Managing despite the 3% at 50 rules and changing generations; From Boomers to “Nexter’s” What’s next?
“Changes in Latitudes, changes in Attitudes…”
Perhaps Jimmy Buffet had it right; one’s attitudes will change with one’s perspective. Leadership in public safety agencies, particularly police agencies, is at a critical crossroads. Early retirement incentives have enticed experienced personnel to leave their departments in mass numbers, creating a shortage of experienced supervisors. In addition, there has been a graying of the department with the majority of the existing leaders in the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1943 and 1960) all reaching retirement age at or about the same time. A third contributing factor in the leadership crisis is budgetary constraints as a result of less government funding and under-funded pensions, resulting in fewer dollars for training. The exodus of experienced supervisors has created a unique challenge for law enforcement agencies to fill openings quickly, while continuing to manage the daily operations (both administrative and tactical). Unfortunately, little has been done to develop the next generational pool of candidates in terms of succession management or career development; many agencies have taken a laissez-faire approach to this growing crisis in public safety. Without effective oversight from supervisors, police agencies leave themselves vulnerable to liability and lawsuits.
The Impact of Early Retirement Incentives
In the early 1990s, state, county and city budgets (particularly in California) were typically at a surplus and, consequently, police unions created early retirement incentives for its members. Many agencies adopted what is coined, the “3% at 50” program. This program allows any employee over the age of 50 to collect an annual retirement salary calculated by multiplying 3% times the number of years they have been employed by the department (i.e., 3% x 25 years = 75% of their existing salary as their new annual salary). For many, this is an offer too good to pass up, given the option to begin a second career.
To counterbalance the exodus created by 3% at 50, some departments, such as San Diego Police Department, created a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) Program. The DROP programs allows city executives to collect both their regular pay and retirement pay during the last five years of their employment (essentially allowing employees to double-dip) for continuing to work in the City after retirement eligibility. Unfortunately, financial analysts miscalculated the impact this expense would have the on the City of San Diego’s budget, resulting in a massive pension liability of 1.4 billion, ballooning to $306 million annually by Fiscal Year 2011, which is 21 percent of the City's General Fund (Roberts, 2005). Clearly, for government agencies already in a budget crisis unrelated to retirement programs (as a result of reduced legislative funding and grants that have been diverted to Homeland Security), finding the monies to recruit, train and retain qualified leadership candidates has become an even greater challenge.
As a result of the 3% at 50 retirement incentives, agencies are feeling the pinch of having to replace veteran leaders with younger candidates who have not had the length of service in the field, and without experience in leadership positions. Consequently, the need arises for more concentrated efforts to identify leadership traits, to create a career development path, and to prepare those replacements as supervisors.
For agencies, the cycle of bringing people into the organization, preparing them for the job, and then keeping them in the organization, is divided into three areas: Recruitment, Training and Retention. Each of these areas could have a significant impact on the other, particularly with leadership training and how it relates to promotions or employee development. It is this issue that is the core of my thesis: that law enforcement agencies should do more to develop their leaders. Studies show that many public administration academics are, at best, ignoring leadership issues and, at worst, rejecting the concept. Practitioners, on the other hand, are trying to gain sufficient training or grounding in leadership to deal with the relationship-based issues they face daily (Fairholm, 2004).
When considering promoting individuals to leadership roles, the pool of candidates may vary greatly in their values, behaviors and commitment to the department. The issue of how committed they will be to the organization pivots on whether the individual’s needs are met; those needs are based on their shared experiences as cohorts relating to the sociological, economic, and technological developments during their formative years. Police managers need to adapt their recruitment and development styles to match and motivate the different workplace generations. To hire them is one thing; to keep them is another. When we look at the four generations of cohorts that are working together, there are:
1. Veterans: those born between 1922 and 1943 (52 million people). These cohorts were born before or during World War II and their earliest experiences are associated with that world event. Some also remember the Great Depression.
