Applying Key Predictors of Star Performance in Law Enforcement
- Richard J. Conroy
- Timothy W. Turner
- Mitch Javidi
- Reuven Bar-On
Approaches to evaluating performance in law enforcement have historically focused more on organizational benchmarks than on performance assessment at the employee and leadership levels. Agency metrics, including arrest rates, clearance rates, and response times, serve primarily to describe organizational performance. Unfortunately, these metrics fall short in addressing important personal and social factors such as self-awareness, social-awareness, employee accountability and social responsibility as well as personal commitment to one’s quality of work, which are essential and fundamental elements of community policing. Here too, the results are frequently unclear in that personal performance is often evaluated more by personality tests than by performance measures, and the interpretation of the findings tend to be subjective more than objective.
“What makes law enforcement officers star performers, and what are their key characteristics?”
Senior managers in law enforcement agencies have always needed good assessment tools to gauge police performance, not only to meet external accountability demands but to establish internal indicators of accountability as well . In terms of performance assessment, law enforcement organizations could, therefore, benefit from sophisticated predictive models at the employee and leadership levels to better identify, select and develop what the co-authors refer to as “Star Performers” (or “Star Performer Officers”). We then need to ask a very important question: What makes law enforcement officers star performers, and what are their key characteristics? Some might rightfully argue that star performance in law enforcement is “in the eye of the beholder.” This, once again, raises the issue of subjectivity versus objectivity, which is analogous to former Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Potter Stewart’s comment “I know it when I see it” when describing attempts to define hard core pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964 . Based on professional experience, others would confidently argue that the key characteristics include the “Virtues and Values” thought to significantly impact how officers conduct themselves and perform, which can also be used to accurately identify public safety star performers . The inevitable question is then: What is (1) the best way to identify the key predictors of and contributors to star performance, in order to know (2) how best to hire and train the right people for the job in law enforcement?
The Best Way to Identify Key Predictors of Star Performance: Star Performer Modeling
The idea of “Star Performer Modeling” was first described by the General Accountability Office in Washington DC, when it was presented to the US Senate Committee on Armed Services over two decades ago . Together with Lt. Col. (ret.) Dr. Richard Handley, who was serving in the US Air Force at the time, this idea was first developed and applied by the fourth co-author. This model, which was specifically designed to determine the most important characteristics of high performers in a particular organization, is created by having its employees complete a multi-factor measure of performance and then using statistics to establish which factors are the strongest predictors of their current performance which is rated by co-workers. The statistical model that emerges is then used to help select potential high (“star”) performers and help strengthen their ability to perform at an even higher level, after they are hired, through training programs that focus on the specific factors that were identified.
“The importance of Star Performer Modeling is to enhance an organization’s ability to hire, train and promote high performers.”
Bish and Kabanoff  stressed the importance of applying star performer talent in the workplace. While competent employees and high performers often advance in rank, responsibility and work assignments moreover, underperformers in the workplace have limited or reduced career promotional and advancement opportunities . To reiterate, the importance of Star Performer Modeling is to enhance an organization’s ability to hire, train and promote high performers; and the goal of this sophisticated and cost-effective approach is to improve occupational performance, teamwork and leadership as well as overall organizational effectiveness in the end.
Although an organization’s success or failure depends upon performance by all employees combined , attempts to define what makes a good police officer is often vague and remains a difficult challenge . While there appears to be a lack of consensus concerning identification of the desirable traits that police officers need, certain characteristics do appear more frequently than others in the law enforcement literature. For example, traits such as intelligence and common sense, flexibility, dependability, empathy and sensitivity seem to have considerable support in the literature . Despite well-justified caution not to rely solely on a particular or any singular trait, intelligence testing has been regarded as an important criterion and predictive measure of training success and job skill learning in policing . Based on the frequency of public interaction however, a number of other studies have identified inter-personal skills, and extraversion in particular, as contributing to successful law enforcement performance.
Characteristics such as common sense, honesty, responsibility and overall maturity have also been identified  as contributing to performance among officers. Characteristics including emotional control, stability, maturity and stress tolerance were identified as desirable traits in these studies as well; and here too, it is important to recognize the significance of employment liability issues and how these are influenced more by an individual’s set of competencies than by the existence of an organizational policy.
“The findings suggested 55% of leadership performance is based on emotional and social intelligence.”
The Bar-On EQ-i questionnaire  has frequently been used in studies to determine the most powerful emotional and social intelligence predictors of successful leadership [13, 14]. In one particular study of this nature conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership by Ruderman, the results were analyzed by the fourth co-author. The findings suggested 55% of leadership performance is based on emotional and social intelligence. More specifically, Bar-On and Ruderman found that the key characteristics of successful leaders depend on being effective in managing and controlling their emotions, aware of how others feel, cable of maintaining responsible and cooperative relationships with others, and being optimistic and positive about what they do at work and in life in general.
Those organizations that have applied Star Performer Modeling have found this approach has significantly reduced costly mismatches by hiring the right people for the job, which has saved and/or made hundreds of millions of dollars over the years [4, 13, 15–17]. Additionally, it is important to know that a number of star performer studies have been conducted in law enforcement, security and defense populations, which have included graduates of the FBI National Academy , Israeli Defense Force elite combat soldiers and officers  as well as US Air Force Para-Rescue Jumpers [20, 21].
“Public safety employees today must possess more than tactical skills and expertise and more than a strategic vision.”
