Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

The Two Roles of Supervision in Performance Counseling

Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

The Two Roles of Supervision in Performance Counseling

Article excerpt

Law enforcement supervisors have two primary responsibilities in molding productive, well-disciplined officers: rewarding good behavior and correcting poor performance. (1) Fortunately, most officers support the organization, work hard, and never require any type of formal counseling. When problems do arise, they usually are solved quickly by an informal discussion without the need for any advanced preparation. Yet, despite the high quality of law enforcement personnel in most organizations, performance problems still may occur. It seems that some officers, regardless of the best efforts of well-intentioned supervisors, simply refuse to change. How leaders handle these performance challenges can have a profound impact on employee engagement and organizational culture.

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While many supervisors do a competent job of rewarding good behavior, they often find it difficult to tackle performance problems because they lack the basic tools, training, and mind-set to do so effectively. Yet, confronting problem behaviors effectively is just as critical to the success of a law enforcement agency as rewarding proper conduct. However, before leaders can expect to hold their personnel accountable for meeting organizational objectives, these employees need to know exactly what is expected of them. Too often, supervisors assume that officers understand what is required, thereby missing important opportunities to clarify goals, solicit commitment, and provide important milestones.

The basic philosophy behind performance counseling in any law enforcement agency is the same: individual officers must be responsible for their own performance. Indeed, the effectiveness of most organizations can be greatly improved when supervisors appropriately reinforce good conduct; address ineffective behaviors early; and hold officers accountable for their performance in positive, productive ways. The author offers law enforcement supervisors and managers some of the tools and knowledge necessary to accomplish these objectives.

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REINFORCING GOOD PERFORMANCE

Supervisors should begin their efforts to improve organizational performance with an understanding that most officers are committed to the agency, its mission, and its values. Provided that officers have a clear understanding of what is expected, supervisors should take every opportunity to reward good performance. In simplest terms, behavior is a function of its consequences; therefore, people are motivated to perform actions for which they are rewarded while avoiding those for which they are punished. Rewarding appropriate behavior (what psychologists refer to as positive reinforcement) can profoundly impact the broad range of behaviors that officers exhibit, as well as the productivity, morale, and effectiveness of the organization. (2)

Decades of scientific research have supported the finding that positive reinforcement increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated (i.e., the law of effect principle). (3) Similarly, behavior appropriately punished is more likely to disappear than if allowed to continue unchallenged. In either case, supervisors should be specific about the behavior being rewarded or, in other cases, punished. They should avoid generalities, such as "great job" or "poor attitude," in favor of specific, unambiguous statements that focus on particular behaviors. For example, "I like the way you asked all of the officers present at the debriefing for their opinions, allowed each person to speak, and took notes" is more effective than "great debriefing," which provides no specific description of the behaviors being rewarded and reinforced.

When supervisors emphasize and reinforce specific behaviors, officers have a better understanding of how to repeat their successes, maximize rewards, and avoid failures. Because the likelihood of officers repeating a behavior hinges on the reinforcement they receive, supervisors should continue to reward them each time they perform appropriately. …

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