Once More: What motivates cops to do better?

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Let’s talk about motivation. What motivates people to perform at their best? Is it money?

Think again.

“If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. … But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.” Dan Pink

Now I suggest you watch this 10 minute video on what the research says about creativity and performance. CLICK HERE.

Then sit back and think for a moment on how this could apply to police.

For this is the rub, we think policing is different. We think what is true in the world today is somehow not true in the police field. What would happen if your police department took some time off to think about what they were doing and how to do it better? How much does AUTONOMY, MASTERY and PURPOSE play where you work? What do you think would happen if your department eliminated performance evaluations as we did in Madison many years ago?

Years ago when we were building a police department committed to quality and continuous improvement, we put together a “Quality Leadership Manual” to help all our leaders understand and be able to practice this new leadership that was oriented more toward teamwork, collaboration, and coaching. Central to this was the elimination of performance evaluations.

An excerpt from that workbook:


 1.  Any employee’s work, including the work of managers, is tied to many systems and processes.

 BUT performance evaluation focus on individuals, as if one of those individuals could be appraised apart from the systems in which they work.

 2.  Most work is a product of a group of people.

 BUT a process of evaluating an individual requires a pretense that the individual is working alone.  As a result, performance evaluation encourages “lone rangers” and is a divisive influence.

 3.  Performance evaluation presumes consistent, predictable systems.

 BUT systems and processes are subject to constant changes, often beyond anyone’s awareness or ability to predict.

 4.  Performance evaluation requires a process of appraisal that is objective, consistent, dependable and fair.  Otherwise the evaluation will be seen as capricious and based on favoritism.

 BUT such objectivity and consistency simply do not exist.


 Performance evaluation:

             — Encourages mediocrity by rewarding those who set “safe” goals

            — Puts pressure on employees to work around systems rather than improve them

            — Inevitably demoralizes employees, creating either losers or cynics

[From “The Case Against Performance Evaluation,”  Peter Scholtes, Joiner Associates, 3800 Regent St., Madison, Wisconsin 53705.}

For more, CLICK HERE.

What could happen to American policing if the men and women in the ranks were permitted to dream and design better ways of doing business? Well, that’s my dream. And the dream I tried to share with you in my book. Good luck and godspeed in moving forward.


  1. I agree that formal performance appraisal systems are a waste of effort in all but five percent of cases at both ends of the performance spectrum. We tend to document the worst and best extremes of performance. That leaves ninety percent who receive inadequate feedback. The FAST principle should be used by all leaders. Feedback should be:

    Frequent – enough to stimulate and/or sustain good performance
    Accurate – describe the behavior that was observed
    Specific – describe what distinguished the behavior as good or bad
    Timely – within operational constraints provide the feedback ASAP

    I like Pink’s work. He does a good job of summarizing Deci’s self- determination theory. The problem is that many people don’t carefully read Pink or Deci. Intrinsic motivation doesn’t work UNLESS compensation and benefits are perceived as equitable. Perceptions of equity will vary depending on an individual’s situation. That explains why our most motivated officers at typically the youngest and oldest.

    What does a young cop need? Rent money, car payment, and sports drink money takes care of most young cops. When you approach retirement and the kids have left home you are typically more financially secure. That leaves all those in the middle in situations where they feel their compensation and benefits are inequitable. Until we fix public safety compensation systems we will never be able to leverage intrinsic motivation.


  2. I agreed about fixing the police compensation system; however, that is not going to happen as long as police unions, police officers as a group and as individuals constantly work against other labor unions in this country. You would not believe how many times I have heard cops say bad things about labor unions; yet, these same cops get good pay and benefits because they belong to a union. Nowadays, even police pensions are under attack and the cops have no one to blame for cutting their economic interests by supporting pro-business, anti-government, anti-union politicans. All people are entitled to fair compensation


  3. I keep telling everyone if you want a police force or good government representatives forget hiring and promoting the scum of the earth and get some people in those positions that can’t be bought and has been raised to know the difference between; GOOD and EVIL and RIGHT WRONG.

    I see a police force as I see a hockey team;

    You have a right wing, left wing and center
    Two defense men a right and a left
    And a gold keeper

    That makes the team but what I personally can’t accept are all those enforcers who are hired to get out there and hurt people at any cost. The ends in my book never justify the means and because of our tolerances in the sport of hockey and in our police forces we are now seeing the results of people dying.

    When I joined the police force I was told that police forces do not arm themselves because of the criminals with bigger and more guns but the criminals arm themselves because of the police forces.

    What ever way you see fit to look at this comment it’s irrelevant in an ever ending debate of who’s Wright and wrong all that matters is that when morals are tossed aside to be political correct instead of spiritual right we will have a release of bad and evil in out towns, cities and nations and all the leaders in the world getting together will have no effect at stopping this trend.

    A person should look long and hard at the facts before he/she makes any decisions and join a police force today and question your perceptions of what you think a police force should be what you are told and believe before you say I do and become part of those operations these days.

    Its good to speak positively about forces but talk is cheap if no one knows what a bad force looks like and you are unaware of their existences till it’s to late.

    As I have said before I really appreciate your work in trying to reform police forces and give us understanding of how things should be done but you are still speaking as a police chief and at the level of management. Come down the latter a bit and write to help those joining police forces thinking they will help make a difference in this two-tier system and being entrapped by what they are told and those career choices.

    I don’t know much about everything going on but what I do know I learnt the hard way.

    Thanks Once Again


      1. It’s just amazes me how someone can act in such a way as to use their own resources to free the one sold in slavery and held in captivity and here in North America we victimize the victims and lie to them about our intents to help some of them.


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