The Star Performer Modeling approach is needed now more than ever, because public safety personnel face challenges and stressors unique to the profession. Public safety employees today must possess more than tactical skills and expertise and more than a strategic vision. They require those competencies that will make them “star performers” in their particular agency. The authors posit that the most effective tool for public safety organizations, when it comes to reducing employee liability, improving community relations and developing the highest standards of behavior, is Star Performance Modeling. More precisely, this means that innovative, sophisticated and cost-effective methods like this particular approach is needed to first (1) determine the key predictors of performance and then to (2) continue to strengthen these factors through the most effective leadership development programs. This is essentially achieved by combining a multi-factor assessment tool with a comprehensive leadership development program that can focus precisely on strengthening the key contributors to star performance in a particular organization. Training and coaching can also be more effective when combined with star performance models, in that the development component of the more sophisticated programs can target specific competencies that are scientifically linked with high performance. We refer to this as “assessment-guided” training and coaching.
Two things are needed to conduct assessment-guided training and coaching. First, we need a valid multi-factor assessment tool; and second, we need a comprehensive performance development program. Both of these important elements are briefly described in the following two sections. Star performers, who are thought to be the 20% that accomplish 80% of an agency’s work , can be identified through Star Performer Modeling as described here.
A Multi-Factor Performance Assessment Tool: MMP3™
The MMP3™ (Bar-On Multifactor Measure of Performance™/ver. 3.0) is an innovative way to comprehensively and effectively evaluate an individual’s current performance level. This questionnaire was created by the fourth co-author and was developed and validated over the past six years at Bar-On Test Developers [23, 24].
Those who complete the MMP3™ are asked to respond to 142 brief questions online, which takes less than half an hour. The responses are automatically scored, and a numeric, graphic and textual summary of the results is created and emailed in a PDF document. The summary contains a detailed analysis based on a wide variety of different factors that contribute to performance. The 23 factors that are assessed are in the following five major areas: (1) Physical Fitness and Stamina; (2) Cognitive Functioning; (3) Intra-Personal Strength; (4) Inter-Personal Compatibility; and (5) Motivational Drive. The value of such a questionnaire is that it assesses the main contributors to human behavior and performance. In addition to flagging those areas that need to be strengthened, the individual report contains personalized suggestions for enhancing the individual’s level of performance.
“It stands to reason that any serious study of key contributors to law enforcement performance should recognize that human behavior and performance are very complex and cannot be explained by two or three factors.”
After receiving these individual summaries and suggestions for self-improvement, effective training and coaching programs need to be made available to continue developing and strengthening those areas that need to be addressed, in particular, in order to enhance overall performance as it is currently practiced at the National Command & Staff College (NCSC) in collaborative partnership with the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and the National Tactical Officers’ Association (NTOA).
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What We Now Know about Key Contributors to Star Performance in Law Enforcement
It stands to reason that any serious study of key contributors to law enforcement performance should recognize that human behavior and performance are very complex and cannot be explained by two or three factors. This is why we need multi-factor evaluation tools and training programs. A fairly recent examination of findings generated by eight different analyses conducted on four studies (n=1,166) carried out individually by the co-authors helped determine the most robust characteristics of high performers in law enforcement [18, 25, 26]. Two of these studies were conducted by individuals who themselves have served in law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels for over three decades [18, 25]. This approach indicated that the following factors are key contributors to high performance among the 1,166 law enforcement officers examined:
- Physical Fitness & Well-Being
- Situational Awareness
- Preparedness & Readiness
- Coping & Endurance
Law Enforcement Application
“Norming” the MMP3™ nationwide on a large and diverse population of individuals working in a variety of different areas within law enforcement is the necessary next step. Norming ensures a more precise interpretation of results obtained from individuals working in these various areas as well as facilitates Star Performer Modeling for the groups involved.
This endeavor will be combined with and compliment the MAGNUS™ educational and leadership development programs, designed to strengthen the factors targeted by the MMP3™ that need to be enhanced in order for those individuals who completed this questionnaire to function at an even higher level .
Our goal is the utilization of Star Performance Modeling extensively throughout law enforcement nationwide, based on applying a valid and robust multi-factor measure of performance (MMP3™) with a comprehensive and powerful training program (MAGNUS™ Leadership Development). This will prove to create a new, next-generation of star performer officers for law enforcement. These officers will deliver results with confidence for themselves, their agency and the communities they serve.
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Richard Conroy, PhD has served as a Director of Police at the university level, an Assistant Chief of Police at the municipal level, and a Special Agent in Charge at the state level. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a life-member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Dr. Conroy holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Dallas Baptist University where he also serves as an assistant professor of criminal justice.
Timothy W. Turner, EdD retired as a Supervisory Special Agent after serving 22 years with the with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His last assignment was as a Program Manager for the Leadership Development Institute of the FBI Academy, at Quantico, Virginia. Dr. Turner most recently served as Dean of the School of Public Service and Administration at Anderson University (South Carolina).
Mitch Javidi, Ph.D is Founder & Chancellor of The National Command & Staff College, Professor, NC State University (ret.), honorary member, US Army Special Operations Command. Mitch is an envisioneer with over 30 years of practical and hands-on experience in diverse industries including academia, military, law enforcement, government, and technology. As a globally recognized leader, he is the founder of the National Command & Staff College, the International Academy of Public Safety, the Institute for Credible Leadership development, the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development and the MAGNUS Officers Leadership.
Dr. Reuven Bar-On is acknowledged as one of the leading pioneers in emotional intelligence, and coined the term “EQ” to measure this concept. He founded Bar-On Test Developers and has created 12 different psychological tests including the Emotional Quotient Inventoryä (EQ-iä) and the Multifactor Measure of Performanceä (MMPä). Amongst numerous organizations, his products and services have been used by the FBI, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, US Armed Forces, Israeli Defense Forces, and Canadian Forces. He is a retired Major in the IDF and a veteran of three wars. Dr. Bar-On recently received an Honorary Commissionership from the National Command & Staff College.