By Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith
How do you feel about your job? How do your employees feel about theirs? Does it matter in this profession? According to author Patrick Lencioni, it matters in every profession, whether you’re a rock star, a waitress, or a cop, and it affects not only employee performance, attitude, and turnover, but the bottom line as well.
In his new book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job there are three underlying factors that will make anyone’s job a miserable one. They are: Anonymity, Irrelevance, and Immeasurement, and they absolutely can impact all aspects of the law enforcement profession.
People can’t be happy or fulfilled in their work unless they are known. This shouldn’t be hard; after all, everyone notices cops, right? But does your supervisor know you? Do they know anything about you other than the rudimentary personal facts? It's one thing if my boss knows I’m married with four kids, it’s another to know my kids names, the sports they play, and how that deer hunt that my husband and daughter went on this weekend turned out. This might sound a little too touchy-feely for our profession, and in fact, it may make some supervisors and managers downright nervous. After all, we’ve been told that too much probing into someone’s personal life can be perceived as the wrong thing to do, legally and professionally.
But think about the last time your own boss took a genuine personal interest in YOU, and your life outside the job; did that make you feel, well, good? As Mr. Lencioni says, people don’t get out of bed to go to work; they get out of bed to go live their lives. As we teach in the Street Survival seminar, you’re a person first, then a cop, and Lencioni tells us that people want to be managed as people, not just workers.
Have you ever noticed how rank, income level and perceived organizational importance seem to have little to do with the overall happiness of the people at your department? We have a custodian at our department who is one of the most pleasant, friendly people in the building. He works his tail off doing things that are physical, dirty, and frankly, stuff most of us have no desire to do. We also have lots of “important” people in the building; they wear guns and badges, they have stars, bars and stripes on their uniforms, they go to meetings, they control lots of people, and they make very important decisions; but none of them seem as happy as the custodian. Some might argue that it’s much more stressful to be a police manager that a police department custodian, but I like Patrick Lencioni’s take on it: All employees, from the chief to the janitor, need to know that they are having an impact on other people’s lives. And to do that, each of them needs to answer two questions, WHO? & HOW?
Who is the custodian helping, who is he impacting, and how does he do that? Well, if it wasn’t for him, the trash cans would overflow, the floors would be muddy, the briefing room would be a disaster; in other words, it would be much less pleasant to come to work if it wasn’t for our custodian. He gets our community room ready for meetings and retirement parties and cleans up afterwards; he cleans our carpet when one of us spills our coffee, and he doesn’t even complain when he has to clean up a “deposit” made by a stray puppy someone brings into the front lobby. Most of us try hard to remember to say “thanks” once in awhile, but I think he knows that if it wasn’t for him, our lives would be a lot more dingy. He impacts the lives of the whole organization as well as the citizens who visit our facility, and even our families who attend the promotional and retirement parties we have at the department. In other words, he knows his work matters to other people.
However, what if you’re the chief? Don’t you impact the whole organization? Of course you do, but whose life do you most impact, and how? Your management team might be one answer, but Mr. Lencioni says that for high level mangers, like chiefs, sheriffs and CEO’s, the answer might really be “my boss.” And if you’re a chief or a sheriff, you may have to spend some time convincing the members of your management team that the person THEY most impact their boss, YOU. That may initially seem self-serving, but think about it. It you’re a deputy chief and your team puts together a project that makes the chief’s night at the city counsel meeting a successful one, isn’t it the chief who is most impacted by your work?
The key to making this work is that in this instance, the chief has to sincerely and specifically thank the deputy chief for her work and tell her why her efforts made his life better. It has to more than “thanks” or “good job,” it has to be specific and sincere: “Deputy Chief, that proposal you and your team put together for me to take to the City Council really blew them away! We were able to get those five new squad cars approved in the budget with no problem, and I was able to go home early and have dinner with my wife. Thanks to you, that was one of the easiest council sessions I’ve attended all year.”
Then the deputy chief has to turn around and say the same thing to her staff. Again, it may sound a bit too “feelings-oriented” for a paramilitary profession, but people need to know WHO they help and HOW they’ve done that in order to feel relevant.
Ok, “immeasurement” isn’t really a word, but what Lencioni is trying to say is that most people do not have a clear means of assessing his or her progress or success on the job. As patrol officers, my team can measure their successes in the number of tickets they write and arrests they make,
but when I supervised the crime prevention unit, measuring our success was a little more difficult.
In crime prevention we had a saying: “You Can’t Measure Prevention,” but as a supervisor it’s your responsibility to come up with ways to help your employees measure whether or not they are successful, and it’s got to be about more than numbers, even for patrol officers. It might be something as simple as having a traffic officer count the number of times they were able to get a violator to smile while issuing them a citation, or how many senior citizens stopped to shake the crime prevention officer’s hand after a presentation, or how many positive comments a dispatcher received each time she went out of her way to provide an officer with a little extra information.
Find some way other than “productivity” numbers to help yourself or your employees measure success. In the example above, the deputy chief’s team can count “five new squad cars for the patrol division and a good council session for the chief” as their measure of success for that project.
There are thousands of great police management books out there, but The Three Signs of a Miserable Job is written as a fable and really gives police mangers, supervisors, and even their employees, some simple and innovative things to think about to make sure we all truly enjoy our jobs.