As the democratically elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom, Festus is responsible for the public safety of over half a million people.
Join us as Festus shares his perspective on leadership in law enforcement. He advocates for leading from the "shop floor" to gain an authentic insight into the organization's performance. From the implementation of Gemba walks to conducting town halls, we uncover the strategies he employs to instigate change and rally the 2500-strong police and support staff in a single, strategic direction.
This episode provides a compelling glimpse into the inner workings of law enforcement and the transformative power of effective leadership, and an unexpected personal touch about the people who influence us in life the most.
[James] Hi, and welcome to the Strategy Hero Podcast, the podcast that's all about diving into the world of business strategy, transformation, and operational excellence, featuring insights and experiences for some of the most successful leaders in the field.
Today, I have a brilliant and quite unique guest that I cannot wait to talk to. Festus is the elected police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire here in the United Kingdom following an election in 2021. Prior to that election, he was also a special constable, a parish counsellor and volunteered as a mentor to young offenders in prison.
He also serves as an association of police and crime commissioner, portfolio lead crime prevention. But today, he is our strategy hero, and we cannot wait to talk to him. Festus, how are you?
[Festus] I'm doing extremely well. You?
[James] I'm delighted to be talking to you. I'm really, really excited.
[Festus] That makes two of us, then.
[James] So today's episode is all about leading change, and as we were talking before the podcast started recording, we've spoken to quite a few consultants, quite a few experts within lean management and manufacturing, but we haven't really spoken to anyone who's in a public-serving role such as yourself.
And I think that brings a lot of unique takes on the topic of change management, especially one that's in the public spotlight as much as yours. So before we get started, could you just tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into the role as police and crime commissioner?
[Festus] I'm an immigrant to the UK from Nigeria. I came here when I was about 13 years old. Grew up on a council of state in East London in Canning Town. Had amazing parents. One is still alive, and one has passed away. And he was an idol to me, and still miss him very much. And he was very foundational to my approach, believe it or not, in management, in leadership. And my indefatigable appetite for progress and change, and improvement. And, well, I set up a business.
I started up in business when I was about 16 years old, and that business failed, and another one when I was about 19. And that failed probably because I spent more time playing basketball because I wanted to become a professional basketball player.
So I was playing pro basketball when I was at university, and as well as running some of a business as well. And that obviously didn't work out because it's very difficult to be able to focus on two big things at the same time and give them the same weight. And that one didn't quite work out. And then, when I finished Uni, I started another business when I was about 22, 23 years old. And that company went from employing three or four people to about 60 people in 10 years. And our employ is about 50 because we lost a few staff as a result of the Covid impact on business.
So the company shrank a little bit, but we recovered now. And then in terms of, so that my background really has been in business and employing and delivering services in the private sector. And then I also did some volunteer work within the public space.
I was a, what do you call a parish councillor, for about a year or so. And I also volunteered as a mentor to young offenders in prison. And that proved quite pivotal in my move into policing, when in fact, my initial desire was to go to parliament. So here I am, hopefully, having an impact.
[James] That is, that's quite a story. And I think one of the things you said at the start really sort of resonated with me, and I'm sure quite a lot of our listeners around sort of parents and the, I guess the, the sort of the hero image that we can develop of them.
In terms of, I'm assuming, it's your father. In terms of your father, what would you say you took from looking at him and the inspiration he gave you? What would you take from his learnings as a child that I think have helped you with leading?
[Festus] Well, if you ask anyone that works with me now within my team as police and crime commissioner, and I think they will generally say to you that there's nothing that I ask them to do that I am not willing to do myself as well twice over. But of course, I can't do everything. So I trust them to crack on with it and hold them accountable for delivering. My dad led by example. He always preached the principle of education, working hard and never giving up. And I remember he went back to school in the 60s to get a qualification.
