Select the Right People

A person’s character is the most important criteria when recruiting new members for your team.

A colleague was running a selection process for an elite and prestigious unit of a police service with more than 1500 sworn officers. He had concerns with the process and asked me for my opinion.

He described the try-outs to me which began with the candidates attending the firearms range on Day 1 and shooting the service firearms qualifier. If they were successful, they would move on in the process and if they weren’t, they would be eliminated from the competition. 

I asked him why he was asking people to shoot the service qualifier, to which he responded “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  

Although firearms proficiency is important for any position in a police service, some units more than others, every member of the police service is required to shoot a service qualifier such as this one annually, at minimum. So I posed a few more questions… 

  • What are you asking them to do that they haven’t already done? 
  • What are you going to measure and learn about your candidates?
  • What if they fail the service qualifier? This may now place a liability on the service if they are involved in a shooting and say, kill an innocent by-stander, for example.
  • How is this fair for the potentially stellar candidate that may be an asset to your unit who is just having a bad day on the range, or maybe just finished their nightshift; as opposed to the magnificent target turned in by the candidate who is in a job position that allows them to practice as often as they want? It’s a bias evaluation. 

Moving to my point I asked him…

  • But wasn’t there a memorandum announcing the anticipated vacancies in the specialty unit? 
  • And in that memorandum, wasn’t there a directive to the potential applicants that “NO JEANS” will be permitted during any part of the selection process?

Low and behold, there were candidates that attended the selection process wearing jeans. 

Now this particular specialty unit was one which was responsible for the protection of high profile political figures who were visiting the city and I can assure you that possessing the ability to follow directions is critical! Now you have a candidate who has just proven that they don’t possess that characteristic. 

If this were my unit’s selection process, unfortunately that candidate would be dropped from the process but most importantly, told exactly why.

This is what you should be measuring, not a score on a target.

Shooting at the range may very well be an excellent way to observe and evaluate your candidates but the target’s score is not what you should be measuring. You can improve people’s shooting ability but good luck improving their character. You can try, or you can just pick the candidates who already have the character you’re looking for.

                                   ________________________________

Many people know that character should be the most important criteria in selecting people but most don’t know how to do it. To do so you must define, elicit and measure the characteristic effectively.

Defining the Behaviour

Before you measure character, you must first define it. As a team leader or evaluator, you must first define the characteristics that have garnered members of your team success, and even provide real world examples.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with a dictionary definition and tailor it to your needs. Involve your supervisory group and keep your list of characteristics to a minimum of core characteristics for simplicity in measuring.

Elicit the Behaviour

You cannot measure what you don’t observe. You have to elicit the behaviour. This needs to be integrated into your selection process. In the case of following directions, for example, this can be done easily, by giving specific instructions to candidates, written or orally, and grade them on their ability to carry them out, such as with the written memorandum cited earlier.

Measure the Behaviour

Once defined and elicited, you need a means of measuring the desired characteristic on each of the evaluation day’s scoresheets. A simple way could be a score of 1-4. 1 being poor and 4 being excellent. By using 1-4 as opposed to 1-5, you force evaluators to choose a pass or a fail. Research suggests that the evaluators default to 3 out of 5 for sub-standard performances, probably because they don’t want to fail their peers. They want to be nice. Rating a performance from 1-4 encourages the evaluators to make a commitment.

I’ve used the character trait of following directions up until now but any characteristic can be defined, elicited and measured.

For example, coach-ability is a desirable trait for most recruiters. To elicit coach-ability you can teach a candidate something that they don’t know, a new skill, and see how they adapt to it, how they take instructions and how they handle the stress.

Another characteristic may be composure. You can test composure by assigning candidates difficult, even impossible tasks, to see how they cope and push candidates to their limits.

Sense of humour is an enormously underrated characteristic in selections and speaks volumes about a person’s nature. Also, it’s very easy to elicit and measure. Let’s face it, we are going to have to spend long hours with the people we select and having a positive and colourful personality is important.

