The Traditional Model of Employee Supervision

The Traditional Model of Employee Supervision

The traditional model of employee supervision stresses centralized authority, clear-cut rules and regulations, well-developed policies and procedures, and discernable lines of authority operationally through a chain of command—in short, high degrees of centralization, formalization, and complexity. Contemporary critics, however, question the effectiveness and appropriateness of this model of supervision to the changing societal expectations of the criminal justice system. We will have more to say on this line of criticism later. For now, it is useful to flesh out the key elements of the traditional model of employee supervision used in most criminal justice organizations.

Traditional model of employee supervision: A model that emphasizes clear rules and regulations, division of labor, span of control, delegation of authority, and employee specialization within organizations.

The traditional model is made up of the following elements: a hierarchy that stresses an identifiable span of control, a precise unity of command, and a clear delegation of authority; rulification; and specialization of services and activities of employees ( Gaines, Southerland, and Angell, 1991 ).

Span of control refers to the appropriate number of employees that can be managed by any one supervisor. What this magic number should be has been part of the debates among scholars and practitioners alike. This concept can be applied both to employees and the people they supervise. For example, span of control is a central question in the delivery of services to probationers and parolees ( McShane and Krause, 1993 ). Concerns over the maximum number of probationers who can be supervised by one agent have plagued community corrections officials for years ( Clear and Cole, 1994 ). For police departments, span of control refers to the number of officers that can be reasonably monitored by a supervisor.

Unity of command refers to the placement of one person in charge of a situation and an employee. The importance of this concept to traditional supervision revolves around multiple and conflicting orders from supervisors. For control and supervision to be maximized, there has to be one supervisor, known by every employee. In this way, confusion about directives and commands is reduced, and the employee is aware of to whom he or she must report. In the words of one correctional administrator, “There have to be one chief and a lot of Indians in prison.”

Delegation of authority maintains the integrity of the organization by clearly defining tasks and responsibilities of employees, as well as delegating power and authority to complete required tasks. For police organizations, this means providing employees clear direction on what their responsibilities are, the necessary skills to accomplish tasks, and the requisite authority to achieve objectives. Each employee understands his or her role in the accomplishment of tasks and where they fit into the larger goals of the organization.

Rulification emphasizes the importance of rules and regulations to the organization. Every policy, procedure, and directive must have some specific written referent. In this way, clarity of organizational tasks and purposes is maintained, as well as documentation concerning appropriate behaviors by employees. As a control mechanism, rules, policies, and procedures are the essential components of the organization. One cannot imagine a police or correctional organization existing and functioning without well-specified rules, policies, and procedures. The rules define the scope and direction of criminal justice agencies.

Specialization involves the division of labor in criminal justice organizations. Each employee knows his or her tasks and is held accountable for those tasks. Specialization enhances employee supervision because it is through exact job definition that employees can be evaluated, disciplined, promoted, and dismissed. In most cases, increases in specialization enable advances in employee supervision because there is an increase in responsibility, yet increased specialization may also create administrative coordination problems ( Gaines, Southerland, and Angell, 1991 :101).

Through the concepts of span of control, unity of command, delegation of authority, rulification, and specialization, supervisors are presumed to enhance their supervisory capabilities. For decades, training within police departments and correctional organizations has stressed these important concepts for effective employee supervision. Current advocates, such as  DiIulio (1987 1991 ), argue that the role of effective management should not be downplayed. DiIulio believes that greater attention should be paid to improving the effectiveness of managers and administrators.

Although his ideas were originally presented within the context of prisons, it is clear that they have equal relevance and application to other criminal justice organizations, such as police departments. Recently, however, research has questioned the efficacy, effectiveness, and efficiency of such a model. Critics point out many practical difficulties with the traditional model of supervision such as increased role stress experienced by correctional staff ( Lambert, Hogan, and Tucker, 2009 ) and the perceived unfairness of bureaucratic processes to answer questions of fundamental fairness in criminal justice operations ( Tyler, 2004 ).

