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Back to Archives | Back to October 2003 Contents 

Twelve Steps to Getting the Most Out of Your Employees

Steven J. Sarver, Chief of Police, Colerain Township, Ohio


o two employees have the same ability or desire to do a given task. This finding was emphasized in the research on situational leadership conducted by Hershey and Blanchard several years ago as related to law enforcement. Based on their findings, police chiefs across the country learned that it isn't conducive to supervise all employees the same. Although this is still true today, chiefs must learn to treat all employees the same.

If chiefs and police administrators are to get the most out of their employees, there are several things they must learn to do. Following are 12 steps that chiefs can take to get the most out of employees.


1. Try to see things from the line officer's point of view.

Too often, chiefs are unable to communicate with their personnel because they are unable (or unwilling) to see things from the employees' point of view. Chiefs tend to have more experience and training than their employees, and they entered policing when the world was a different place. Their experiences as new officers may not correspond with those of the men and women joining the force today. These factors can make it difficult to know how best to communicate with younger, less experienced employees and to know how policy decisions will affect them. Chiefs today can only learn to see things the way younger employees do by getting to know their younger officers and by talking often with the supervisors who work with them.


2. Include them in decision-making activities and listen to them.

To get the most out of their personnel, chiefs must solicit input and opinions from all employees. The best way to do this is to include them in decision-making activities and then listen to what they have to offer. Obviously, certain decisions are left to the chief administrator and that won't change. And chiefs are sometimes required to make changes in response to political realities, changes in laws, and the results of civil suits or collective bargaining.

But decisions that affect employees should be made only after considering employees' input. For instance, the employee doing a specific task should have a say in how that task is completed, and that employee probably knows better than anyone else what tools the employee needs to do the job. Another example might be the uniform the line officers are going to wear; don't make decisions regarding its appearance, color, or style without consulting the men and women who will live with those decisions every day.

Chiefs are also wise to encourage employees to suggest ways to improve the department and to then consider those suggestions seriously. Accepting and implementing good employee ideas, and explaining to other employees why their suggestions were not adopted, go a long way toward generating future ideas and suggestions by that employee.


3. Give them responsibility and hold them accountable.

In order to get the most out of employees, chiefs need to provide them with responsibilities that will add meaning to their jobs. Everyone wants to feel as though he or she is contributing to the overall goals and objectives of the organization. Coming to work and doing what's expected can be a valued contribution to the mission of any agency. But when each employee feels wholly responsible for accomplishing an integral part of the objective, he or she will do the job with the kind of diligence that chiefs want to see.

Along with responsibility comes accountability. Employees must understand the rewards of good performance and the consequences of failing to fulfill responsibilities. If we expect accountability to work, we must praise when responsibilities are met and we must discipline or train when they are not. The last thing chiefs should do when responsibilities are met is to add on more responsibilities; the danger there is that the same small group of top employees could end up doing a disproportionate amount of the department's work. Likewise, the last thing to do when responsibilities are not met is to reduce responsibility, as that response rewards failure.


4. Reward them for contributions, and give credit where it is due.

In many smaller agencies, it's not uncommon for a chief to ask someone to assist in a project requested by a mayor or the council. Because the chief will ultimately pool the information and present it in a logical foundation to the person or body of people making the request, they can easily forget to give credit where credit is due in relation to the material or research contained in the project. If this isn't done, it can be disastrous to the morale within the agency. It only takes a small gesture within the project to list the various personnel who contributed.

Although this will go a long way toward acknowledging the hard work of your personnel, it still might not be enough. In order to let employees know how much you value their contributions, you not only need to let the mayor and council know, you need to let the employee know by telling him or her that the mayor or council was made aware of their contribution. A good way to do this is by providing them with a copy of the final project and its list of contributors, so they can see for themselves. Your personnel will soon see that you are acknowledging their contributions, and it won't be as critical to tell them or to show them-although it is always a professional to do so and they will always appreciate it.


5. Publicly commend their accomplishments.

It is very important to tell employees they're doing a good job. It's much more appealing when you demonstrate your appreciation for what they've done in a public atmosphere. All employees want be told they're doing a good job-and to hear it in front of their family and peers is the ultimate compliment.

There are certain accomplishments that a simple pat on the back will take care of. Others of more importance need public acclamation. Each chief needs to decide what accomplishments merit public acknowledgment. When employee performance deserves public recognition, do it. And do it with fanfare. Invite the media, the employee's family, and obviously other members of the police family to share in the recognition.


6. Mentor and support them.

The best legacy you can leave is to prepare your employees to continue on without you. Parents know that there are few pleasures that equal seeing one's son or daughter grow up and become a valued contributor to society. Likewise, chiefs can take pride in knowing that employees are prepared to take over for them. It says that the chiefs took the time to mentor employees get the appropriate training necessary to follow in your foot steps.

Many chiefs fail to do this just because they fear they are more apt to be replaced should the administration feel someone competent is waiting in the wings. Most chiefs work under administrations that understand the importance of having people ready to take over but who see that as a redeeming quality in a chief they do not want to lose. When it's time for a chief to move on, it's not going to be because someone is ready to take over. It's going to be for some other reason.

