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Police Supervisor’s Dilemma: Control and Motivation

The level of control needed in a police institution is related to the capability of officers to construct an inspiring environment. On the one hand, a police organization needs to administer a certain degree of control to ensure that the goals of the organization are being met by the officers. The degree of control is especially important for those officers who are not self-motivated and whose laxity can harm the productivity of the self-motivated officers.

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On the other hand, a high degree of control can discourage self-motivated officers from being as productive as before. The main challenge in trying to balance this relationship lies in the negative outcome that may arise. For the motivated officers, too much control will drive them away. This is because the officers are bound to feel that the organization and their administrators do not give them the trust or the respect they deserve.

This is likely to undermine their efforts at giving their best in meeting the goals of the organization. For the de-motivated officers, too much control is likely to do further damage. This is because the lack of motivation in such officers often arises from several unmet needs that hinder their productivity. Instead of imposing more control on these officers, the organization should try to address their unmet needs.

The relationship between needs and motivation is illustrated in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. According to Maslow, every person has several needs which are structured in a pyramid form. These needs, from the lowest to the highest, include: “physiological, safety and security, social affiliation, esteem and self-actualization,” (Robbins and Judge, 2007, p.187). According to this theory, if the lower-order needs are not addressed, it becomes difficult to meet the higher-order needs.

Applying this theory to the police organization, the lower needs of the rank and file officers include among other things appropriate work attire, appropriate work climate, reasonable working hours, employee welfare programs, a safe and secure environment. The nature of the police officers makes safety and security paramount primary needs. If these needs are not addressed by the organization, the rank and file officers would not be in a good position to perform their work duties well and achieve the goals of the organization. In addition, so much time was spent by the sergeants in supervising and monitoring the rank and file officers instead of doing their policing work (Baker, 2000, p.82).

A balance between the degree of control in the organization and the motivation of the officers can be achieved in several ways. First, the organization’s administrators should engage the officers in a collaborative dialogue to find out what the problems of the underachieving officers are and the feelings of the productive officers towards their colleagues. The administrators should then dialogue with the sergeants to discuss possible solutions to the problem.

The solution should be unanimously agreed upon by all parties concerned in the matter so that none of the parties is negatively impacted. The best solution would be to permit the sergeants to carry out the supervision and monitoring of the rank and file officers but on a less frequent basis. This would give the sergeants adequate time to do their policing work while also ensuring that the officers are doing their jobs as required. It would also minimize the micromanagement of the rank and file officers thereby giving the motivated officers adequate space to do their work without minimizing their morale.

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The accountability of the police officers can be ensured through various mechanisms. One such mechanism is the institution of variable-pay programs. These programs recognize the fact that some employees work harder and are more productive than others. So instead of paying employees a standard amount regardless of the amount and quality of work done, a variable-pay program would ensure that employees who perform better get higher pay and vice versa.

Robbins and Judge argue that “a variable-pay program bases a portion of an employee’s pay on some individual and/or organizational measure of performance, instead of paying a person only for time on the job or seniority,” (2007, p.238). Money is one of the factors that highly motivated employees. If employees know that they would be paid according to the amount and quality of effort they put in, then they are highly likely to put in more effort in their work. The second mechanism is the skill-based pay mechanism.

In the skills-based pay mechanism, the employees are paid based on the number of skills they possess and the number of jobs they can perform. Even for rank and file officers, it is possible to find officers possessing more skills than their fellow officers and therefore in a position to perform more jobs than their counterparts. Such officers should be compensated more than the officers with fewer skills. This would motivate the productive officers and also encourage the non-productive officers to gain more skills and be more competent and more accountable in their jobs.

Robbins and Judge state that, “to the degree that employees perceive skills as the critical variable in job performance, the use of skill-based pay may increase the perception of equity and help optimize employee motivation,” (2007, p.243). Lastly, the accountability of the officers can be instituted through a feedback and recognition mechanism. This mechanism is related to Maslow’s second-highest need, that is, esteem.

The administrators should give positive feedback and recognize the good work done by the productive officers. Such recognition can be in the form of praise in the presence of their fellow officers. Recognition and positive feedback motivate employees to perform even better and give them a sense of achievement.