He was a cleaner, he was a humble cleaner, and he wanted to get promoted in his job. And he went to do some course at the university, at Hackney College, so he can get a promotion in his workplace. So, I remember him always saying to me, Festus, you know, get as much education as you can while you're young because you don't want to be an old man like me, sat at the back of a classroom falling asleep, trying to pay attention among the young kids. But his commitment to lifelong learning and constantly pushing yourself and driving yourself was an example to me. And I take that with me now.
I'm constantly looking for ideas. And my team are often almost, they've become very good at putting up with me because I come to the office, I'm like, guess what? I've got this idea. You know, constantly coming up with ideas because I'm learning and picking up information every now and again. And another thing as well is that he was extremely hard-working, you know, and he put in so many hours into trying to provide for us as a family, but he never forgot the human side of being a dad. So I never felt that he didn't have time for me when it really mattered.
He never missed parents' evening, even though he had three cleaning jobs. I don't know how he did it, but he did. You know? So now, as a leader, I've got huge pressure on me. I have huge demands on me. Like talking about police being in the public domain a lot. At the moment, that's going to continue to be the case whether we like it or not. But I always try to remember that I've got human beings working with me, not machines. And sometimes, we focus so much on strategy, which in my view actually is overrated. But anyway, that's a different discussion all the time.
Given that you call a strategy hero, I think strategy is totally overrated. We forget that we are dealing with human beings, and leaders sometimes focus so much on the KPIs and on the outcomes and so on and so forth. But we forget that, at heart, leading an organisation is ultimately about people, not about processes.
[James] Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I think. My producer will probably shout at me for saying this, but I agree. I think strategy is often put on a pedestal at the, you know, at the sacrifice of, you know, actually getting things done and thinking with empathy. And I think I remember reading, about a year ago, a book by Hubert Joly, called The Heart of Business.
He was the CEO of, I believe, Best Buy over in the States. And he talked about finding a noble cause and finding a way to connect humans, which is probably a weird language to use, but connecting humans to your business in terms of its goals and how it produces results.
Something that my dad, it sounds like our dads are quite, well, were quite the same. I lost my dad as well. It sounds quite similar in terms of hard work leading from the front. Don't ask people to do things that you wouldn't do yourself.
And I think what really stood out for me, as you were just talking there, was about focusing on the human element, treating everyone in the way that, you know, you would want to be treated. And I think what does get lost in the shuffle sometimes is that we focus too much on, we have a goal, we have a number that we need to hit, but that's irrelevant if you can't mobilise.
[Festus] And, you know, don't get me wrong, by no means am I suggesting that I have some kind of bleeding heart, you know, Kumbaya singing kind of guy. I mean, everyone in my team, they will tell you that I'm very highly driven, and I do want them to deliver. It's not that I'm a, I don't think I'm a nasty boss or some, I don't think it's that way. And I'm also not the type that says, oh, well, you're having a hard day. Okay, fine. All right, we'll wait.
We'll do whatever we want to do whenever we want to. I mean, the public holds me accountable. For delivering a service to them. As far as they're concerned, if this is not happening, if this is on your watch, you are responsible, Festus. Sort it out or get out. I need to let my team know that I am accountable to someone for what they do. They need to understand that. So we are coming here to work and to deliver for the people of Bedfordshire. That is our product. So we've gotta have a very, very business-like mindset in doing things. So a lot of that starts to work out well from the way you recruit people.
So if you recruit the right people, you never have to have some discussions. Because you've got the right level of recruitment. But when the problem then starts to happen is if you're recruiting the wrong people, and often the wrong people are recruited when people start to recruit people, not on merit, but rather on association.
And within the business world, when the public sector as well, some people recruit other people based on connections and networks, or, well, you are my mates, I know you, I know you, and then it's easier that way. And sometimes that works because you know what people have done and they delivered, so you want to bring them in to do the same thing again. But sometimes, what worked in your last job with that person in that environment would definitely not work in this situation.
