Using IBM's playbook in police management

Let’s take a page from the old IBM playbook and let our troops — and their families — know how much we appreciate them

While going through a box of things from my childhood, I came across a little brown leather notepad with the word, “THINK” embossed on it. Anyone who was ever associated with IBM immediately knows where that notebook came from; Thomas Watson, Sr. coined that one-word company motto and it’s still in use to this day. 

My father was an “IBM-er” and he gave me about 20 THINK notepads. Upon finding one in that dusty old box I decided to re-commission it for use at work. As I did I thought, “What can we take from IBM and apply to our jobs as a police managers?” 

One of the things that came immediately to mind is how well IBM treated its employees. One of our jobs is to create an environment where employees feel important to the mission — that their contributions are recognized — and IBM did this incredibly well. Let’s that a page from the IBM playbook and see how it may apply to police organizations.

IBM Idea #1: Organizing Group Events
As a kid I went to IBM employee picnics where all employees and their families were treated like kings — there as entertainment and it seemed no expense was spared. Every Christmas, there were tickets to the local theater production of The Nutcracker, and each child sat on Santa’s lap and received a gift. 

The LE Application
While we cannot do things on such a grand a scale, a police family picnic at a local park for the employees and their families is well within reach. Certainly we can find “inflatables” that local companies would be willing to donate or rent at a reduced price. You can partner with other community businesses for food and other fun; my agency has done this with great success. 

As an around-the-clock venture, not all our employees will be able to attend, but as leaders we can take steps to ensure as many people as possible can get there. Perhaps you can even work a few hours of their shift so they can go to the event with their family.

IBM Idea #2: Recognizing Individual Milestones
When my dad reached his 25th anniversary with the company, his manager took him — and anyone he wanted — out to lunch at a place of dad’s choosing. There, he was given a Rolex watch. This was not on his retirement day, but almost 15 years before he would retire. 

When he finally did retire, IBM hosted a dinner for him and all of his co-workers along with their spouses (as well as me and my wife). Managers from across the company sent letters describing how they enjoyed working with my dad. Every person who sent a letter — all the way up to the CEO — took the time to convey a personal story. These were not form letters. They communicated a sincere appreciation for a lifetime of service. 

This was significant because my dad was never a “boss” — he spent his entire career working as a repairman for the company, arguably at the lowest rung of the organization. 

The LE Application:
We’re not going to be giving out Rolex watches, but we certainly can foot the bill for a luncheon for our retiring officers. Even if our sergeants and lieutenants and some officers have to pool resources from our own pockets, we should recognize that the return on your investment will be worth it. 

Come up with a reasonable number of attendees and ask the retiring officer who he or she would like to invite. Then make it happen. 

Officers will see that they are valued, and they can look forward to the same great treatment upon retirement.

Also you can collect all orders cut that pertained to that officer and make a “memory” book. At my department I have gone back and found the orders that followed certain officers through their entire careers. I then presented them with these as a memento of their service.

Quietly solicit officers to write letters to your retiring officer and don’t forget to get command staff involved. Put everything in a book and present it to the retiree along with their badge and gun if that’s your custom. 

IBM Idea #3: Getting Creative
My father’s IBM gave out stock certificates given upon the birth of a child. While we won’t be giving out stock certificates, we police managers can certainly pull together a token from the PD to present the happy family when a child is born. 

The LE Application:
Ask the HR department to supply you with the hire dates of all of your officers. Check the list every day and send an email to any employee who is celebrating an anniversary at work. Remember that this can’t be a form letter — make it simple, but be sure to include a personal touch. You may be amazed at the reaction. Many employees won’t even know it was their anniversary until you say “happy anniversary.” 

But don’t stop there. IBM included families in their appreciative efforts, and you can (and should) too. Presumably you have a shift or line level file on your officers with personal information such as emergency contacts and home address and the like. If you don’t, then start one — you’ll be glad later. 

Use the file to send a personal letter to the spouses of your officers. Be brief, but explain to them who you are, and how grateful you are to them for the sacrifices that they make as a family with their officer husband/wife/father/mother on patrol when so many times the family might wish they were at home with them. 

This will pay dividends both to you and your officer.

One Generation to the Next
Just as the IBM of yesteryear showed respect for its employees, we as police leaders must have respect for our individual officers. We’re in the best position to know about their lives, and we should make it a point to do so. When we learn of an important event in the life of an employee, we should make note of it, and recognize it appropriately. 

At shift level, you can let your officers know just how much you appreciate them, and let them know how important their contributions are to the mission of the agency. 

Don’t overdo it, but always look for ways to communicate to your officers how important to the department they are. 

Thomas Watson, Jr. — who succeeded his father as President and CEO of IBM — said, “No subject occupies more executive time at IBM than the wellbeing of our employees and their families.”

We can take that quote verbatim, and apply it in our law enforcement organizations every single day.

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