Managers should empower themselves to make a difference to their officers’ welfare

When I became a Sergeant, one of the first conversations I had was cautious advice from a colleague, who warned that a large portion of my time would be taken up by “people’s shit”; that I would spend most of my time committed to a few on my team; and that HR were no help whatsoever, in fact, they relished dumping the work onto Sergeants.

The concept that frontline policing was largely delivered by police constables, and that the majority role of a supervising rank was to deal with their officers’ needs instead of zipping about on blues, turning people over, had evidently escaped him.

I’ve since been astonished by how much time is wasted by an organisation undertaking draconian HR processes, such as attendance management. That’s not because absences are acceptable per se. Moreover, Forces are so obsessed with people being at work on time, every time, that whole meetings are committed to the topic of absence. Unfortunately, hardly any time is committed to reviewing how individuals perform once they’re actually at work.

It’s called presentee-ism. If someone is at work, they must be working hard, right? So lets compile lists of people not at work, and badger them until they return, resign or file a grievance. At least we can say we’re focusing on performance. And nobody likes a sicknote, do they?

When you are in a position where even Chief Constables and Commissioner-ranks are publicly admitting that officer morale is a problem, the opportunity to do good by your constables emerges, but may be difficult to see how. So bare with me.

Whilst the Force is often no good at training supervisors and managers, a small commitment of time to reading up on some basic HR policies can reap dividends. People would soon realise just how much power and autonomy sits in the hands of a first and second line manager. And its guided by statute, so it’s the law.

But with power becomes responsibility. The responsibility to recognise and understand poor performance beyond a simple graph, then to take steps to remedy the underlying causes; the responsibility to support officers’ individual issues to elicit and motivate improvement; and a responsibility to “manage upwards” and instill confidence amongst your seniors that matters are being addressed, albeit, perhaps not through formal process. It’s far more than just sickness reports and welfare meetings.

So, when you reflect on how poorly some colleagues are treated, or you wonder why you’re working harder than someone else, perhaps it’s because of a lack of knowledge at the first and second line management level, which if resolved, could empower them to push back on the draconian in favour of actioning a more common-sense approach to performance management. Knowing the rules is a big step to doing that.

Far from being “people’s shit”, it’s the perfect opportunity to become knowledgeable and empower yourself to make a real difference to the people in your own team; to make demands of your Force for better training.  If we get it more right than we currently do, we could start to close the performance gap and take some pressure off our frontline colleagues.