But sometimes we kind of cloud our judgment and say, well, because this person did a good job in that environment, so automatically they're going to be suitable in this environment. And then you get into this environment, they really realise they're actually out of their depths. And then having that difficult conversation with them about, actually this is not working out, becomes a problem. And all of a sudden, you realise that productivity is suffering as a result.
And so, it's a tough one, but I would like to think that getting the right balance between strategy and people, it is a real, real important thing for anyone in leadership positions.
[James] Yeah. Absolutely. I think if you are clear in terms of the sort of people that you're looking for and what you want to achieve and if you can marry those things that, you know, that is a recipe for giving you the best chance to succeed.
At the top of the episode, you talked about some failures and some challenges in terms of the business side of your career. What have you taken from those, from those challenges and brought into your role right now? What's the key lesson that you've taken?
[Festus] Failures usually are temporary. It doesn't have to be permanent, and it's inevitable in many cases. It's okay to fail. I have failed at several things, both personal and business. But failure doesn't have to be a bad thing. And there is this worry that I have in our society, even in the way that we raise our kids sometimes, that failing is something, is this disaster.
Looking back now, of course, I hated failing or losing any things, you know, that's why I don't play games with my kids, actually. No, seriously, I don't play with them. No, no, no, no. They beat me once. Okay. It was a computer game. They're just very, their fingers are much more nimble than mine. So I don't play with them anymore. But anyway, in a more serious note, I learned about what to do as much as what not to do. In future.
I learned that my chance of success is far greater if I pick my battles. I learned that there is something to be said for building strong networks, for learning to keep your eyes on the bottom line, for learning to learn from others, you know, all of those kinds of things. But one thing that I did learn is that ambition is a healthy thing to have for entrepreneurial success.
You've got to have that because if you have that, a failure is just part of the process. It is. Yeah. It is just what it is. And you move on and you move on, and eventually something will work out as long as you just don't quit. And so that's kind of like my attitude to things.
[James] Yeah. I think that's very healthy. Yeah. Failure is just a chance to learn. That's something that I've always taken. And I think if you just take it as an opportunity, then that's probably the healthiest way to look at it.
[Festus] Well, I think so. I could just add that, you know, the other thing that I, I think is really important is, this fear of failure. Anyone in a leadership position has got to be willing to allow their team members to fail on occasion.
They also have to allow themselves to fail and not fear failure. And whether you are parents or whether you are a captain of a football team or your manager, rather, of a football team, we've got to embrace failure as a necessary tool to progress.
I mean, do you know, I mean, I don't know the data, but I'm sure that it is there, the number of Covid vaccines that probably failed before they actually got ones that actually ended up saving many, many, many lives. And this principle is not entirely separate or cannot be entirely disregarded from any other work of life. It is just the way it is.
So failure is a, it should be welcomed more especially in my line of work where people don't accept that. Cost me to put their jobs. But it's part of the process.
[James] Yeah. Yeah. Understandably. In your time as a special constable, you talked a second ago about building associations and building networks, how do you feel that your time, I guess we would call it our manufacturing listeners, would call it, on the shop floor.
How do you think your time on the shop floor working with, you know, people that no doubt now that you have some sort of leadership with, leadership of [inaudible].
How do you feel that you learned, you know, different ways to manage those people and different ways to motivate those people?
[Festus] Absolutely immense. Absolutely immense. And this is the reason why I say strategy is overrated. Because some people, and actually I was speaking with, so now I'm on the board of the College of Policing. So the College of Policing says the standard, not the strategy, the standards, the entry requirements, the training, the approved operation, the approved policing practice. And another kind of sort of a PS is called, for policing.
So I'm on that board, and I was speaking with someone, one of my colleagues, non-executive directors on the board, talking about this issue of strategy and how if we not careful, if strategy is too disconnected, what is actually happening on the ground.
One, you lose credibility in the sight of the people that you're trying to need because you don't have a clue what the hell you're talking about. Two, you would just, you are going to fail again and again and again with actually learning because you actually understand how things are landing. And thirdly, progress is going to be stalled overall. But then you've got this fancy title, you've got this helicopter view idea as a strategist, but no idea of what is happening.
