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Practical Perspectives: Moving Change and Innovation/Dealing with Inertia
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 08/02/2010

County jail
Editors note: The following is the first in a series of articles written by Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

Acme County had run its jail for 110 years out of the same facility, with a punitive model as the philosophical driving for and subsequent premise for all decisions relating to the conduct of the operation. The County’s operating values was to incarcerate those who were arrested and convicted of a crime that the County had jurisdiction to remand into custody. The penological methodology would have been classified as an incapacitation-punishment model. Unfortunately, research has overwhelmingly proven that the model does not produce an intended outcome in pursuit of reduced recidivism. The jail organization has had for year’s complacent leadership, with a lack of motivation to do anything different. Research purports complacency to be the number one reason organizations and cultures soon lose their competitive edge (Denton, 1998).

A hundred and fifty years ago, most all jails employed the incapacitation-punishment model, as the approach was economical and believed from a theoretical standpoint to be an effective means of managing criminal behavior. Years ago, the methods worked in the minds eye of the time. The County forefathers and jail leadership held on to this standard for years past its servitude, as the organization was blind to new age thinking and enlightened approaches. The organization’s perspectives were steeped in a culture that embraced a “that’s the way we do things around here” mindset. Even if from a meta perspective, it was not working from an even rudimentary level. Indeed, “…when confronted with discontinuous change, the very culture that fostered success can quickly become a significant barrier to change" (Tushman and O'Reilly, 2002). Many leaders within the County ascribed in attempting to foster a culture that encourages teamwork that tend to view teams as an approach to getting business done (Crother-Laurin, 2006), but the longstanding cultural values harbored behind the model embraced and firmly entrenched in the very fabric of the organization. Teamwork or not, the organization institutionalized the models values which became a big part of the organizations total inability to move forward.

Most recently, a nexus of opinion began to influence the leadership and questioned the jails management. The local colleges and universities, civic action groups and the community at large were attacking the jail’s operating model. The statistical values representing the jails inmate-management outcomes illustrated a significantly poor performance when compared to other communities that had abandoned the incapacitation-punishment model for a more effective model proven more effective in our times, i.e., incapacitation-rehabilitation model. After a culmination of influences the County has begun to move from a position of inertia, as the concept would have it described by Tushman and O'Reilly (2002), i.e., cultural inertia occurs as organizations mature, and is influenced by their environments, views and beliefs. Therefore, the more institutionalized an organization becomes the more cultural inertia can build resulting in complacency.

The literature strongly suggests Acme County’s ability to achieve its new direction objectives is based on risk assessed, controlled, and/or financed in coordination with established strategies akin to culture, level of trust within the organization, and related ownership structure to changes (Gadhoum 2003; Goel, 2005; Malach-Pines, 2005). A very complex prospect in deed, but Acme County is busy attempting to adjust it jail operation to a new profoundly different direction, and bring it align with best practices in hopes that the effort will bring about better recidivism outcomes as it has been shown to do in other communities. Upon realizing the cultural challenges to introducing and implementing changes in the jail, and after being coached by an outside consultant who was able to open the eyes and consciousness of the County’s leadership a realization of urgency has turned up. It is important the County realize in their forthcoming actions as Kotter (1996), stated “urgency can be used to remove sources of complacency”. As the reason of a new operating philosophy is pursued, so it the economic prospects helped move the pace of adopting change as leaders implementing the change have their site on the likely prospects of a subsequently influenced costs of incarceration that potentially would be significantly reduced.

As the County transforms the jail operation in an effort to counter cultural inertia, with a new sense of urgency, leadership has adopted an organizational development approach in order to create and maintain a new generation jail organization. With the help form an outside source, (the National Institute of Correction and a private consultant), the County was moved to remove the sense of inertia plaguing the jails operation. As a result, the County leadership took on the mandate to improve operations and culture, and anticipate and manage change (Stephens & Russell, 2004). There is obvious many reasons for the action directly associated with year of operational complacency underlying a penological philosophy of long over do for replacement. The County finds its self today continuing to challenge internal tenants of inertia, as it strives for something better from its jail operations.


Crother-Laurin, Cyndi (2006). Effective Teams: A Symptom of Healthy Leadership. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 29(3), 4-8. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1154206661).

Denton, Keith D (1998). Creating a winning organization. Empowerment in Organizations, 6(3), 81. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 82396011).

Gadhoum, Yoser and Mohamed A Ayadi (2003). Ownership Structure and Risk: A Canadian Empirical Analysis. Quarterly Journal of Business and Economics, 42(1/2), 19-39. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 665445181).

Goel, Sanjay; Geoffrey G. Bell, & Jon L. Pierce (2005). The Perils of Pollyanna: Development of the Over-Trust Construct. Journal of Business Ethics, 58(1-3), 203-218. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 852757221).

Kotter, John P. (1996). Leading change. Chapter 1-2. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ISBN: 0-87584-747-1.

Malach-Pines, Ayala; Haim Levy, Agnes Utasi, and T L Hill. (2005). Entrepreneurs as cultural heroes: A cross-cultural, interdisciplinary perspective. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20(5/6), 541-555. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 918428101).

Stephens, Denise and Keith Russell (2004). Organizational Development, Leadership, Change, and the Future of Libraries. Library Trends, 53(1), 238-257. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 771893181).

Tushman, M.L. and O'Reilly, C.A. (2002). Winning through innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ISBN: 1-57851-821-0.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


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