2. The Baby Boomers: those born between 1943-1960 (73.2 million people). These people were born during or after World War II and raised in an era of extreme optimism, opportunity, and progress. Boomers, for the most part, grew up in two-parent households, safe schools, job security and post-war prosperity. They represent about two-thirds of all U.S. workers. On the job, they value loyalty, respect the organizational hierarchy, and generally wait their turn for advancement.
3. Generation Xers: those born between 1960-1980 (70.1 million people). They were born after the Boomers into a rapidly changing social climate and economic recession, including Asian competition. They grew up in two-career families with rising divorce rates, downsizing, the dawning of the high-tech age, and the information age. On the job, they can be fiercely independent, like to be in control, and want fast feedback. 4. Generation Nexters: those born between 1980-2000 (69.7 million people to date). Those born of Boomer parents and early Xers into our current high-tech, neo-optimistic times. Although the youngest workers, they represent the most technologically adept. They are fast learners and tend to be impatient (Zemke, 2005).
Cultural diversity and sensitivity training should be expanded to capture the internal cultures created by the generational variances in the workplace. This concept is foreign to law enforcement’s paramilitary, hierarchical structure of leadership, which typically purports top-down communication according to rank. The Gen Xers and Nexters typically prefer to work in teams with more bottom-up (open) communication channels. As a result of natural attrition and retirements, law enforcement agencies are attempting to replace their Baby Boomers with Gen Xers or Nexters and are challenged by each generation’s perspective on leadership, teamwork, desire for autonomy, and most importantly, commitment to the organization and the profession.
Organizational commitment can be divided into two dominant dimensions: Affective commitment and calculated (or continuance) commitment. The first form of commitment (affective) is essentially an attitudinal phenomenon related to personality traits and job-related factors, and leads to the willingness of an employee to support organizational goals (Brown, 1990). This applicant is driven by their own altruistic passion and will seek out the position based on their intrinsic qualities and desire to effect change. Typically, this individual is self-motivated, stable, and exhibits a higher level of commitment.
Calculative commitment is the result of employees’ perception that merely by being part of the organization, their self-interest will be served. This commitment tends to be more transitory. The calculative applicant needs to be sold through an aggressive (extrinsic) marketing campaign. They need to be able to identify with a popular or specialized group that exhibits a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. Interestingly, the tougher it is to join certain specialized groups and the higher the demand and mystique of the group (such as the military’s Special Forces, or the police SWAT team), the greater the impact on the calculative commitment. In addition, lucrative benefit packages, specialized assignments, and recognition and rewards (coupled with a good match of personality and temperament), can help cement the calculative commitment.
Whether an individual is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, they have similar expectations of their leadership. Six qualities have been identified as beneficial for police administrators in creating a committed workforce. These include:
1. Vision: Having a clear sense of direction, communicating the direction to others and developing a level of enthusiasm among subordinates for the direction.
2. Charisma: Having the ability to interact with subordinates and inspire them toward organizational objectives.
3. Symbolism: Offering special awards and holding ceremonies to recognize excellence and identify heroic or outstanding performance.
4. Empowerment: Delegating truly challenging work and helping others develop (personally and professionally; giving them the responsibility and the authority to do their jobs).
5. Intellectual Stimulation: Creating an atmosphere whereby subordinates begin to think about problems and use their creativity to solve them.
6. Integrity: Being honest and open to all members of the organization and consistently adhering to the high standards of ethics and morality (Gains, 2003).