So as a special constable, I really got the chance to actually see the day-to-day life of police officers. And for your listeners who don't know what a special constable is, they are effectively police officers, but they're not paid. That's it. They have the same powers, they have the same uniform. You couldn't tell the special constable from a regular police officer if you were to see one, unless you really know what you're looking for. Most people would never know the difference. But they have the same powers and they do the same thing. In fact, we have some PE from specialists in Bedfordshire who've been around for about 20 years. New full-time police officers actually go to them for training. And so you really get stuck into the nitty gritty of policing. But now I'm on this road as a police and crime commissioner with oversight for the governance of policing overall. Own the entire police budget.
The chief constable, who is the most senior police officer in the force, who reports to me and who I appoint as a police and crime commissioner. He knows that I know. Right? But in fairness to him, he sees me now as an extra pair of eyes. Because the rank between him and a PC is quite significant. You go through different, different layers, and on a normal day-to-day basis, a PC will very, very rarely have anything to do with the chief constable. Rarely.
So if the PC has concerns, he can report it to his sergeant. Will he actually ever get to the chief? Maybe, depending on what it is. But even if it is, it is going to get filtered. It's just the nature of things. But as a police and crime commissioner, I know what is happening on the ground. Some of these officers know me, we talk all the time.
So, and I can't be ignored by the chief constable, and I have no need to filter things. So having that relationship with the ground troops in effect, actually has helped me in my job a lot more. And I think it's helping me in being able to hold the chief constable accountable for how he's doing his job and helping the police force as a whole.
So, absolutely, it was for me a big, big, it had a big impact on my role as a police and crime commissioner.
[James] I can imagine. I think. When I think of my own experiences, I mean, I'm not comparing my role to yours in any way, but I can see elements of that collaborative nature, the importance of having done the doing in any role that you have.
If you have the experience of knowing how to do the job in some way, shape or form, and you build relationships, it's a lot easier when you move up the ladder and become more senior to be able to relate back to those people that you once were working with or, you know, anything of that nature. And one of my mentors, you know, really said that to me at the beginning of my career.
He was like, you have to be willing to learn. And as you keep moving up, keep learning and make sure that you stay connected to those people.
[Festus] Yes. That is so key. That is so key. And I understand when you're at a strategic level, you are very busy. You're bombarded with meetings with all kinds of, you know, extraneous requests and so on and so forth. And I get that, you know, I have a disdain for meetings personally. Goes on for too long in some cases. And it's the same people you're talking about the same thing you spoke about last year.
And I get that. But look, it is necessary because you need to have that kind of conversation to be able to join all the dots in an organisation. But I keep saying to myself, how does this meeting directly improve the quality of life of people in Bedfordshire? Number one. How does it keep my community safe? And how does this directly help the police officers to do their job?
If it doesn't, then my question is, why am I in this meeting? What am I doing here? And often, I will challenge those in meetings with me saying, how in touch are you with the frontline people who are delivering the strategy that you are proposing here? Have you spoken with them? Because it's very easy. Oh, we've had a consultation.
Yeah. You just go on MailChimp or whatever, or server monkey, whatever it is. Yeah. Yeah. Everybody wants us to do this. Wonderful. No, no, no. Really. Have you spoken with someone who's going to be delivering this to really hear what they think? Honestly? Because if you haven't, you might be in for a bit of a surprise.
So, this is why I think it's so important to have that connection and remain connected to the people who are going to be delivering the trust that we often talk about as strategy heroes.
[James] Like yourself.
[Festus] I don't know about that.
[Festus] I don't know about that.
[James] With that in mind, how do you, and I think this fits very well into sort of the topic of change management. Everything here is actually, it's refreshing for me to hear this. Not to say that our guests haven't said anything like this so far, but it's refreshing to hear this because I think there's a lot of people who are in leadership roles that perhaps have never been in the shop or who perhaps have always been consultants.