Following Directions, Coach-Ability, Composure and Humour are only four of the dozens of qualities and characteristics that may or may not be important to you as a recruiter. 

The bottom line is that character should be your selection criteria, not pass or fail objective and meaningless scoring. And to accomplish this you must define, elicit and measure what characteristics you are looking for.

At the conclusion of your selection process, you will have a set of scores which reflect the characteristics you desire. You will select the right candidates for your team, be able to defend your position and provide honest and evidence based feedback for the unsuccessful applicants.

Deconstructing Tactical Formations

The ideal tactical formation is like an amoeba;  a moving organism possessing the ability to alter its shape, assimilate and adapt to its ever changing environment-a single, flexible formation as opposed to a series of different formations for every new situation.

This is doable, trainable and much easier than you think. 

It is achieved by: 

  1. Each member of the formation possessing a thorough understanding of its operating principles 
  2. Each member of the formation possessing the ability to effectively communicate with each other to maintain the integrity and the objective of the formation itself.

Principles

Principles are the foundation of which all our tactics are built. If you consider that our operating tactics are like the branches of a tree, then the principles are the trunk and roots. Trainers should challenge their systems and question the origin of their tactics and when you do, you’ll trace them back to the same sources.

Sources such as John Boyd’s O.O.D.A. loop or Charles Remsberg’s Thought Process have given us a measuring stick in which to quickly evaluate our tactics for effectiveness. 

Sound principles give our tactics an anchor point to ask the critical questions such as with the OODA loop: Will this tactic allow us to observe, orient, decide or act better and faster than our adversary? If the answer is yes, the tactic is sound, if the answer is no, it is not. Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.   

Once our tactics are decided upon, the process of training so repetitively to achieve unconscious competence begins. Any trainer will tell you that this is no easy task but all will agree, the way to accomplish it is through repetition. When tactical dilemmas present themselves, we can rely on our principles to guide us to tactically sound solutions quickly.

Communication

The second essential component of a flexible formation is effective communication with our counter parts. One way to do this is the reading-off or keying-off your teammatesReading-off simply means that your next tactical movement is dictated by the team member in front of or around you. This can be done verbally (announcing), non-verbally (squeezing up) or visually.   

Perhaps the biggest benefit of reading-off is that it is a built-in corrector. If a team member makes a poor decision, and we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge this does happen, reading-off acts as a control measure to correct the error and continue with the objective. 

By constantly reading-off our team members, we maintain a constant state of communication and feedback with each other thus maintaining the integrity of the formation while staying focused on the overall objective.

Too many formations are rigid and therein lies their faults. An inflexible tree branch is easily snapped. There is no question that a file formation, or any formation for that matter, may be optimal for some situations but not good for others. A 5-member tethered or diamond formation, for example, look great on a chalkboard for specific situations, but when the situation, mission or objective changes without warning and with no time to plan, it is the simple, flexible and principally sound formation that will give officers the greatest chance for success. 

It is irresponsible training to expect students operating in life threatening situations to be able access a different formation for every time the situation changes considering the limitations in training time most of us experience. 

Wouldn’t learning one malleable formation be better? 

The focus of our formation needs to be principally based. Each member of that formation must have a sound understanding of its governing principles to mitigate as many foreseeable issues in training as possible. When unforeseeable problems emerge in operation, those members will be equipped to apply those principles and find tactically sound solutions on the fly.

Likewise, when moving as a formation, each principally learned member of the group will be constantly evaluating the environment, weighing the tactical advantages and disadvantages of their position and move and adjust to enhance their effectiveness.  Their team mates will do the same while keeping in constant contact with, reading-off, their teammates.

Training it.

Training begins at a crawl by assuming a basic formation, such as a file formation and moving through an environment. The trainer will stop the formation and freeze frame before every action and ask each member what their next movement, positioning and priority should be. Ensure that they are drawing on the principles to make those decisions. 