One of the most ardent critics of the traditional model of police supervision has been  Fyfe (2004a : 146–156). In his view, traditional ideas about police supervision and employee performance have been predicated on largely fictionalized accounts of the police role and inappropriate assessments of police work; they are, he says, more often than not based on perceptions of police supervisors with no input from the officers themselves. The traditional model of supervision stresses arrest statistics, for example, as one outcome measure of performance, yet there is no consideration of the relationship between arrest activity and the realization of organizational goals.

As such, Fyfe argues that it is not clear how the elements of the traditional model of police supervision actually enhance the supervisory process and, more important, how the model itself is related to the goals of police organizations. What gets produced instead is a fractured and misleading picture of police as primarily “crime fighters.” In addition, critics have argued that the traditional model produces authoritarian supervisors, precludes organizational innovation, stymies information flow, and reduces the motivational levels of officers (see  Gaines, Southerland, and Angell, 1991 :105–107).  Skolnick and Fyfe (1993 :117–124) have argued that many police problems can be traced to the paramilitary style that pervades police organizations.

If such criticisms are correct, the utility of the traditional model to the attainment of organizational goals must be questioned.  Goldstein (1990 :157) suggests that the reason the traditional model of employee supervision has lasted so long relates to the ease with which supervision can be routinized. Under the traditional approach, supervision is rather straightforward and predictable. Asking police supervisors—sergeants and lieutenants, in particular—to supervise through innovation consistent with the changes and demands of the community is a more difficult task.

For example, community policing efforts, while expanding the role of rank-and-file officers through decentralization, create enormous challenges for the immediate supervisor. Supervisors now have to respond to the demands of the community in ways that often defy routinization. Furthermore, supervision defined as control becomes more difficult under arrangements that place individual officer autonomy as a higher organizational imperative. For these reasons, traditional police supervisors are highly suspicious and unaccepting of contemporary attempts to redefine the police role more consistently with community policing or problem-oriented police models. These models of police management accentuate the importance of attending to multiple expectations of the community and, as such, demand new ways of doing business in police organizations.

Similarly, correctional organizations are going through changes that are calling into question the relevance and usefulness of the traditional model of employee supervision when faced with competing and multiple demands from the community ( Johnson, 2002 Stojkovic and Farkas, 2003 Wright, 1994 ). Correctional institutions, parole agencies, and probation departments are all being asked to protect society from criminals; in addition, they are expected to do something productive with offenders so that criminal propensities are reduced. This, too, is no simple set of expectations. Nevertheless, such expectations are altering the context within which correctional agencies, as well as other criminal justice organizations, are functioning. Newer models of employee supervision have been proposed to augment the functioning capabilities of employees to meet these new challenges.

The Human Service Model of Employee Supervision

Unlike the traditional model of employee supervision, which emphasizes monitoring through tight organizational controls, the human service model views the supervision process within the context of both individual employee goals and larger organizational goals. The human service model attempts to integrate employee goals into organizational goals.

What do employees want? They want a number of things, with surprising consistency—both to accomplish job tasks and to feel fulfilled within their roles.

Human service model of employee supervision: A model that stresses employee ownership, delegation of authority, and the sharing of power within organizations.

Toch (1978) , as one of the first to comment on the traditional assumptions we hold about rank-and-file criminal justice workers, states the following:

·  A correctional officer assigned to tower duty is a residue of the dark ages. He requires 20/20 vision, the IQ of an imbecile, a high threshold for boredom, and a basement position in Maslow’s hierarchy.

Similar views have also been offered about police officers (“street cops”) and their vitriolic attitudes toward administrators (“management cops”) ( Reuss-Ianni, 1984 ). The result of such a split is often hostility and a sense of separation between officer and manager. Such a split is directly related to the militarystyle organization found in most police departments ( Fyfe, 2004a : 158).

Such a view highlights the tension that is created between rank-and-file employees and administrators when assumptions about employees are less than flattering, and there is no appreciation of the diversity of their role and the job performed. The traditional model of police supervision does not recognize either the importance of this diversity or that organizational control—the single most important goal under the traditional model—is only one goal among many. It is this recognition of diversity in both personal and organizational goals that defines the human service model of employee supervision.

