There's a New Sheriff in Town

August 7, 2003

There's a new sheriff in Jacksonville, Florida, and the department is trying to change from an employees-are-commodities personnel mentality to a workforce-management culture where employees’ career aspirations are taken as seriously as traffic violations.

    Sheriff John Rutherford, whose staff includes 2,318 police and corrections officers, began an ambitious 10-pointagenda last month. One aspect of the agenda is "tough recruiting," or aggressively going after potential cops on college campuses and in the military and other police departments. Building a compelling recruiting brand to attract cops is a big job, but even bigger is the one that Rutherford’s chief of human resources, Justin D. Hill, has on his hands.

    Hill’s biggest concern is the 973 civilians--from data-entry employees and secretaries to payroll clerks and dispatchers--who work for the sheriff in this key American port city.

Pride vs. money
    Hill is new to human resources, with more experience in community affairs and law enforcement. He inherits a department with high turnover, frequent retirements and a workforce-management system that isn’t exactly Cisco.

    If you’re an entry-level sheriff’s employee pulling reports and checking records, you might make a little over $10 an hour. Insurance companies, which are plentiful in Jacksonville, could approach such an employee with an offer of $12 to $14, and a lot more potential for a promotion. "We lose a lot of civilian employees because they feel they can get paid more somewhere else," he says.

"I don’t know what else we’ve got. We don’t have money."

    Hill doesn’t have the money to do anything about this. As an alternative, his goal is to instill a sense of pride in employees about their work, and he hopes that eventually they will feel as good about what they do as the data-entry employees who work for the FBI. "I don’t know what else we’ve got," he says. "We don’t have money. Anyhow, a lot of the studies show that money is not the driving factor in job satisfaction."

    "You could make more in the private sector," he says, "but what personal rewards are there? Here you’re part of a premier law-enforcement agency. This is an integral part of protecting the citizens of Jacksonville." Hill wants to see employees point to newspaper stories about murder suspects being arrested and tell their friends and neighbors, "Hey, I checked that guy’s record. I was involved in telling [police] that person was wanted."

    "My challenge," Hill says, "is selling this concept to an employee in central records who may be filing arrest reports all day."

Career development
    Beyond the lack of money, a major reason for turnover in the sheriff’s office is that no one is helping employees further their careers. When there is no upward career path in sight, an employee looking to advance is better off just getting a job in the private sector. "Civilian employees have kind of been treated like second-class citizens compared to the police and corrections," Hill says.

    The organization's attitude, he says, has been "I hope an employee stays here for 20 years because they’ve become a good 10-dollar-and-19-cent employee. That’s what everybody has slipped into." In other words, supervisors think that employees will come to work, do their jobs, end of story.

    Employees want more, Hill says. They’re telling managers that they want to move on to different--and better--jobs in the organization. But right now, if an employee says she’d like to take classes in PowerPoint and Excel, the answer is often simply "no and no," he says. "We’ve got to move past that."

    Hill meets with all new employees to make sure they understand how important their careers are to the organization, and that his staff can help them with that. He’s also looking for some Web-based courses he can offer employees to avoid their having to be out of the office too much.

    At the same time, Hill will be trying to change the mind-set of managers. "I’m trying to impress upon the supervisors throughout the department that you have to value employees’ desire to advance and not to look at them as just these robots that are always going to be entering data." If an employee tells a manager, "I’d like to be a dispatcher or a police officer" or even "I’d like your job," Hill wants the manager to help the person rather than feel threatened.

    Often, a manager will say that employees are just too valuable at the moment to let them get out to take a class. Hill is trying to convince those managers to "look at the big picture." He believes that by shifting employees around, getting a temp to fill in and making other adjustments to accommodate employees looking to develop their careers, the department can upgrade employees’ skills, resulting in better service to customers and much lower turnover rates.

Measuring success
    Right now, if you surveyed sheriff’s-office employees to see if they are getting the answers they want about human resources issues--from career-development needs to benefits queries--Hill fears that the results wouldn’t look too good. The department conducted such employee surveys in the past, and Hill plans to bring them back. In addition, he’ll be measuring changes in turnover and comparing them to past results to judge the success of his initiatives. He’ll use exit interviews to determine why employees are leaving and try to make improvements where necessary.

    The Jacksonville sheriff’s office tends to earn fairly high marks--as high as 80 percent--from citizens, as measured by annual surveys in place since 1992. Hill would like to have employees just as satisfied with the service they’re getting from managers and human resources.