This part requires patience as the students begin to solve their own problems while internalizing the principles and adapting them to changing situations. The tempo increases faster than you think and before you know it you’ll be having to reign them in.  

A formation may begin as a file, stack or column. When the formation begins moving through an environment the space may begin to open-up, as in the widening of a hallway, for example. The team may no longer feel that a straight line is the most optimal way to achieve its tactical objectives, so the second officer in the formation begins to fan out of the file to gain a better vantage point on their areas of responsibility. The third officer in the formation reads-off that movement and does the same. 

The formation does not look like a file formation anymore but it is much more effective.

If the situation changes, such as an imminent threat to life, an active killing for example, the formation morphs into the most optimal shape given the environment to move directly to the threat without changing or altering its tactics or mind set. 

Does everything need to change? Do we throw all principles out the window?

Absolutely not. All that needs to change is that we must adjust our areas of responsibility. In this case, we are now passing areas without clearing them so each operator has to adjust his area of responsibility and rear security has to be addressed. 

Yes. It’s that simple.  

This approach and mindset can be used for any situation.

Training is greatly enhanced once the principles are internalized, it only needs to be adapted to the changing tactical objectives as opposed to assuming a different formation for every situation. Members learn one formation, more accurately, a mindset and possess the skills and understanding to morph effectively to every situation and changing environment. The training focus becomes one of mindset, threat recognition and understanding of principles, not one of chalkboard debates. 

The result is a morphing mass of tactically and principally sound organisms, each communicating verbally and non-verbally with each other, making tactically and principally sound decisions in harmony with their mission and environment.

Kind of like an amoeba.  

Principles Are Your Answer Key

 

Principles are the foundation of which all our tactics are built.

If you consider that our operating tactics are like branches of a tree, then the principles are its trunk.

Prudent trainers and researchers should challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the terminology and applications may vary,  its all derived from the same sources.

Sun Tzu wrote ‘The Art of War’, citing the first known script of the principles of war and combat, This initiated evolution, regurgitation and refinement by every major military contender up to present day. However, the law enforcement community didn’t recognize more specific operating adaptations until adopting the O.O.D.A. loop in the 1960s.

OODA LOOP

The O.O.D.A. loop is the brain child of United States Air Force pilot and academic Col. John Boyd (ret.) who noted that to combatant who can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act first and most effectively wins.

In his ground breaking and brutally no nonsense book Sound Doctrine; A Tactical Primer, Charles “Sid” Heal, speaks most aptly to this critical thought process required to be successful in combative situations.

According to Boyd’s theory, conflict can be seen as a series of time competitive, Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing itself, the physical surroundings, and the enemy. Next, it orients itself. Orientation refers to making a mental image or “snapshot” of the situation. Orientation is necessary because the fluid, chaotic nature of conflicts make it impossible to process the information as fast as we can process it. This requires a “freeze frame” concept and provides a perspective or orientation. Once there is orientation a decision needs to be made. The decision takes into account all the factors present at the time of the orientation. Last comes the implementation of the decision. This requires action, then, because we hope that our actions will have changed the situation, the cycle begins anew. The cycle continues to renew itself throughout the tactical operation.

The adversary who can consistently go through the Boyd Cycle faster than the other gains tremendous advantage. By the time the slower adversary reacts, the faster one is doing something different and that action becomes ineffective.

About 25 years later, Charles Remsberg, author of the Calibre Press’ Street Survival Series had similar deductions he termed The Thought Process. Remsberg observed that an officer has to do four things. He first has to locate the threat, react to the threat, make an assessment of the appropriate action and then initiate the action and control that threat.

The bad guy only needs to locate, react and attack the officer thus giving the bad guy the upper hand as he has less things to do on his roster.

Both tactical thinking pioneers recognized the importance of initiative during combative encounters as well as the series of time sensitive processes to shape our tactics.

