisms’ into the organisation, to provide intelligence, ‘for all of us to be kept safe’. He offered some ideas to take back to workplaces to check. If someone takes over your building, could the police control your CCTV from outside? It would be too late to find out when an event has happened. What are your contingency plans if your staff get caught up in terrorism, he asked. As Met Commissioner he had worked with others outside the police, such as from the fire and ambulance service, and queried why you should not get to know others, for example over a breakfast briefing, to develop relationships and trust, ‘that carries you through the crisis’. He made the case for attending such conferences and just meeting people; advice that he kept, as he stayed at the event after his time as speaker.


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