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Active supervision challenge: Innovation

The active supervision skill of innovation involves using critical thinking and problem solving to come up with ways of doing things better


On a regular basis set aside a couple of work hours and ask your followers to think about innovations for improving their work.

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Hello everyone, Coach Paul here. If this series is new for you, know that in January, I introduced the active supervision challenge on Police1. In this series, I describe the 10 skills of active supervision, which I define as the continual and consistent enforcement of the rules of your organization. In the previous months, I have discussed performance management, critical thinking, communication, courage, training and problem-solving.

This month we will review the active supervision skill of innovation. Because innovation involves aspects of both critical thinking and problem solving, two skills that we have discussed previously, I encourage you to review those skills before continuing.

In this article, I will define innovation, describe the two innovation skills that active supervisors need to develop, list ways that you can foster innovation among your followers, and conclude with tips and techniques for supervisors working in special circumstances.

What is innovation?

Simply put, innovation is the process of identifying ways to do things better. While most people think that innovation means making big technology-related changes, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, most innovations come from improving the routine tasks that members of the organization perform on a day-to-day basis.

For example, I worked with an agency where the cabinet with the patrol and office supplies was located in the chief’s office. This created an inefficient and sometimes nerve-wracking system for obtaining the basic tools that followers needed to successfully complete their jobs. The chief’s assistant proposed an innovation – move the cabinet to the report writing room – which the new chief immediately implemented. It was a small change that did not involve any technology and it had a big impact on improving efficiency and morale.

Innovation skills for active supervisors.

The cabinet example showcases the two steps active supervisors need to take to develop their innovation skills:

  1. Improve your open-mindedness. Being open-minded means being receptive to the ideas and opinions of others. This does not mean that you don’t have your own ideas and opinions. Your department expects you to have both. Open-mindedness is a measure of your willingness to hear from others. I referred to this as “expand your options” in the critical thinking skill and “develop multiple solutions to resolve problems” in the problem-solving skill.
  2. Increase your comfort with other people taking risks. This is the hardest step for most supervisors to take, yet it is essential. Active supervisors need to encourage their followers to take risks and to explore uncharted territories. Innovations come when the supervisor shifts their mindset from a success or failure mentality to one of continual learning.

Fostering innovation among your followers.

As you develop and use the innovation skills described in the previous section, here are three things that you will want to do to foster an innovating work culture among your followers:

  1. Prime the pump. Look for and implement small innovations that you can make that will improve the lives of your followers. When your followers see you modeling the way, they will be more likely to follow your example and propose their own ideas.
  2. Let the ideas flow. Give each proposed idea a chance to live. Avoid filtering out those proposals that you feel will be bad ideas. The process will take care of that. Good ideas will continue, and bad ideas will fizzle out.
  3. Create space for innovating. On a regular basis (i.e., once a year, every six months, once a quarter, etc.) set aside a couple of work hours and ask your followers to think about innovations for improving their work, better serving their community members and improving your department. You will be surprised at the quality of innovations that arise from people having time and space to step away from their day-to-day responsibilities and imagine a better world.

Bonus content: Tips and techniques

Working supervisor (splits your time between supervising and performing line-level duties): As a working supervisor, you have a decided advantage in developing and using your innovation skills because you spend part of your time doing the work and part of your time supervising the work being done. As you are migrating between your different roles, continually solicit ideas from your co-working followers as to ways to improve things.

Small agency supervisor (supervises a small group of paid and volunteer followers spread out over a distance): For small agency supervisors, I recommend adding innovation to the agenda for those rare times when you can gather all your followers under one roof to meet. Often those meetings are usually one-way, you are sharing important information with them. I would encourage you to use part of those meetings to hear from your followers on ways that they propose to improve how your unit operates and provides services to your community members.

Minority supervisor (supervises a group of followers who are different than you regarding race, gender, ethnicity and age): For minority supervisors, fostering innovation is a great way for you to build trust with your followers and expand your idea base. When you demonstrate open-mindedness and a willingness to let your followers take risks, they will feel that you trust them more. And you will get new ideas that you would not have been able to come up with on your own.


In law enforcement, we are not innovating to bring new products to market or gain competitive advantages over our business rivals. Law enforcement innovations save lives, improve the quality of living for our community members and increase the satisfaction our followers’ experience when doing their jobs every day. That’s why innovation is a very important skill for all active supervisors to develop.

If you downloaded or printed the free active supervision checklist that we provided in the first article and have linked it here for easy download, you can update it with this month’s information. Add two lines: Improve your open-mindedness and increase your comfort with other people taking risks. Rate yourself again now that you have a better understanding of training. Give yourself a + (plus sign) if you believe that you are good at the skill, a √ (checkmark) if you believe that you are ok at the skill or a – (minus sign) if you believe you need to work on the skill. After you have rated yourself, please take some time to write down your plan for developing your innovation skills.

If you have any questions about this skill or any of the 10 active supervision skills, submit your questions here. We will gather them up and answer them for you.

I’m Coach Paul, thank you again for taking the time to read this article. Keep your eyes, mind and heart open out there.

Coach Paul Conor, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and management consultant who has been working with law enforcement leaders for more than 20 years. He is a former US Marine infantry officer, who led Marines in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Coach Paul is an award-winning author, California state-certified Team Building Workshop facilitator and former university professor. He is also a reserve lieutenant with the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Department.