The O.O.D.A. loop and the Thought Process are two of the more prominent theories which when applied properly, as invaluable litmus tests for the operating methods we employ.

The understanding principles such as these is so important because nothing is more debatable and drags our training day down to a dead crawl like the discussions over which tactics are best.

Principle based thinking improves our training because they serve as our answer key. Principles give our tactics an anchor point to ask the pertinent question, such as with the OODA loop, will this tactic allow us to observe, orient, decide or act better and faster than our adversary. If the answer is yes, the tactic is sound, if the answer is no, it is not.

Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.  

It’s Not the Critic Who Counts; A Thank You Letter to Constable Lam

 

On April 23rd, 2018 at approximately 1:30 in the afternoon, a male who’s name I refuse to utter but one whom was presumably fed up with the rejection of women, rented a full sized van and plowed through a crowd of people walking on a sidewalk along one of downtown Toronto’s busiest streets killing ten and seriously injuring over a dozen more.

When the vehicle was stopped, the suspect was confronted by Ken Lam, a Constable with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Service in a single officer unit and taken into custody where he now faces ten counts of first degree murder and thirteen counts of attempted murder.

Since that time, criticism of that officer’s actions and his failure to kill the suspect has erupted from people like those whom Theodore Roosevelt, in his speech The Man in the Arena, referred to as those “cold and timid souls who point out how the strong man stumbles and how the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

Although killing the reject who had just committed the most heinous mass murder in the city’s history may have satisfied the public’s bloodlust and undoubtedly drawn the condemnation of others, it also would have made Constable Lam guilty of murder.

For legal clarity, the Criminal Code of Canada states, and I paraphrase, that a police officer is justified in using force that is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm, like shooting a person for example, if that force is necessary to protect that officer, or another person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm.

When the suspect and his death rental mobile came to rest there was a standoff between himself and Constable Lam. Lam drew his firearm and challenged the suspect at which time the suspect failed to comply with the officer’s commands to surrender. Although the suspect’s actions leading up to this standoff were deadly, what was occurring at that moment was not. This is the key. An officer has to take the circumstances that he is presented with in that situation.

I’ll caveat that last paragraph. I’m not suggesting the actions of the suspect leading up to the stand-off should not be given serious consideration, they should.  They demonstrate his willingness and intent to use deadly force and can no doubt culminate a part of what is referred to in training circles as the Totality of Circumstances. However, it cannot justify the stand alone use of deadly force after the fact. In a different situation with similar circumstances and factors too numerous to debate, maybe lethal force would have been justified, but not here.

If the situation changed, for example- if the suspect began to put that vehicle into motion- an officer could reasonably fear for future loss of life given the suspect’s previous behavior and then would most likely be justified in using lethal force to stop that threat, but that was not the case here.

What occurred was a police stand-off in which the suspect did not want to be taken into custody and figured the easiest way out of being held accountable for his actions would be to have the police kill him. It’s called suicide by cop and it’s a thing. The suspect made several threatening gestures to entice Constable Lam to end his own life including reaching into his pocket and brandishing a cell phone like a pistol. He even verbally taunted the officer to kill him stating that he ‘had a gun in his pocket.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bih9X2wp7wg

Constable Lam did not shoot the suspect because the reality was that he did not fear imminent death or grievous bodily harm. It did not exist because Lam recognized that the suspect was holding a cell phone, not a gun and did not belief he was armed otherwise. Acting alone, Ken Lam recognized the suspect’s ploy, maintained vigilance and acted in the manner in which he was trained in order to bring this monster into custody and stand accused for what he had done. Constable Lam is neither coward or hero. He is a police officer who made the right call.

Constable’s Lam’s only failure was that he did not take on the role of executioner, and because of this, the suspect’s suffering did not end on the sidewalk that afternoon but will now continue on and on in some dank prison cell for the remainder of his abundant years.

