What are Joe’s academic or military backgrounds, the trainings he’s attended (and the kinds he wants to attend), his outside interests, unique skills, and philosophy of policing? Is he an extravert or an introvert? The distinction might mean a lot. What does he know or do well that he can put to use on the job, or teach to others to enhance their skills, or simply keep “in his back pocket” until it’s needed? That he is a self-educated expert on absolutely everything to do with Star Trek collectibles may never once matter in his career, but what if you someday need an expert on Star Trek collectibles? Bonus!
You can ask your team to each provide a complete resume to answers these questions and then, working in conjunction with them, determine what strengths they possess that can enhance their effectiveness, enjoyment, and teamwork on the job. Work directly with then to creatively apply their talents for their good and the good of the agency. Force yourselves to think outside the box. For you, as a supervisor, having a deeper knowledge of your direct reports reveals the fullness of resources available to you and the department… if you use them wisely.
Develop a supervisory plan based on what you know
If you do take the time to learn all this about your people and proactively engage them in discussions of how their gifts and skills can be used, you had better follow thru. Employees are finely attuned to the sincerity and willingness to follow thru of their bosses and, if they see your actions and words as essentially empty of substance, or well-intentioned but doomed to poor execution, their trust in you will falter and morale will sink.
How many of us have been asked about our “five-year plan” or “where do see yourself going in the agency?” and “how can we help you get there?” so many times but with so little interest in the answer or actual help toward achievement that the questions are but insincere banality? We easily lose trust, interest, and hope. But every so often we get a boss who asks us with a sincere interest in the answer, and who puts forth effort to help us toward out goals. Morale soars, productivity rises, and people are reinvigorated. Be that boss.
Developing a supervisory plan and holding yourself accountable to its execution and goals is indispensable. This plan should address not just how you will utilize your people, and in what circumstances, but also how to further develop and refine their skill sets. One of the key components of strengths-based policing is facilitating professional development; if you have someone who is particularly computer-literate on and off the job, and who can use computers more effectively and efficiently than her peers, then put her in contact with people who know even more than she does and can take her to the next level. Help move her from good to great to superlative! If you have a gifted gun handler and shooter, perhaps he’d like to become an expert in the firearms themselves or a teacher of others. Help him find schools and become an advocate for his development. Or maybe you have someone on your team who is a more right-brained, creative who sees the world with a different perspective. Often, these are the folks who find unique solutions where the more conventional get stuck. How can they be encouraged, developed, and best employed?
It’s best to work with your individual team members – giving them the lion’s share of responsibility for determining their paths - on their individual development; allowing as much self-determination as you can gives them ownership of it and improves the odds of success, whereas deciding and dictating your wishes for them can backfire badly! But once that is done, and you know how they are interested in utilizing their strengths, it is your prerogative to write your own team plan determining how you will meld your group of unique individuals into an effective and functioning unit.
Look for and redirect any misfits, if appropriate
Every team, every unit, and every department has its misfits, those members who just don’t fit in with the culture, mission, or job description for some reason or another. That is not meant to disparage them at all, and the fact is every one of us would certainly be a misfit on different departments, units, or even teams on the same watch. No problem, for the most part, but as a supervisor you may need to know when and how to redirect an occasional misfit.