They've never, you know, they've never really sat down and spoke to someone in a business that's on an operating plant, for example.
How do you, have you found that those experiences and that approach to being collaborative has that impacted your plans in any way?
[Festus] Oh yeah, massively. And so the easiest thing for anyone in a leadership position to say is that I'm very busy. Right? For me, you telling me that you're very busy also means that probably you're a bit lazy.
You're a bit lazy to do some of other things that you really need to do. And here's what I mean by that. My executive assistant, she knows because I tell her what I want to do, how I want my diary to look, and she makes it happen. She's brilliant. My office is organized so they know what I want to do and what I need them to do, and they crack on with it because I said the strategy, I'm the boss, right?
So if I say to them, yes, I've got this compulsion that I have to go to, with number 10 or with the home office or with this minister, with that minister, I have to do that. But if I say to them, look, I needed to, take on meetings that I don't have to be in because I need to create space to have my walk around the building every now and again. They know that, at core, that is who I am, not just what I want to do.
They know, at core, that is who I am. I want to be around not just the public in Bedfordshire that I made it supermarkets and they have a chat that recognise my face. And we have a chat about staff, but I also wanted to meet the police officer and the police staff members. So they make that space available in my diary. And so my diary is not over-planned and over-constructed.
So I have that space. So whenever I have those moments, right? Can you talk with the chief constable? I want to get in a police car with one of the officers. We're going to go for a ride around for two hours on the job. They don't have to plan anything special. I'll just turn up at the station, jump in the car, we go on the job, whatever comes up.
Right? I got to do that. I spend time every now and again walking around the corridors. I say hello to everybody in the car park. And you know what? It's amazing what you can pick up just by saying hello to someone in the corridor.
[James] Yeah. Yeah.
[Festus] Oh, is everything alright? Well, talk to me. Well, I don't know. I'm the commissioner. You can't say no to me. What is going on? What's up? I can promise you I will not mention your name if I have to do something about it.
Okay. And then it all comes out. So I then I'm able to say to the chief constable, by the way, are you aware of this? Well, I was not aware of that. I thought it was sorted out six months ago. Maybe you need to talk to da da da da and then report back to me and let me know what you've done about it. I would never have known about those things if I were not spending the time on the shelf floor. And so that obviously then becomes part of my strategy to say, look, we have a, say, for example, we have a thing about retention of police officers.
That is a strategic plan for the force. So how do I know that is happening? Yeah, you can give me the numbers, but how do I know about the systems you're putting in place to affect that strategy? When I talk with a staff member who ordinarily no one will tell me about, and she says, well, I've been trying to get an annual leave for the last six months, but I've been told that we are this, we're stretched and we're da. So it keeps getting delayed and now I'm burnt out and I want to hand in my resignation notice. Well, that's going to be one person believing the organisation.
Why? Because they can't get a day off work. How is that helping my retention strategy? So now I can then go to the bosses and then they do something about that within the force, and then that person gets a weeks off, they're happy. And they're still in the job. So I can't emphasise enough the importance of strategic leaders spending time with the people who they expect to be delivering their strategy, not managing it or delivering it. It is so crucial. And any leader will tell me they're too busy to do that. They're probably too lazy, in my opinion, to do their job. Controversial. But, you know, that's just me.
[James] I think that's a brilliant point. And to our listeners who might have noticed what Festus was talking about there. That was essentially a customised way of doing a gamble walk, part of the Kaizen methodology, you know, going out to the shop floor and talking to people, observing how things are done. Like, it's something that we do here within I-Nexus.
Like Simon, our CEO, goes out of his way to shadow. You know, things that going on in marketing, ask questions because that point of view is not only different, but it's also valid. And it's important to get, you know, that information, feed it back up into, like you say, Festus, feed it into, you know, how am I delivering on my strategic goals?
You know, is there something here that's underneath the covers? I'm just not going to see.