So, thank you Constable Lam for facing evil in its purest form and not faltering. Thank you for acting in the professional manner in which you were trained and sworn to do; and for temporarily silencing the throngs of accusers of police officers as violence mongering murderers.

Thank you for thwarting this coward’s easy exit strategy and replacing it with the promise of decade after decade of suffering and misery in a metal box.

But most of all, thank you Constable Lam, and all others in that arena for reminding us that it is not the critic who counts. Who counts are those whom are “marred by dust and sweat and blood, for actually striving to do the deeds, the great devotions, for spending themselves in a worthy cause so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”   

 

 

 

Stop Debating and Train!

 

Too much valuable training time is often wasted pontificating the endless tactical solutions to the problems that arise during training. We need to square these issues away in the boardroom before hand and if new problems arise, have an ‘answer key,’ an agreed upon set of standards to measure against our problem, find a solution and get back to work. That answer key or measuring tool lies in our is our core principles.

Principles are the base from which all our tactics stem.

If you consider that our operating tactics are like branches of a tree, then the principles are the trunk.

Any prudent operator or trainer will question and challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the language, terminology and tactics may vary slightly, its all pretty much a different branches from the same trunk.

In like 500 BC, Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War”, citing one of the first known scripts of the principles of war; also drawing evolution, regurgitation and development by every major military contender up to present day. However, the law enforcement community didn’t recognize more specific operating principles until the birth of the O.O.D.A. loop in the 1960s.

OODA LOOP

The O.O.D.A. loop is the brain child of United States Air Force pilot and academic Col. John Boyd (ret.) who noted that to succeed in combat the one who is can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act first and most effectively wins.

In his ground breaking and brutally no nonsense book Sound Doctrine; A Tactical Primer, Charles “Sid” Heal, speaks most aptly to this critical thought process required to be successful in combative situations.

According to Boyd’s theory, conflict can be seen as a series of time competitive, Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing itself, the physical surroundings, and the enemy. Next, it orients itself. Orientation refers to making a mental image or “snapshot” of the situation. Orientation is necessary because the fluid, chaotic nature of conflicts make it impossible to process the information as fast as we can process it. This requires a “freeze frame” concept and provides a perspective or orientation. Once there is orientation a decision needs to be made. The decision takes into account all the factors present at the time of the orientation. Last comes the implementation of the decision. This requires action, then, because we hope that our actions will have changed the situation, the cycle begins anew. The cycle continues to renew itself throughout the tactical operation.

The adversary who can consistently go through the Boyd Cycle faster than the other gains tremendous advantage. By the time the slower adversary reacts, the faster one is doing something different and that action becomes ineffective.

About 25 years later, Charles Remsberg, author of the renown Calibre Press’ Street Survival Series, had similar deductions he called The Thought Process.  He observed that an officer had to go through four distinct stages. He first has to locate the subject. Then the officer has to physically be in a position to react to the subject’s action. He then needs to identify the subject, the level of threat they pose, formulate an appropriate action and then initiate that action in order to control the subject.

The bad guy only needs to locate, react and attack the officer thus giving the bad guy the upper hand.

Consider these actions like a personal roster. Whomever can make their own roster shorter and their adversary’s longer wins.

Both tactical thinking pioneers recognized the importance of initiative during combative encounters as well as a series of time sensitive processes that need to occur.

These are only two examples of principles that serve as excellent litmus tests for the operating methods we employ.

Tactics are like a Pandora’s Box. And when that box opens up and the endless possibilities of appropriate tactics are discussed, valuable minutes and hours are lost. Time that should be spent conducting ad nauseam repetitions.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.”  George S. Patton Jr.

Solid principles give our trainers the answer key to measure training solutions.

When debating whether or not a certain tactic is optimal, trainers only need ask a simple question:

Will this tactic enhance our abilities to proceed through our processes more efficiently than our adversary, or, hinder our adversary’s abilities to proceed through his processes? 

If the answer to that question is yes, let’s do it. if the answer is no, let’s not.

Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.