Calgary police HR boss hampered by lack of support from top brass, external report finds

A new report by an external consultant points out the mistakes made and recommendations to ensure the next chief human resources officer hired by Calgary police will be more successful in implementing HR reforms. Former CHRO Sheila Ball quit over a lack of support, direction, and buy in by the senior leadership.

Acting chief says times have changed and he expects next human resources leader will succeed

Acting Deputy Chief Steve Barlow admits nobody would have been successful as HR boss under the circumstances as they were. (CBC)

An external consultant's report lays out the mistakes made by the senior leadership of the Calgary Police Service that led to the sudden and unexpected resignation of its former chief human resources officer, Sheila Ball.

Ball was the first civilian chief human resources officer (CHRO) hired by the service. She started in February, 2018, tasked with leading the service through some highly anticipated reforms, and implement a cultural shift within the organization to address issues of bullying, harassment and gender discrimination.

But Ball quit months into the job over what she called a dictatorship-style leadership, a lack of support from the top, and a poor understanding of her job by the organization.

Since then, the service hired Craig H.R. Consultants Inc. to talk to Ball as well as other current and former employees to understand why Ball left, to ensure the next CHRO who was hired would be more successful.

The 14-page report was released at Tuesday's police commission meeting. It says the HR chief was not set up for success.

Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen says he expects the hiring of the next human resources boss to be delayed a few more months as the newly named chief, Mark Neufeld, settles into his new role. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"I think we set this person up thinking that they would be the saviour of everything that we were dealing with," said Acting Chief Steve Barlow.

"There is nobody that would have been able to be successful, and I say that openly, in the sense that, in the environment that we set up," added Barlow.

Barriers, resistance and pressure

The report noted some of the barriers faced by Ball including a lack of support and alignment from the executive and senior leaders, resistance within the HR department, pressure to improve quickly and unrealistic expectations and timelines.

"I think when the commission is constantly asking about it, I think there is certainly, there is pressure applied," said commission chair Brian Thiessen.

The report also mentions that some people within the force felt the new role of HR boss was mandated by the commission, or at least that its mandate was being driven by the commission and it was just a formality to comply.

Commissioner TJ Zhang said he was confused by these comments and he wondered if it means members are not buying into the HR reforms.

"'We just do it even though we may not really support it,' so that kind of bothers me," said Zhang.

But Barlow said it would be difficult to jump to that conclusion based on one report.

"The consultant has not given me any more information that would lead me to believe that that would be something that is taking place on a regular basis," said Barlow.

Supt. Mike Worden, who presented the findings at the commission's board meeting, said the consultant found that the decision to hire a new HR chief, as recommended by the commission and accepted by former Chief Roger Chaffin, may not have been properly explained to the membership.

"The language used, 'well this was the commission telling us we have to do this' can see the difficulties that may cause," he said.

"We do need to spend more time explaining why this is an important step, why this will increase the productivity, increase the professionalism within our HR department."

More support needed from executive team

The report makes a number of recommendations, including having an executive team that is aligned, collaborative and actively supporting the CHRO, as well as a clear mandate for the CHRO that is aligned with the Chief's vision.

Chair Thiessen expects the hiring of the next CHRO to be delayed a few more months as the newly named chief, Mark Neufeld, settles into his new role and participates in the search.

"I think that's a reasonable time and effort to take," said Thiessen.

Other recommendations include the need to understand, and agree, that a culture change will take years to implement, and fostering more shared accountability for the success of the CHRO.

"CPS seems to be digesting it and coming up with 'how are we going to make this work?' and not just on 'are we going to hire a CHRO that's going to make this work," said Thiessen.

Barlow says the report was an eyeopener and gave him a better understanding of the changes required to ensure the next person to fill the role will be more successful.

He says there is still a lot of work to do to, but a lot has changed.

"I think the organization, at the time we went through this, was in a bit of a perfect storm, and what I mean by that is we had pressures from everywhere," said Barlow.

"I do believe that we are on an upswing and I think there are some incredible people out there who would have a great opportunity to have a great career with us." 

Barlow says he's been hearing from a lot of members on the street that morale is improving. And he says he has seen some of the negativity among the rank and file disappear as people start to embrace the changes and move forward with HR reforms.

Colleen Underwood