Within the context of a problem-oriented approach to police organization,  Goldstein (1990 :149) argues that the traditional model of supervision must be supplanted with a model of supervision that fosters a “relationship with management built on mutual trust and on agreement that an officer has the freedom to think and act within broad boundaries.” Similarly,  Johnson (2002)  has shown that effective correctional officers are those who stretch the role of custody to include the delivery of goods and services to prisoners, even though there are very few inducements for such behavior. Why do some officers exhibit such behaviors? The answer to this question, offered by  Johnson (2002 :256), serves to define the basic assumption of the human service model of employee supervision:

·  Why, then, do some [correctional] officers persist in activities that take time and effort, are neither recognized nor rewarded by others, and must be hidden or played down for fear of trouble with administrators, peers, treatment staff, or recalcitrant inmates? The reason … is simply this: human service activities make the officer’s job richer, more rewarding, and ultimately less stressful.

Recognition of the true nature of the employee’s role enables managers and administrators to grasp that supervision must include a rather expansive definition of employee tasks and activities. Less centralization, fewer and more clearly defined rules, and less bureaucracy are central tenets of the human service model of employee supervision. Unlike the traditional model of employee supervision that emphasizes tight controls and limited decision making among employees, this approach stresses the importance of decentralization of authority for greater decision-making capabilities among lower-level members, fewer rules to encumber the enlarged activities of employees, and a breaking down of the traditional hierarchy found in most police and correctional organizations.

Such views are consistent with popular ideas expressed by contemporary management experts, such as  Peters and Waterman (1982 :150), who stress autonomy and entrepreneurship (less centralization); simultaneous loose–tight properties (less formalization); and simple form, lean staff (less complexity). Such approaches have proven to be invaluable to the corporate world and have equal relevance to criminal justice administration and management. All are consistent with the human service model of employee supervision. Both experts and reformers alike have called for the application of these ideas in transforming the supervision process within criminal justice organizations (see  Christopher Commission Report, 1991 :242–244).

In addition, the case for humanizing organizational structure has had its strongest support among researchers who investigate the importance of investing in people within organizations and organizational performance.  O’Toole and Meier (2009)  stress that an investment in people in organizations yields much return relative to cost. Their research, based on a review of evidence for hundreds of organizations in the public sector over a four-year period, showed that even controlling for all performance indicators available, it is still a wise choice to invest in employees for maximum organizational performance:

·  The results are convincing; they are found across a wide array of performance measures, and they can even be found for almost all of the measures when controlling for past performance. The evidence provides especially strong support for the proposition that the human side contributes to tangible, measurable results (2009:513).

According to  Goldstein (1990 :157–172), a new supervision model in police organizations requires a decentralization of authority; a new dimension of supervision that capitalizes on the knowledge of frontline supervisors, such as sergeants and lieutenants; an alteration in the criteria for recognizing and evaluating performance among officers; a change in the recruitment and selection of new officers; a revitalized sense of purpose and direction in training; and the development of new sources of information and new knowledge on how to address crime-related problems within communities.

Similarly,  Wright (1994)  offers identical prescriptions for correctional administrators and managers. He suggests that correctional institutions can be made more cohesive and can work toward both organizational goals and developing people in the organization. Wright’s ideas center around three fundamental concepts associated with the human service model of employee supervision: employee ownership, delegation, and the sharing of power.

Employee ownership refers to gaining a greater voice in the creation of institutional policy. According to Wright, correctional employees who are able to express their concerns within the context of decision making are more productive employees and experience less stress. In his words, “People who ‘own’ their job and ‘own’ their organization feel strong, capable, and committed” (1994:48). This ownership is structured within the concept of delegation. Delegation allows employees, within prescribed limits, the opportunities to make decisions that affect their ability to perform tasks. As such, delegation is not without structure or undirected participation by lower-level employees; it is the ability to maximize the knowledge and skills of employees in a directed fashion ( Lambert, Hogan, and Tucker, 2009 ). In short, delegation exploits the experiences of the workers.

