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Dealing with the “Champion” at the Station
Perhaps this stationhouse scenario is uncomfortably familiar: An officer is walking down the hallway when he hears two cops telling jokes across the room. These jokes aren’t raunchy, but they are a little edgy. The two co-workers aren’t shouting their jokes—they’re using whispered tones. The passing employee has to strain to hear the punchline, but he has picked up enough to be outraged. His next stop is your office, where the story comes out in full detail that the station has become the dreaded “hostile work environment.”
This officer sees similar injustices everywhere. The events he witnesses may include playful banter between two partners, mild flirting between consenting single adults on their coffee break or inoffensive practical jokes.
Certain officers who see these things can become the self-appointed “champions” of employee behavior in the station. They wear out a path to the supervisor’s office, or worse, Personnel. They corner every sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief and rant about unfair treatment, hostile work environments, and how police management at every level is “allowing” this to take place.
The ironic part is that while the “champion” is a great observer of the problems of others, he is probably not a very good cop. The “champion’s” sergeant has to walk a delicate balance when confronting his poor reports, officer safety and crime-fighting efforts. Any counseling memo or performance improvement plan is met with howls of protest. Because the “champion” has blown the whistle, the supervisor must be retaliating against him. The “champion” loves to start every meeting with, “Do I need to call my union rep?”
So what is the solution? How do you manage entitled and poor performing “champions”? How do you get past the distraction techniques they use to deny their ineptitude in the field? How do you talk to them about their attitudes without thinking you’re going to get sued after every conversation? Managing the “champion” requires management courage. We define this skill as both the ability and the desire to have the necessary crucial conversations with the “champions.”
Courageous police supervisors will say the following: “I’m sorry what you heard or saw seemed offensive to you. I disagree that it violates our harassment policies. I am careful, as is this department, to evaluate the behavior and performance of every employee, sworn and non-sworn. Not everything that goes on here is aimed directly or indirectly at you. I want you to focus on your assignments and stop worrying about everyone else. As your boss, I have the right to evaluate your work performance. It’s not personal; we are having a work conversation. I will pay attention to our issues here. Please go back to work.”
The tool of choice for the courageous manager is coaching. We define coaching as a non-disciplinary performance- or behavior-changing conversation. Courageous police supervisors initiate as many coaching conversations as necessary, until they don’t see any changes, which is when they know to switch to progressive discipline.
Dealing with the “champion” using coaching can be paradoxical. The courageous sergeant or lieutenant knows he or she will have to spend more time with the “champion,” not less. “Champions” will require more goal-setting and more interactions with supervisors, not fewer, even though there is a tendency for most bosses to want to avoid them.
Stationhouse “champions” think they win when they are given retirement packages to leave, promotions or transfers they don’t deserve, or when they are allowed to continue to bully their co-workers. The police supervisor who stands his or her ground can fight the “champion’s” poor performance, disruptive behavior and entitled attitude with consequences, coaching and courage.
Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department from 1984 to 1999. His books include Contact & Cover, Streetwork, Surviving Street Patrol, and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Published in Law and Order, Apr 2011
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