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The Employee Interview Exercise

Written by Charles Hale

The principal duties of a first-line police supervisor are to give directions to subordinates, monitor their performance, counsel them regarding poor work habits, encourage and reward them when they excel, and initiate or recommend disciplinary action when they commit serious breaches of rules and regulations.

The transition to first-line supervisor is one of the most difficult in the law enforcement profession. It is at this stage of their careers that they begin to make decisions that will separate them from their fellow officers.

The new supervisors must learn that management responsibilities outweigh personal loyalties, and that tough decisions must sometimes be made that will set them apart from their former comrades. Once they have succeeded in making this transition, they will be better prepared for the challenges that await them as they proceed up the managerial ladder.

One of the most difficult tasks for many new police supervisors is to confront subordinates when they fail to perform as expected and to make it clear to the subordinate what behavior is expected as well as the consequences for further misconduct. It is much easier to ignore minor indiscretions in the hope that they will not be repeated, thus avoiding conflict and confrontation. Unfortunately, subordinates will usually see this as a sign of weakness on the part of their supervisor which will make it even more difficult for the supervisor to gain their respect.

New police supervisors soon learn that they are only as good as their subordinates, and that their subordinates’ performance is often a direct reflection on the supervisor’s own ability. It soon becomes apparent to new supervisors that people problems occupy much of their time and may prove to be more difficult than any of their other responsibilities. The complexity and difficulty of these thorny people problems may lead supervisors to question their decision to want to be promoted in the first place!

For all the reasons cited above, meeting with, interviewing, and counseling subordinates is one of the most fundamental duties of a police supervisor. Thus, the employee interview exercise is a common element in any assessment center for a first-line supervisor or a middle manager position. The police supervisor must have the skills of a teacher, a parent, a minister, a friend, a parent, a financial adviser, and a mentor. Many of these skills come to play in this exercise.

In the employee interview exercise, candidates are usually given information about a situation that requires the candidate to speak with a subordinate to discuss some sort of problem. Candidates may be provided with background information about the subordinate, such as the length of the employee’s tenure, family status, and a summary of the employee’s previous job performance.

Candidates may be told that they have just been promoted to the position and have recently transferred to this particular unit. As a result, they have not had the opportunity to work with this employee in the past and may not know much, if anything, about the employees’ previous job performance.

The role of the employee may be played by one of the assessors, the assessment center coordinator, professional actor, or community or outside-agency volunteer role player. In any case, it should be someone who has no personal relationship with any of the candidates. The role player will usually be provided with a script that explains the reasons for the interview and the type of behavior that is to be manifested by the employee.

For example, the employee may be a senior patrol officer who is burned out and who is counting the months and days until retirement. As a result, the officer’s job performance has deteriorated to the point where supervisory intervention is necessary. In such a situation, the role player may, through his statements and actions, make it apparent that he has chosen the path of least resistance and plans on getting through each day by not making waves and doing the minimum necessary to get by.

When the supervisor is confronted with this type of behavior, it should be clear that firm remedial action is necessary. The supervisor must make it clear that, whether the employee has one week or one year left before retirement, each day must be a full and productive one. The candidate should also let the employee know the consequences for failure.

In dealing with subordinates who have displayed unacceptable behavior or poor job performance, candidates should make an effort to establish rapport with the employee, even though the subject to be discussed may be unpleasant. A few introductory comments or questions designed to put the employee at ease go a long way toward creating a friendly and positive atmosphere for the interview.

“Good job on that arrest last week, Marlene,” or “I’m happy to have you on my shift and I am looking forward to working with you, Joe,” are positive ways to begin a discussion that may ultimately have negative overtones.

The candidate must have a definite plan of action and remain committed to that plan during the exercise. Too often, a seasoned role player will manage to get a candidate to back down or compromise on commitments. A candidate must be alert to tell tale signs, words, or gestures that suggest that the employee is either not getting the message or is not convinced of the need to change his behavior.

A role player may make some rude or offensive comment about the candidate or another member of the administration to try to provoke an angry response from the candidate. If this happens, the candidate must let the employee know in no uncertain terms that such comments will not be tolerated and is further evidence of the employee’s inappropriate behavior. Candidates must remember that when they lose their temper, they lose control, and they cannot afford to do either in this exercise.

Another scenario might involve an employee who has been accused of making derogatory comments about women or minorities, or taking actions which violate racial profiling guidelines or constitutional or human rights guarantees. Here again, the candidate must be very clear in pointing out why such behavior is unacceptable as well as the consequences if the behavior continues.

In this case, the employee may very well be facing severe disciplinary action, if not criminal sanctions. A supervisor may have little recourse but to refer the matter to higher authority for action, since the disciplinary authority of the first-line supervisor is usually limited. However, even if this is the case, the supervisor should make it clear to the employee that such conduct represents gross violations of department policy, if not state or federal law.

It is sometimes difficult for a candidate to accept the role player as a real person, or to place himself or herself into a superior-subordinate relationship with the role player. The successful candidate must step into the role and accept the role player as a real person and not simply a role player.

As in all simulations, the success of a candidate depends, in part, on his ability to accept the parameters of the situation as given and to handle each and every scenario as if it were the real thing. Candidates will be judged on how well they act, think, and speak like a supervisor.

In a sense, the employee interview exercise represents a tug of war between the candidate and the role player, in which candidates must find a way to get the employee to agree to modify behavior. Role players may initially resist the candidate’s efforts to control them, but if the candidate displays a reasonable plan, the role player should go along with the candidate. The exercise should not become a no win situation. Role players must allow candidates a reasonable opportunity to get the employee to agree to change his behavior.

On the other hand, a strong and experienced role player may sometimes completely overpower a weak candidate who has little experience in dealing with difficult personnel or their problems. The role player may also try to place blame on the supervisor, the administration, or other persons to avoid responsibility for a poor job performance. The candidate must be quick to defend the administration and others and make it clear to the employee that the real problem is the employee’s poor job performance.

Candidates must approach this exercise with an open mind and must be a good listener. It is not wise to enter into this exercise with a solution before knowing the entire scope and mature of the problem. Instead, candidates must listen, probe, question, and analyze before making up their mind what to do.

Once candidates have decided on a course of action, they must inform the employee of their decision and explain their plan so that the employee knows exactly what to expect and what will happen next. A common failure by candidates in this exercise is failing to make it clear that the employee’s behavior will be closely monitored in the future, and that follow-up meetings may be required to ensure that the employee’s job performance has substantially improved.

The employee interview exercise is a good way of learning how effectively a candidate will be able to deal with some of the most difficult problems that an officer will encounter as a new supervisor.

Charles Hale is the president of Resource Management Associates, an organization that specializes in designing and administering customized written examinations and assessment centers for police and fire personnel. Charles is the author of Police Patrol, and The Assessment Center Handbook for Police and Fire Personnel. He may be reached at RMA2500@aol.com.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2005

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