The sharing of power follows nicely from the concept of delegation. Sharing power assumes that power is not a finite entity. Instead, power is viewed as “energy, potential, and competence” ( Wright, 1994 :51). Power is given to employees in such a way that they are able to enhance their performance levels and adjust to contingencies of the institutional environment. Under such a view, the correctional worker is viewed as an active contributor to the organization, not simply a reactive automaton to institutional policies and procedures.

Taken together, these three ideas generate a work philosophy that seeks to institutionalize greater authority in the hands of employees and respects their intelligence and creativity in a changing correctional environment. Such a philosophy has been the model for the Federal Bureau of Prisons since the mid-1960s and is known as unit management. Unit management is an organizational design as well as an operating philosophy for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Houston (1999)  defines unit management as having the following components:

· ■ A small number of inmates (50 to 120) who are permanently assigned together

· ■ A multidisciplinary staff (unit manager, case manager[s], correctional counselor [s], full- or part-time psychologist, clerk typist, and correctional officers) whose offices are located within or adjacent to the inmate housing unit and are permanently assigned to work with the inmates of that unit

· ■ A unit manager who has administrative authority and supervisory responsibility for the unit staff

· ■ A unit staff that has administrative authority for all within-unit aspects of inmate living and programming

· ■ Inmates who are assigned to the unit because of age, prior record, specific behavior typologies, a need for a specific type of correctional program, such as drug abuse counseling, or random assignment

· ■ Unit staff who are scheduled by the unit manager to work in the unit evenings and weekends, on a rotating basis, in addition to the unit correctional officer. Within the institution, the guiding principle is to have a flexible set of rules and regulations that allows staff the discretion and direction to complete tasks.

For advocates of unit management, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  Houston (1999 :325) suggests the following advantages: a greater sense of cohesion and community between inmates and staff; an increase in the contacts between inmates and staff, which leads to better communication and a positive work environment; a decentralizing of decisions within the correctional units that improves decision making; and greater program flexibility.

Such advantages must be weighed, however, within the context of competing disadvantages.  Houston (1999 :325–326) offers the following disadvantages to unit management. Unit management is costly and labor intensive, takes much time and resources to implement, and, most telling, threatens the organizational status quo. In particular, it challenges fundamental ways of doing business in the prison. Instead of the traditional hierarchical control found in most prisons, unit management increases the flexibility of subordinates and decentralizes authority at the operational level—in this case, within the housing unit where staff completes the day-to-day functions of the prison.

Wright (1994 :54) offers the primary reason correctional administrators have been slow to adopt unit management:

·  Some top executives may feel uneasy about giving up control…. They may wonder whether they can depend on line staff to make critical decisions. Yet, most prisons are too large for a few administrators to get to know all the inmates well. Unit management provides for more efficient and informed decision making because the individuals making the decisions spend the most time with inmates.

In this statement, we see the fundamental difference between the traditional model and the human service model. The primary concern of the traditional model is control of the employee, whereas the human service model stresses the completion of organizational tasks. The often tumultuous and uncertain political environment forces criminal justice administrators to stress accountability and control of employees. Employees’ concerns, meanwhile, center on task completion. Often there is conflict between the organization’s search for control and certainty and the desire to accomplish “soft” organizational objectives and goals.  Wilson (2000 :168–171) has documented how many public service agencies are what he called “coping organizations.” Unlike product-based organizations, these types of organizations cannot observe their own outcomes and outputs. It is often difficult to identify what tasks are actually related to the accomplishment of specific goals in coping organizations.

Given this situation, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for administrators in coping organizations to give up power, decentralize their organizations, and empower employees. They fall back on what they can do well and that usually means hierarchy and other traditional practices that, on the surface, provide greater control of employees as well as measures of output that have a control focus.

Such a view questions the applicability of the human service model to criminal justice organizations.  Wright (1994 :43–47) discusses how correctional administrators often stress centralization of authority, clear rules, and uncertainty avoidance in their organizations. This means greater bureaucracy and tighter organizational control. Yet advocates of the human service model seek a loosening of the organizational reins by administrators. Is this really possible?

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