Beyond the aforementioned ideal characteristics of a leader, the challenge remains: how does a leader keep their workforce engaged? What is it that will motivate employees enough to want to remain in the organization? Empirical studies suggest that the bond between employees and their organization is strengthened by a number of factors including job scope, job challenge, leader communication, participative management, occupational commitment, job involvement, and job satisfaction. Conversely, role ambiguity, conflict, and work overload lower the commitment of the employees towards the organization (Brown, 1990). Ideally, the commitment to an organization or the profession would be considered a desirable trait since it ideally would result in lower turnover and contribute to greater productivity (Hom, 1995). In a sense, commitment should be a dimension desired in recruiting and testing efforts and applicants could be screened for their values, integrity, character, and willingness to serve a long-term commitment. Various psychometric tests such as the Myers Briggs, Keirsey Temperament, and Supervisory Skills Inventory could be utilized in hiring, rather than merely having candidates answer questions from an oral panel (which is considered subjective in nature) to determine leadership characteristics.
The competition for qualified candidates has grown strong with greater variances in starting salaries, incentives and benefits relating to each department’s financial strength. “Money is a big deal. It is what is driving some officers to leave the San Diego Police Department as a result of taking pay cuts to offset the pension deficit” (Hasemyer, 2005). In the midst of recruitment and retention efforts, some departments are facing cutbacks due to the municipal or county financial woes and are losing experienced officers based solely on dollars and cents. Police Chief, William Lansdowne, fears the resignations have just begun, stating, "We have to fix this problem. We can't continue to lose the most valuable members of our police department." The salary and benefit rollbacks spurred 15 officers, to leave as of October of 2005. Eighteen left last year. By comparison, only eight officers left five years ago, when the City's financial future was brighter (Manolatos, 2005). As a leadership issue, the retention of personnel has become a primary concern.
Circling back to the issue of attrition, in one California city, city leaders realized they were facing a potential leadership vacuum when, within four to five years, 11 of 15 department heads would become eligible to retire. The city recognized the impending loss of these key leaders and considered these two questions:
1. “Did the city have qualified people ready to fill key positions now and grow the organization in the next three to five years?”
2. “Will there be a sufficient number of qualified candidates ready to fill key positions in five to ten years?”(Western, 2001)
The answers to these two questions led to the creation of a program to identify, develop and support the city’s future leaders. Through interviews with the city’s department heads, the following eight dimensions were identified as crucial to the success of future city leaders: communication; decision-making; interpersonal effectiveness; leadership style; administrative effectiveness; flexibility; planning and organization; and developmental orientation (Panza, 2003). These qualities and capabilities can be measured in an Assessment Center setting.
Assessment Centers as a Screening and Development Tool
Many police agencies utilize assessment centers, managed by outside consultants, as a promotional process. An assessment center is typically an eight-hour interview comprised of job-related activities designed to assess an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) as they relate to the dimensions of the next promotional rank. Multiple assessors observe and score candidates in simulations, mock-subordinate counseling sessions and community meetings (with role players), a timed in-basket, and writing exercises (such as a squad briefing on a new policy or a press release). Most agencies still incorporate some form of an oral interview requiring the candidate to provide an overview of his or her readiness and accomplishments, although this is unrelated to the KSA’s, and is the most subjective and least quantifiable aspect of a promotional process. Unfortunately, oral panels have eliminated many very qualified candidates as potential supervisors simply because they could not talk about themselves in describing their accomplishments. The obvious question remains: if the assessment center is effectively utilized as a screening tool for promotional purposes, why are not more agencies also using it as a preparatory/screening tool to identify their future leaders? Currently, this opportunity is untapped in the public sector, yet it has been highly utilized in the private sector, and was originated by AT&T.
William Byham, Chairman and CEO of Development Dimensions International (DDI), a leading-edge human resources consultancy firm that specializes in the identification and development of leadership talent, addresses this in his book, “Grow Your Own Leaders.” Byham proposes “Acceleration Pools” as a new method of nomination for succession management. (Byham, 2002). In these pools, people who show high potential can have their development needs diagnosed and an individualistic outline can be designed for purposes of mentoring their strengths and coaching their weaknesses.
