Alongside my day job with Accenture, I work as an accredited strengths coach with an organization called Gallup. It’s all about understanding people’s innate talents, and then practicing, honing and refining those talents to turn them into strengths – in the process allowing people to realize their full potential.

It’s hugely rewarding work and I think it’s highly relevant to today’s world as we move forward in 2021 – and especially to the world of public safety.

Why? This has been a tough year for many reasons – but clearly the pandemic stands out. One of its impacts has been to generate intense scrutiny and pressure on public safety agencies and employees. So, now more than ever, public safety agencies across the world need to make sure their people feel fulfilled at work.

Potential on two levels…

It’s an imperative that’s underlined by Accenture research. In our recent global survey, only 43% of all public service workers in non-manager positions believed their potential was being fully realized at work. And among public safety employees, only 57% percent said they receive adequate training, with just 42% agreeing they have access to the right digital tools to carry out their responsibilities.

How do you boost these figures and unlock the public safety workforce’s full potential? I think of potential on two levels. The first is a base foundation level of “enablers”. They’re the fundamental things people need to meet the obligations of their role. Then there’s the second level which people often miss – which is about opportunity – and which I’ll return to in a follow up blog.

The base enablers have two nuances. One is that people have the tools, technology, support and oversight to turn up and do their job. That’s where a lot of leadership focus tends to be at the moment. The other nuance is about the less tangible things that people need in order to be capable. Here we get into skills, knowledge and experience – some of which can be taught, and some acquired on the job from dealing with the public.

This brings us to behaviors and expectations. Employees need a framework to know what’s expected of them to do their job well – perhaps having outcomes to aim for rather than specific tasks to do. For me, a big part of unlocking potential is giving people the freedom to deliver specific outcomes in a way that works for them. Interestingly, in our research just 31% of public safety workers said they have the freedom to experiment with new ideas without fear of failure.

…and a two-way relationship

Behaviors and expectations also link to trust between employee and employer – and building this is a two-way process. It isn’t just about a police force or agency pushing everything onto the individual and making them completely accountable. Instead, it’s a two-way expectation that people will succeed and reach their potential if their employer provides the employee value proposition they’re looking for.

This two-way street applies across the whole spectrum of public safety roles – from police officers and staff to people working in courts and tribunals, intelligence analysts and more. In every case, by understanding the role, the person and the outcomes they are supposed to achieve, agencies can furnish them with the foundations for successful outcomes that the individual is accountable for. 

All of this feeds into engagement, retention and resilience. How can agencies ensure they’re not just giving their people the base foundations to be able and capable, but going further to keep them engaged and committed over time? Maintaining resilience is particularly vital in public safety, where operations can be incredibly stressful. So there needs to be an underlying current of engagement and retention while also enduring the individuals – and therefore the wider organization – are resilient. 

After engagement comes opportunity – the second level of potential. I’m going to do a deep dive into this in my next blog, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can check out my LinkedIn blogs where I’ve written many more blogs on human potential and work.

Zoe Lambourne

Senior Manager – Consulting, Public Safety

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