Ignorance or Noncompliance

The one recurring issue we have as supervisors is dealing with problem employees. It's never easy but you can simplify it by remembering that most issues stem from either ignorance or noncompliance.

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The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It's commonly explained in management training circles as 80% of the problems being caused by 20% of people. The one recurring issue we have as supervisors is dealing with problem employees. It's never easy but you can simplify it by remembering that most issues stem from either ignorance or noncompliance.

When I say ignorance, I don't mean anything remotely related to IQ. I mean the employees didn't get the memo. In the 80/20 world this is a common tactic employees use to shield themselves from blame. It's usually the first thing that comes out of their mouths: I didn't know. Your only play is to fix it by giving them the memo. In theory this is a one-time, one-issue excuse.

By giving them the memo (actual memo, policy updates, training, etc.) they are no longer ignorant. You need to document what you did to correct the deficiency and how you checked for understanding. In addition to keeping good notes and keeping your supervisor up to speed, always create a useful paper trail. Send an e-mail or memo to your subordinate stating what the issue was, what was done to correct it, and that any future recurrences may lead to progressive discipline.

For those of you who think this might be a bit much, remember you are dealing with the 20%. Part of your job is to get them back into the 80% and the other part revolves around your ability to close any loopholes they could use against you in the future. Once they have received what information or training they need, a repeat occurrence on their part is no longer ignorance, but noncompliance.

After you establish it's not ignorance, you're left with very few choices. If you ignore it, the negative behavior will just keep going and you set a bad example for everyone else. You have to handle it immediately. I highly recommend you follow your policy and procedures under the section that covers unsatisfactory performance.

Unsatisfactory performance may be demonstrated in a number of ways, including but not limited to a lack of knowledge in the application of laws, an unwillingness to perform assigned tasks, and the failure to conform to work standards. This is where your documentation kicks in. It's up to you to present any infractions of policies, procedures, or orders especially when they show a pattern. In all cases, the burden of proof is on you to show you have tried to rehabilitate the employee and bring him or her back into the fold.

When I was a young sergeant, I inherited an officer who made it a point to do stupid things just because he could. Just before his arrival, we were given a directive to sign and print our names on our traffic citations. He was one of those guys who had an unreadable signature and the directive was written to help counter citizen complaints to that effect.

One day he failed to follow instructions and when told to print his name, he did so like a kindergartner. He printed his last name about an inch tall on all three of the citations I kicked back. I could only interpret his actions as a deliberate act of defiance. I already knew he was part of the 20% and he loved to manipulate policy and procedure to suit his needs. "Show me in policy" was his favorite saying.

Tired of his games, I met with him in my office. I showed him where he had signed a training roster when we went over the directive during roll call briefing. I showed him the date of his first infraction which caused me to verbally counsel him. I then showed him the date of his second infraction where I gave him written counseling. Since this was blatantly his third violation, I told him he was getting a day off. I explained his suspension would be for unsatisfactory performance.

All he had to say was that I didn't like him from the start and that I was picking on him. It's another typical response from a substandard officer. I told him if he had a grievance to put it in writing and submit it up through the chain of command (which he never did). A few years later while serving on someone else's squad, he ended up getting fired for an alcohol-related charge.

I understand that everyone makes mistakes, but the difference is that with good employees you seldom get the same mistake twice. For all those problem children under your command who became cops for all the wrong reasons, try the ignorance and noncompliance approach. I have found it to be a most effective tool.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office.

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Lieutenant (Ret.)
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