Expectations of Leaders in a Changing Environment
Contrary to popular belief, leaders are typically made, and born (Bennis, 1989). In law enforcement, officers must learn to grapple with constant evolutionary changes in an effort to meet the public expectations, address new and evolving threats to public safety, manage governmental and political mandates, and contend with changes in management and philosophy. Only with coaching and professional development, can staff contend with these issues and a multi-generational workforce during the changing-of-the-guard from seasoned, veteran leaders to the next generation. Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard describe this phenomenon as Situational Leadership, wherein a supervisor must assess each subordinate’s readiness to follow instruction based on their confidence and competence in their effort to be effective in policing (Hersey, 1988).
Police leaders are concerned with being effective as well as efficient. The measurement of effectiveness is arguable. Productivity in policing can often be a tenuous term and spurns the question: how does one measure an individual’s effectiveness in policing? Is it simply based on productivity (i.e., the number of citations and arrests)? Perhaps effectiveness is measured in the absence of citizen complaints, or more importantly, the absence of crime.
Most agencies produce an Annual Report which highlights their accomplishments and gives the public an overview of the department’s activities. It will generally include a statistical presentation of their cumulative activities and includes the number of sworn and non-sworn personnel, number of crime reports taken, the number of arrests, and expenditures. Featured programs, such as Juvenile Delinquency Prevention, and the Gang or Drug Awareness programs, demonstrate the wide diversity of local policing efforts. In response to citizen concerns about locally-based issues, many agencies have partnered with the community, and diverted resources toward Community Based Policing (COP) and Problem Oriented Policing (POP) programs.
The leadership competencies required of a candidate for law enforcement to be successful in managing a COP/POP project, as ranked by police managers and chiefs are: (1) Communications and related interpersonal competencies; (2) Problem-solving competencies; (3) Motivational competencies; (4) Planning and organizing competencies, and (5) Actuation/ Implementation competencies (Ortmeier, 1996). You will note in the ranking of these competencies, the ability to demonstrate effective verbal communication skills was at the top of the priority list by respondents (police managers and chiefs). Ideally, these competencies could be identified early on and mentored as an officer progresses in rank and faces new challenges. To truly be effective, officers must operate collaboratively with internal and external stakeholders to work through and with others in a constantly changing environment. The planning, organizing, problem-solving, implementing, and communicating skills involved are essential in effecting organizational change, and all are measurable in an assessment center setting.
The concept of organizational change refers to planned, organization-wide change. How is that change managed in police agencies? Are agencies actually working toward training and developing their succession management to anticipate the need for change and to develop strategies for implementing those changes? In addition, are the tools of leadership development honed to a fine art within the organization or left to the vagaries of personalities and competing agendas within the criminal justice system (i.e., police, courts and corrections)?
Police managers and supervisors must be ready to address the challenges facing policing today including: restricted budgets, population demands (i.e., politics), change in priorities, succession management, and frequent changes of leadership (Mitchell, 2004). Many agencies must contend with a resolving door in the position of top-cop or sheriff with the job-hopping occurring with chiefs of police. With a change in leadership, each chief brings a new vision and mission. Supervisors must be able to adapt and implement those changes for homeostasis to occur within the department.
William Bratton, formerly the chief of police for the New York Police Department, created the following mission statement just after being hired as Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department: “It is the mission of the Los Angeles Police Department to safeguard the lives and property of the people we serve, to reduce the incidence and fear of crime, and to enhance public safety while working with the diverse communities to improve their quality of life. Our mandate is to do so with honor and integrity, while at all times conducting ourselves with the highest ethical standards to maintain public confidence.”
This mission statement abides by the concerns of the community for oversight and accountability. By comparison, his mission at the New York City Police Department was, “The Mission of the New York City Police Department is to enhance the quality of life in our City by working in partnership with the community and in accordance with constitutional rights to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide for a safe environment.”
Conversely, much of Bratton’s call for change when he took over the NYPD was the “quality of life” issues that plagued New York. Since moving to Los Angeles, his message to the community and his officers is similar, but due to local politics, and the ever present specter of racism and abuse of force issues, Bratton had to adjust his mission to reflect realistic conditions in order to affect change.
