“Because You Asked” blogs are in response to questions asked by you, the community I serve. Each volume addresses a question or group of questions. I’ve tried to keep the questions worded as asked, but occasionally have to reword them either to provide context or to combine similar questions. In any case, I’ve tried to retain the questioner(s)’ intent.
Questions – How much time do you currently devote to talking with your deputies, sergeants, lieutenants and commanders, and do you ever partner with any of them on a shift to keep a street-level connection to both the deputies serving under you, and the residents you serve? How do you feel the current climate is among deputies and senior enforcement and corrections personnel – is it healthy, or is it in need of change?
I remember what it was like to be a deputy and have my sergeant ask for my opinion, provide me relevant feedback, and offer suggestions. I felt I was a valued part of the team and that our shared mission mattered. It instilled in me a desire to seek feedback, accept criticism, and innovate. As a leader, I want to inspire that in every single Sheriff’s Office member. I need all the shared voices and innovation. So I listen.
In the first 100 days after I became Sheriff in 2011, I met with 100 Sheriff’s Office professionals to get an overall sense of their attitude, satisfaction, and confidence about their work. I asked them what was working, suggestions for change, and any other topic they chose. Responses about what worked well included teamwork, professionalism, community support, their valuable mission, and staff comradery. Suggestions for change included more 10-hour shifts, authorization to wear load-bearing vests instead of carrying all tools on a belt, more office-wide communication, shortening the hiring process, and providing driver’s training for Jail deputies. Changes we’ve been able to implement based on staff suggestions include:
- authorizing load-bearing vests
- a shortened hiring process that better addresses today’s hiring landscape
- adding drivers training for Jail deputies (made possible by this year’s Training Center opening)
Then in 2016 I met with 50 individuals in 50 days to again hear their views on important topics. Generally, I heard appreciation for the changes they had seen as a result of earlier conversations and compliments for senior leaders being increasingly visible at briefings and staff meetings. I also heard concerns about overtime rates, suggestions for more supervisor training, the need for a dedicated place to train, and requests to relax some parts of the grooming policy. Changes to address some of those concerns have been:
- Addition of Jail positions – 19 permanent and 20 temporary
- More training and development opportunities for leaders
- A dedicated, world class training facility
- Updated grooming and appearance policy, relevant for today’s workforce while remaining professional
While formalized individual discussions are helpful, our leadership team and I decided the best way to map our organization’s future in a way that not only serves our community, but also includes our staff’s valuable perspectives, was to conduct an employee survey. In 2017 we developed an anonymous office-wide survey to get feedback from everyone who was interested to provide it. The survey asked questions related to job satisfaction, work environment, supervision, promotion, training, and communication. From the survey results we implemented improvements to include:
- Restructuring the promotion process, using outside experts and best-practices
- Implementing desired shift changes in Patrol and Investigations
- Replacing a legacy evaluation system with one better suited for mentoring and coaching
- Renewed focus on division-level and office-wide communication
I believe that informal connections are equally vital. Almost every day, to varying degrees, I have discussions with individuals and get feedback from staff, whether they are brand new, or long-tenured professionals. These discussions happen in hallways, the locker room, shift briefings, staff meetings, when someone stops by my office, or when I check in with individuals. Frequently these discussions begin with a story of a ‘win’ or a challenging experience. Other common themes during these conversations include being part of an important mission and effective team, their teammates and supervisor(s), surges in workload and overtime, the availability of time off, and even issues outside of work.
I also get good feedback when I spend time on the job with our Jail or Patrol deputies, whether it’s a few hours or an entire shift. Depending on my schedule, this happens at intervals from every few weeks to several months. Doing so provides me invaluable insight into our Sheriff’s Office staff’s challenges, their talents and professionalism. It also provides me an opportunity to connect with the residents I serve in a different way than in my daily interactions with community groups, agencies, committees, and organizations. I come away reminded of the honor it is to serve both our capable staff and wonderful community.
While these practices and changes have produced positive feedback, work to connect with our professionals and foster the best work environment possible never stops. We continue to work toward other improvements that are more challenging, like desired shift changes and more staff in the Jail Division, which is our most pressing challenge. But throughout my time as Sheriff, the vast majority of our staff’s enthusiasm for the mission, our work, the team, and their positive impact on the community is clear and strong, which has an overall positive impact on our climate.
And so I will continue to listen, learn, and respond.