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Pushing Paper Can Be Fun Essay

A large city government was putting on a number of seminars for managers of various departments throughout the city. At one of these sessions the topic discussed was motivation—how to motivate public servants to do a good job. The plight of a police captain became the central focus of the discussion: I’ve got a real problem with my officers. They come on the force as young, inexperienced rookies, and we send them out on the street, either in cars or on a beat. They seem to like the contact they have with the public, the action involved in crime prevention, and the apprehension of criminals. They also like helping people out at fires, accidents, and other emergencies.

The problem occurs when they get back to the station. They hate to do the paperwork, and because they dislike it, the job is frequently put off or done inadequately. This lack of attention hurts us later on when we get to court. We need clear, factual reports. They must be highly detailed and unambiguous. As soon as one part of a report is shown to be inadequate or incorrect, the rest of the report is suspect. Poor reporting probably causes us to lose more cases than any other factor. I just don’t know how to motivate them to do a better job. We’re in a budget crunch, and I have absolutely no financial rewards at my disposal. In fact, we’ll probably have to lay some people off in the near future. It’s hard for me to make the job interesting and challenging because it isn’t- it’s boring, routine paperwork, and there isn’t much you can do about it. Finally, I can’t say to them that their promotions will hinge on the excellence of their paperwork.

First of all, they know it’s not true. If their performance is adequate, most are more likely to get promoted just by staying on the force a certain number of years than for some specific outstanding act. Second, they were trained to do the job they do out in the streets, not to fill out forms. All through their careers the arrests and interventions are what get noticed. Some people have suggested a number of things, like using conviction records as a performance criterion. However, we know that’s not fair—too many other things are involved. Bad paperwork increases the chance that you lose in court, but good paper work doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win. We tried setting up team competitions based on the excellence of the reports, but the officers caught on to that pretty quickly. No one was getting any type of reward for winning the competition, and they figured why they should bust a gut when there was no payoff. I just don’t know what to do.

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