Accountability and Supervisory Oversight
The Los Angeles Police Department has had its own challenges for years, and has taken severe criticism for the now infamous Rodney King (beating) incident, the resulting riots after the LAPD officers were acquitted in a local court of abuse charges, the resulting Christopher Commission report, and finally the Rampart Executive Report, ten years after the King incident. The Rampart Report revealed systemic abuse and corruption within a relatively small group of officers in the CRASH Unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums). In fact, every commission created to study police misconduct or corruption as far back as the Wickersham Commission in 1931, has cited the crucial role of the police supervisor in detecting and preventing unethical behavior.
The former Los Angeles Police Chief, Bernard Parks, now a Los Angeles City Councilman, blamed, in large measure, the lax departmental management for allowing misconduct within the Rampart Division to occur. The report offered 108 recommendations, including the improvement of hiring practices, supervisory oversight and police training. Ironically, some of the same recommendations (related to the crucial role of the first-line supervisor in terms of oversight) have been found to be true in other commissions on police misconduct, starting with the 1931 Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement by the Wickersham Commission
It was the first systematic investigation of police misconduct and became a catalyst for reforms involving new forms of accountability for the police, although at times, it may appear that contemporary police may be unaware of it or its impact (Wickersham, 1997). While there were earlier studies, such as the Chicago Crime Commission (1919), and the Cleveland Survey of Criminal Justice (1927), which served as the model for the Wickersham Commission, it is the Wickersham commission that conducted the first national study of the administration of justice in the United States and was a precursor to the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1965-1967), popularly known as the President's Crime Commission.
Misconduct can only be mitigated by effective and consistent oversight, with supervisors who hold their officers accountable. This will only become a priority at the behest of the chief or sheriff. The chief must make it a priority to proactively train supervisors to recognize the red-flag warning signs (such as: absenteeism, a sense of entitlement, misuse of the badge, accusations of excessive use of force, and bad arrests) which typically precede misconduct. Too often, newly promoted supervisors are sent to supervisory training months after they have assumed the role. This lack of experience can leave a department vulnerable to mistakes and liability from the consequences of apathy. Ultimately, recurrent transgressions can place a police department under federal consent decree.
To create change within an organization, such as creating a leadership development program, an agency must have a clear vision of the need for change, a base line from which to start, and a barometer by which to measure the results. To develop their employees into leaders, organizations must use the available tools to assess leadership potential and growth. In developing leaders, psychometric instruments, such as the Leadership Skills Inventory could be used to help develop leadership potential. Early feedback indicates that police agencies have not validated the relevance of early identification of leadership potential to actual future leaders. Ideally, departments should follow a blueprint designed by James Collins in his book, “Good to Great,” wherein the goal is to get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus, and get the right people in the right seats (2001). Without solid leadership, and the knowledge, skills and abilities to plan, organize and direct others, an organization’s ability to even recognize the need for change, much less the ability to carry it out, can be jeopardized.
About the Author
Richard, “Rick” Michelson, MPA, and PhD candidate, has a background in law enforcement spanning 30 years, starting with the San Diego Police Department. His experience includes, SWAT sergeant, Crime Prevention Unit director, Community Relations, Emergency Planning and Hostage Negotiations. He has served as a Lieutenant and as an interim Chief. He has written numerous articles on related policing topics, and has co-authored the text, Preparing for Promotion: A Guide for Public Safety Assessment Centers, published by Law Tech, who publish the “Qwik-Codes.” He is a criminal justice professor for a community college in San Diego. He is an adjunct professor for both the Union Institute & University and Webster University’s Graduate Program in Security Management. He is also the director of KSA, Ltd., a training company that conducts workshops for agencies and future police/corrections and fire service leaders to help them develop their leadership skills. He may be reached at (619) 203-3073, or through email, at email@example.com. The website for KSA, Ltd., is http://assessmentcenter.org