Developing Police Sergeants: Getting the Outcomes and Measures of Effectiveness Right

I spent the last week facilitating The Sergeants Leadership Class for the Massachusetts Police Training Committee (MPTC). The class is a five day class full of officers who vary in years of experience on the job but are new to the leadership position of sergeant. The course is packed full of theory, leadership styles such as theory X &Y, McGregor’s Transformational leadership, etc. We cover personalities and Myers Briggs is taken by the new sergeants who get a chance to discuss and reflect upon who they and their fellow students are. Discipline, a truly lost art is covered as well as police supervisory liability, and use of force.

By the  end  of  the course  the  sergeants  will  be  confident  with  the  Outcomes Based  Training  and  Education  as  part  of  the  MPTC learning model and the objectives they have laid out. What we don't do is use the 400 plus power point slides. Don't get me wrong they are packed full of very good and useful information that will be beneficial in educating these new sergeants and throughout the week we will refer to them, but there is no rote lecturing taking place. Instead we cover and complete the MPTC objectives, via experimental learning methods, case studies, tactical, ethical, legal and procedural, decision making exercises.

The sergeants are introduced to  an  array  of  tools  to  assist  in  developing  adaptability,  which  is  an  evolving  process.  They  will  be  able  to  demonstrate  a  proficiency  in  the  Art  of  Facilitation  while  conducting  decision  making  exercises,  tactical  decision  exercises  and  how  to  conduct  the  after  action  review. Finally,  they  will  also  become  familiar  with  how  to  produce  outcomes  and  measures  of  effectiveness  (assessments)  to  judge  student  learning. This is often something they have not seen before in training classes. They are use to sitting and listening and wondering whats on the test! Outcomes and measures of effectiveness are tough for them to initially wrap their minds around. This course not only meets MPTC objectives but it also introduces  sergeants in how  to  develop  outcomes  and  measures  of  effectiveness.  More  importantly,  the  sergeants  will  be  encouraged  to  experiment  with  new  ways  to  develop  adaptability,  while  enhancing  their  own  leadership  and  teaching  styles. 

The idea is to make the learning difficult by influencing these sergeants to take and interest in the problems presented. This leads to insights both individual and group that influences initiative and adaptability in how they frame and solve problems. This is much different than sitting through five days of lectures and yes its more difficult...initially but once these sergeants, see the results by working through the desirable difficulties each case presents, it builds their confidence not only in problem solving but in how they will lead and develop their people back at their departments.

desirable difficulty is a learning task that requires a considerable but desirable amount of effort, thereby improving long-term performance. The term was first coined by Robert A. Bjork in 1994. As the name suggests, desirable difficulties should be both desirable and difficult. Research suggests that while difficult tasks might slow down learning initially, the long term benefits are greater than with easy tasks. However, to be desirable, the tasks must also be accomplishable.

This program of instruction, is designed to develop core tangible and intangible competencies that teach how to think versus telling people what to think, in context with the real world complex problems they are tasked with solving. These core competencies, so relevant to police leadership are developed as well:

Adaptability- an effective change to an altered situation; Sense-making- one’s ability to size up situations; Problem solving- one’s ability to evaluate the adequacy of generated options and or choices; Meta-cognition- also called emotional intelligence or self-awareness that teaches, how to use strategies to monitor and self-regulate learning and cognition and; Attention control- one’s ability to deploy and focus efforts on a chosen course of action.

This program of instruction conditions the  O-O-D-A  loop  but is  based  on  the  philosophy  of  decentralized control (Mission  Command). Below  are  four  of  our  most  important  intended  outcomes  we seek along  with  their  associated  measures  of  effectiveness:

Outcome: Sergeants  are  able  to  go  beyond  mere  repeating of  information based on  doctrine, policy and procedure, command,  by  effectively  analyzing  and framing the problem, threat, crisis or conflict and develop a course action.