Police officers have roles to play as far as constructing a motivating climate in the organization is concerned. Without a motivating climate, officers are less likely to perform their jobs well, as well as to achieve their personal and organizational goals. Self-motivation can be nurtured through goal-setting. Officers can set goals that are consistent with what they would like to achieve both at the place of work and in their personal lives (Walker, 2005, p.10).

Goals make it clear to employees what they need to do and how much effort is needed in achieving a particular goal. The goals however need to be specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound. Smart goals are easier to achieve. Studies show that goal-setting improves the performance of employees and increases their productivity. In addition, challenging goals lead to higher work performance than easy goals because of the sense of achievement that is associated with such goals. The goals should also be accompanied by feedback. The officers can seek feedback from their colleagues or the public about their performance.

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This would push and motivate them to achieve their set goals. The feedback can be gained, for instance, through quality circles. Quality circles are groups of employees through which the members meet to discuss their problems and plausible solutions that can address such problems (Robbins and Judge, 2007, p.237).

Indeed, employees cannot be motivated by others. The only thing that administrators and managers can do for the officers is to provide the means through which they can be self-motivated. The administrators and managers should always be there for their employees to listen to their problems as well as suggestions. They should build an open communication system that would encourage employees to communicate their ideas and opinions with their supervisors and managers.

Administrators and managers should treat their employees fairly and with respect. They should honor their input and treat them as part and parcel of the organization by allowing them to take part in the decision-making process of the organization.

Administrators and managers should make it clear to their employees the goals of the organization and their expectations towards the achievement of these goals. However, they should help their employees to align their personal goals with the goals of the organization to avoid conflicts of interest. Employees can also be motivated through recognition and praise of the good work they do. This recognition should be done in public and consistently (Robbins and Judge, 2007, p.193). Favoritism should not be applied when giving recognition to the employees as this would create bad blood between the favored and non-favored employees as well as between the employees and the managers/administrators.

Collaboration in the organization should be emphasized more than the competition. This would help the employees to work as a team and create harmonious relationships amongst themselves. The administrators and managers should provide their employees with appropriate and adequate resources with which they can carry out their work duties. The lack of such resources fails to address the lower-order needs of the employees and as a result, the higher-order needs would not be fulfilled effectively.

As Baker states, “Administrators should do their utmost to enhance employee motivation by demonstrating that employees are valued members of the organization and that their leaders are always seeking to understand what employees want and striving to meet their needs,” (2000, p.88). Most importantly, the employees should be accorded a reasonable degree of freedom and autonomy in the execution of their work duties. Failure to do so would undermine the abilities of the employees and diminish the morale of the self-motivated employees.

Several concerns arise in the motivation of officers by supervisors. The need to put into effect clearness, stability, and accountability is one such concern. Supervisors are expected to lead by example and communicate their expectations of their officers to them. They are also expected to admonish sanctions to officers who do not achieve the goals of the organizations. However, such sanctions can hamper the relationship between the sergeants and the officers.

As a result, the sergeants ought to use corrective action rather than discipline to motivate officers to step up to their expectations. A second and very important concern is the need to maintain a fair and impartial approach while dealing with their officers.

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Favoritism will only yield envy and contempt among the officers. Rather than motivate them, favoritism has a great potential of demoralizing officers because they know that no matter how hard they work, their efforts will go unappreciated. The role of sergeants in police organizations is indeed paramount and can be summarized by Tully’s statement, “show me a law enforcement agency with a serious problem of officer misconduct and I will show you a department staffed with too many sergeants not doing their job,” (1997, p.7).


Baker, T. (2000). Effective police leadership. New York: Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc.

Robbins, S.P., and Judge, T.A. (2007). Organizational behavior (12th ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall.

Tully, E. (1997). Misconduct, corruption, abuse of power – What can the chief do? National Executive Institute Associates, Major Cities Chiefs’ Association and Major County Sheriff’s Association Leadership Bulletin, 1-8.

Walker, S. (2005). The new world of police accountability. London: Sage.

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