IACP Quick Take: How to weed out morale killing behaviors in your agency
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Morale is influenced largely by the work environment, and one of the biggest contributors to a bad work environment is a lack of accountability

ORLANDO - Every agency, no matter its size, has employees who suck the life out of the job. At the 125th International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, Ron Glidden, retired police chief and author of the “Bulletproof Leadership” series, broke down how early intervention accountability is key to handling “morale killers” in your agency.

QUICK SUMMARY

Morale is influenced largely by the work environment. Glidden says one of the biggest contributors to a bad work environment in police agencies is a lack of accountability. If you’re not making employees accountable for poor quality work or other issues, your top performers will become demoralized.

As a police leader, when you avoid conflict, you’re also avoiding accountability. (Photo/PoliceOne)
As a police leader, when you avoid conflict, you’re also avoiding accountability. (Photo/PoliceOne)

“It’s about the work environment you create,” Glidden said. “It’s how you interact with employees. And that doesn’t cost you a penny.”

3 KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. You need to correct problematic behavior (and you need to do it early).

Glidden believes conflict avoidance - particularly when it comes from leadership - is one of the biggest problems in law enforcement today. As a police leader, when you avoid conflict, you’re also avoiding accountability.

Waiting until a problem balloons before addressing it will only cause more problems. Glidden used the example of a constantly tardy employee to illustrate his point. If you wait until the tenth or fifteenth time an employee is late to call out the behavior, you’re more likely to get a poor reaction than if you intervene early. (“Why is this suddenly a problem?”)

Accountability shows your employees you’re paying attention, you care, and your expectations and values matter. All of this creates a healthy work environment and good morale. But correcting problematic behavior doesn’t necessarily mean a slap on the wrist or a suspension, which leads us to takeaway number two...

2. Accountability isn’t about punishment.

According to Glidden, police leaders need to understand that accountability isn’t about punishment - it’s about future performance.

Discipline isn’t very effective in changing behavior. Sending an employee home does nothing to improve their future performance, but feedback does. Feedback improves morale by maintaining employee accountability, giving employees recognition, keeping them from guessing about their work, and providing them clear expectations.

Glidden says negative feedback should be given in person, that you should have empathy when delivering that feedback, and you should offer solutions to the problem, not just critiques.

3. Addressing these behaviors is a seven-step process.

Here’s Glidden’s step-by-step breakdown of how to address morale-killing behaviors:

  • Identify the specific problem behavior
    Make sure the problem is something you have the authority to correct. Be specific and ask yourself if the issue is an observable behavior, not an attitude or feeling. You can’t enforce a change in attitude, but you can enforce a change in behavior.
  • Determine the performance gap
    What’s the gap between your expectations and the employee’s performance? What needs to be done to close the gap?
  • Determine impact
    Figure out what the consequences to your organization are if the employee’s behavior continues.
  • Determine consequences
    What’s the next step if the employee does not adjust their behavior?
  • Make a plan
    Map out your strategy for getting the results you seek.  
  • Have a performance discussion
    Give the employee feedback about the behavior and why it needs to change. Keep it to one behavior per discussion. If this isn’t your first discussion about the issue, outline consequences the employee will face if the behavior doesn’t change.
  • Follow up
    If the behavior changes for the positive, acknowledge it. If it doesn’t change, take the next steps outlined in your plan.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

  • Another big factor in a poor work environment, according to Glidden, is what he calls a culture of compliance.

    “We’ve built a workforce that thinks doing the bare minimum is what it’s all about,” Glidden told the audience.

    When some employees are doing the bare minimum, this demoralizes your top performers. Employees need to believe there’s more to work than avoiding getting yelled at by doing the bare minimum and not breaking any policy. Glidden says what police agencies need from employees isn’t compliance, but commitment. Committed employees make your life easier by doing more than what’s expected of them and doing what’s right regardless of policy, even when no one is looking.

    But cops don’t become committed because of their love of law enforcement, they become committed because of a supervisor. They do more than is needed for you, a supervisor they trust. You need to build that trust with them.
  • If you don’t correct minor mistakes, they can become permanent. You’re not nitpicking, you’re changing the employee’s behavior for future success.

LEARN MORE

4 ways police leaders can motivate personnel

Why leadership in law enforcement is not about rank

12 traits of effective police leaders

6 keys ways police leaders can get courageous (and honest) feedback from employees

Unplug and socialize: 4 rules for improving police management

10 keys to effective police leadership

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