When employees approach a chief about the possibility of attending a training session or a conference that will improve them, chiefs must be willing to understand that this improvement will be for the entire department, not just for the individual. Employees should not only be supported in their desires to gain knowledge and experience but also encouraged to do so.


7. Challenge them to explore new ideas.

In order for any agency to prosper, chiefs must explore new ways to achieve objectives or accomplish the agency mission. When employees sit back and wait for the chief to learn of new techniques, and then only put into application what the chief wants to do, the agency will undoubtedly suffer. All employees must be contributing participants in the race to better the department through innovative thinking and practical activities. Each employee must be willing to spend the time to learn from watching others and from exploring their own ideas. The culture emanating from the chief must be that all ideas are welcome and that all will be taken seriously. Once an employee provides an idea that is rejected without justification, that employee will be stifled from any further contributions to the agency. The employee loses, the agency loses, and the public loses.


8. Treat them as they want to be treated.

We don't all have the same desires and satisfaction levels; neither do we have the same motivational drives. Effective chiefs must learn how each individual employee wants to be treated and then treat them accordingly in order to be an effective administrator.

This is just as effective for the larger agencies as it is for the smaller agencies. In a department of, say, 20 employees, the chief has the opportunity to know each and every employee. He or she comes into contact with each one during the course of nearly every business week. But in an agency of, say, 1,000 employees, it's no different. The chief of police oversees a team of assistant chiefs and typically comes into contact with a handful of commanders on a weekly basis. The chief needs to know how these employees want to be treated. The assistant chiefs and commanders then must know how their immediate subordinates want to be treated and then treat them accordingly. In this way, all 1,000 employees will be treated the way they want to be treated by their immediate supervisor.


9. Be firm when necessary.

Nothing in what's been addressed in this article so far dictates that chiefs aren't still the leaders of the organization. When employees don't fall into line with the mission of the agency, they must be held accountable. Many times a firm hand on the shoulder will bring an employee back into compliance with accepted rules or procedures. When discipline is appropriate it must be administered with the idea that the discipline will bring about change that will be best for the employee, for the agency, and for the community.

When employees feel they have been treated fairly, they will be more willing to accept discipline. Employees will respect a chief who is willing to make decisions based on solid foundations and who is then willing to stand up and defend those decisions.

Change occurs for many reasons. When policies must be changed for whatever reason, chiefs need to take the time to explain the change, explain why it is necessary, and then explain how it will improve the agency or the service it provides. Chiefs need to allow for mourning when necessary, but at the same time they must be firm in moving forward. There will be times when employees do not agree with the reason for the change, or the way the change is coming about. They will respect the way the change is handled by the administration.


10. Be honest with them.

Employees do not want to work under the direction of a supervisor they can't trust any more, and managers don't want to supervise someone they can't trust. Once a chief has lost employees' trust, the chief cannot survive. Employees who have no trust in their boss will find ways to undermine him or her; soon no one will trust the chief. Although there will be times when employees don't want bad news from the top, they will always want the truth.

Chiefs must be willing and prepared to look employees in the eye and tell them the truth rather than lie to them and promote false hopes or establish an atmosphere where the employee doesn't know when to believe what is said. If an employee is overlooked for a position or promotion, it's imperative to tell the employee why the decision was made in order for the employee to improve for future considerations. Anything short of that is an injustice to the employee and the agency.


11. Be a part of their activities.

Employees must see the chief as a human being and not as a machine. Too frequently chiefs sit behind their desks and make decisions that are made in the best interest of the agency, the employee, and the community. Unfortunately, the employee doesn't get the chance to see any side of the chief other than the administrative side. In many smaller agencies, the chief becomes a working member of the department. In larger agencies, the chief doesn't get the opportunity to be human with the other members of the agency.

Spending time with employees outside of the job is important for chiefs. Being a part-time member of the weekly bowling team, or making an occasional trip to a football or baseball game as part of the group, or attending department parties can go along way toward letting your employees see you from a different perspective. Of course, chiefs must be careful not to discuss department business during these outings. When attending department parties, chiefs should stay a while, make contact with as many employees as possible, and then politely excuse themselves to leave time for the employees to enjoy themselves.


12. Care about them.

Chiefs must be willing to tell an employee that they value the employee as a person as much as they value them as an employee. Openly praising them and discussing their accomplishments demonstrates this commitment. Some chiefs would be surprised to see how it affects employees when the chief calls them at home after a couple of sick days to ask how they are feeling. When employees realize the chief is sincere and not checking on them, they will be grateful for the concern.

Chiefs are encouraged to get to know the families of their employees and inquire about their well being from time to time. When the chief learns that an employee's spouse or child has been sick, it means so much to the employee if the chief follows up a few days later by asking how the sick family member is doing. It only takes a few minutes, but the results will last a lot longer.

Chiefs should take all the things they've admired in their supervisors over the years and put them to use. Then, they should take all the things they've hated in their supervisors over the years and avoid doing what they did. If they follow this simple plan, chiefs can't help but be more effective supervisors. ■

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From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 10, October 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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