This week I was given an opportunity to speak at a staff retreat for some civilian units within our local law enforcement agency.    I was excited for this because these two teams are made up of high performing individuals who go through a six month intrusive and sometimes intimidating hiring process before they can even be selected to join the team.  Despite the fact their job tasks are conducted behind the scenes and out of the public spotlight, they are absolutely crucial to performance of the agency. Yet in spending just a few minutes observing each of them as they entered the conference room, where they chose to sit, how they chose to interact, and their general body language it was obvious they had lost sight of their impact.  It was clear they did not see how important their function was to the big picture of community safety and trust.

So as we began I asked them to remember why they wanted to get into these professions?  Immediately they could list off positive reason after reason without skipping a beat.  Ideal reasons like, to make a difference, do something bigger than them, to be a positive contributor to society, to be around quality people, and making an impact.

So how did we get from the excitement and optimism they started this job with to the behaviors I saw as they entered the room?  Keep in mind this audience was made up of people whose experience levels ranged from 40 years on the job to several months, yet the negative body language, the lack of excitement, and the general dread was consistent amongst all of them?  How did this happen?  Why is it allowed to happen and how the hell do we fix it?

One of the first things we did was an exercise where each of them wrote down their “Why”.  Not some surface level stuff but something deep inside of you that makes all the sacrifices of day to day life worthwhile.  The thing that keeps you going when that voice in your head tells you to quit.   As someone who has known my why for as long as I can remember and since before it was a trendy motivational speaker buzz word, I was shocked at what I saw, blank stares, eyes searching the room for the answer, and general confusion.  Very few people could quickly and without hesitation share their why because they hadn’t thought about it and supervisors had never asked them for it.

So after I shared my story, slowly others began to share and more people began to write down their answers.  I reminded them that when we have a great personal purpose the small tasks that cause frustrations, the personal differences that continue to fester undiagnosed, the minutiae of day to day life remains just that, minutiae.  When our why is bigger than all of our obstacles it’s much easier to be appreciative of where we are at, to be kind to those around us, and to want to invest in making things we are involved with better!  Basically, we want to do the things we were excited about doing when we got hired!   As we continued to talk it was clear the low energy they arrived with was quickly replaced with excitement and optimism when we started talking about them as individuals.  When we started getting to know each other on a deeper level there was a personal connection.

These teams had long been overworked, continued to do more with less and started to believe in productivity as the only measure of success they could achieve.  The reality is there will always be more work to do, more people to do it for, and less time to get it done.  Yet we can still create a happy, productive, and enjoyable work environment if we remember we should never put “Productivity over Humanity”.