Measures of Effectiveness

  • Sergeants  can  estimate  adversarial  strength,  composition,  and  capabilities  based  on  information  and  analysis  from command, as  well  as  their  own  common-sense  and  knowledge  of  the  area.  
  • Sergeants  can  identify  adversarial  weaknesses  that  can  be  exploited  by  friendly  forces  during  an  operation  as  well  as  adversarial strengths  that  must  be  avoided  or  neutralized.
  • Sergeants  can  formulate  an  educated  guess  about  the  adversarial  course  of  action  based  on  that  adversaries capabilities,  limitations,  and    past  patterns  as  well  as  an  understanding  of  the  effects  of  terrain,  weather  and  all  other  pertinent  factors  that  in  a  given  situation.  Sergeants  can  explain  why  they  believe  the  adversary  will  take  the  actions  that  they  have outlined.
  • Sergeants  understand,  and  can  explain,  how  an  anticipated  adversarial  course of action  is  just  a  “best  guess”  and  how  that  “best  guess”  is  used  as  a  starting  point  for  tactical  planning. This requires tactical judgment.

Outcome:  Sergeants  are  able  to  develop  simple  course of actions (COAs)  that  ensure  unit  of  effort  by  their  subordinates  and  adheres  to  the commander’s  intent.

Measures of Effectiveness

  • Sergeants  can  clearly  define  a  successful  end-state  for  an  operation  that  adheres  to  their departments mission and  commander’s  intent.
  • Sergeants  can  assign  tasks  to  those they lead that  make  sense  in  terms  of  accomplishing  their  intended  end-state  for  the  operation and
  • Sergeants can  effectively  “link”  the  efforts  of  their  subordinates  by  explaining  why  each  element  is  performing  their  assigned  task  and  how  that  supports  their  overall  plan.

Outcome:  Sergeants are flexible and adaptive tactical planners.

Measures of Effectiveness

  • Sergeants avoid  focusing  on  only  one  possible  adversarial course of action  during  planning.
  • Sergeants develop course of actions that  are  able  to  deal  with  multiple threats  while  still  remaining  focused  on  accomplishment  of  the  assigned  mission.
  • Sergeants  can  rapidly  formulate  and  effectively  communicate to  their  subordinates  based  on  drastic  changes  in  the  tactical  situation.

Outcome:  Sergeants are  effective  tactical  communicators. 

Measures of Effectiveness 

  • Sergeants effectively  integrate  visual  tools  such  as  maps, diagrams, graphics,  sketches  and  terrain  models  into  their  orders, or briefings  as  appropriate.
  • Subordinates  come  away  from  orders and briefings  understanding  what  it  is  that  they  are  expected  to  do  and  why  they  are  supposed  to  do  it.
  • Sergeants  provide those they lead with  guidance  that  is  clear  enough  to  ensure  unit  of  effort  and  adherence  to  the mission and intent  but  also  flexible  enough  to  allow those they lead,  the  ability  to  exercise  initiative  as  the  situation  on  the  ground changes (provides  clarity  of  guidance  without  micro-managing).

“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a leader.” 

- General George S. Patton, Jr.

Four principles that guide all good police leaders:

  1. The Worst Thing To Do Is To Make No Decision At All
  2. There Is No Single, Scientific Solution To A Tactical Problem
  3. It Is About“How To Think”Not“What To Think”
  4. Communicate Effectively

This course is taught to outcomes assessed through measures of effectiveness, not time and builds on the tactical decision-making and communication skills already in place. The main difference between this course and the others is the level of complexity (desirable difficulties)  that the sergeants must deal with in the scenarios.  The purpose is to nurture adaptability, strength of character, effective communications skills, and decision-making.

Facilitating or teaching this  way, goes beyond rote lecture and memorization, that is all too often forgotten in weeks and never applied, once the course is over. Learning through cases, seeking outcomes and identifying measures of effectiveness,  is a holistic approach to the planning, preparation, execution, and assessment of training that goes beyond task proficiency and incorporates a focus on developing critical attributes in Leaders by emphasizing the “why” behind actions and the consequences of decisions within a wider context, as we develop our people how to adapt to new circumstances through education (How to Think) and training (How to Do).

Stay Oriented!