[Festus] But also the thing as well is that, you know, okay, so you could do the shadow, you could do the walk around and people might not want to talk to you anyway. And I think, often the barrier to that is the kind of organisational culture that you have.
If you have such a hierarchical structure, such a culture within your organisation that speaking freely, innovation, ideas and all this kind of stuff are driven by hierarchy, people are not going to want to talk to you because they're going to say, well, what is the point?
Because I know if I speak to you as the chief exec, you pass that on to the head of department, they're going to steal the idea anyway. Because they're not going to, either they get a credit for it or they're going to come to me and say, well, how dare you say this and this to that person without coming to me?
You never told me about it. Right? But if you had a culture where the chief executive says something to the head of department and the head of department comes to you. So James, you know, Sam said this to me the other day, come, let's have a chat about this.
I want to know more about it. You know, how can I help you to get this off the ground in your team and make this happen? All of a sudden, you have a different culture. But I suspect in most organisations, that is not what happens.
[James] Yeah. Yeah. I would agree. I would definitely agree. Speaking of wanting to talk to you, I would love to keep talking, but I know that you are hard-pressed for time. I feel like I can talk a lot longer than we can. Just kind of bring everything, wrapping everything up for us.
Festus, and again, thank you for your time, today. What would the one piece of advice be that you would offer our listeners who are finding it challenging to align different stakeholders to their strategy as a leader? What would you say is that bit of advice that you could offer?
[Festus] It's one that I have stuck with and I have learned again and again since I started running the business when I was 16 years old to now as a police and crime commissioner with national responsibilities as well as regional and local ones, is that never forget that you are dealing with people. And if things do not align often it's because of a misunderstanding, an apprehension or some kind of anxiety to do with something.
Change is something that most human beings fear, but we know that we need. And as long as you've been seen as a genuine person who's been sincere, who's got the best interest of everyone in mind, and there are no personal agendas here, and that will take time to build, it's not going to happen overnight. There are some wins that I've been able to achieve as a police and crime commissioner that took me two years to get to, and that is fine.
There's something that you're going to be able to get over the line in one week, and there's something that will take a year, two years. If it is worth it, it is worth the patience, the work and the consistent effort to make it happen. The worst thing you can do is to then give up on people and then, you know, pull up the draw bridges or burn the bridges down because you're going to need those people in the future. So don't forget that ultimately, in my opinion, leadership is all about human beings and dealing with people, supporting people, respecting people, and [inaudible], people will have different opinions and sometimes, it will take five days to get them to change.
And sometimes, it might take five months, but it's okay. That's cool.
[James] There you have it, everyone. Leadership is about human beings and I couldn't agree more, Festus. Thank you so much for joining us today and making this why I think is probably one of my favourite episodes so far. So personally, thank you so much. If anyone wants to get in touch with you or, or follow you, how could they do that? Well, apparently I'm all over social media, and because apparently I love PR, but hey, there you go. That's one of the perils of leadership.
You can't please everybody all the time. So I'm on LinkedIn, just Google my name Festus Akinbusoye, and I'm also on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and my office's trying to get me to do TikTok and my kids are trying to get me to do TikTok and put that down. It was getting banned by governments around the world at the moment.
So, apparently, I'll be on TikTok doing some dance moves or something at some point, but we'll see.
[James] Watch this space. Thank you again.
[Festus] Absolute pleasure.
[James] Been a pleasure. So that's been Festus Akinbusoye, our strategy hero for today. And thank you for tuning in.
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Festus' episode was the penultimate episode of six in our opening season of Strategy Hero.
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About Strategy Hero
Published on the last Wednesday of every month, the Strategy Hero podcast delves into the world of business strategy and transformation.
Each cast shines a spotlight on a Strategy Hero – inspirers, boundary pushers, and leaders of change from all walks of life – armed with practical advice on achieving your goals.
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James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus, but James is a storyteller. He’s the UK’s biggest Georgia Bulldogs fan (go Dawgs!) and lives and breathes marketing.
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