Early Intervention: The Recipe for Retention in Public Safety Agencies

Because of the special obligations public safety agencies have to the communities they serve—as well as the high stakes and potential liabilities involved—a proper strategy for retaining high-quality employees is critical. A passive approach to staffing and leadership is simply not an option.

Some red flags that an organization’s current practices may be at the root of its staff retention issues include:

  • Leaders are not transparent and explicit in their efforts to reduce turnover.
  • Hiring, training, and staff development are done without proper forethought and intention.
  • Responsive coaching and proactive accountability systems are absent.
  • Promotions are based on seniority or field experience, not leadership qualities.

The importance of retention

In general, the determining factor in retention is job satisfaction. An employee’s satisfaction with their work, in turn, is largely a function of how meaningful they believe their role is and how well they feel they perform it.

Through the standards and expectations they model and communicate, public safety agency leaders are instrumental in shaping these perceptions—and addressing opportunities for improvement as they arise.

Many of the benefits of improving retention at public safety agencies are apparent:

  • Hiring and training are expensive and time-consuming.
  • Experienced employees tend to be more productive and reliable—and less of a safety and legal liability.
  • The regular turnover of employees is disruptive to departments and projects and can hurt staff morale.

But some benefits may not be so apparent:

  • Low turnover is often an indication of good overall quality of leadership.
  • Longer careers at one agency mean more opportunities for developing leaders and strategically promoting from within.
  • The institutional knowledge of long-term staff members is valuable and very difficult to replace.
  • Internal relationships developed over time can build trust, streamline communication, and boost productivity.

Intervention must come early

Investing in affirmative, proactive performance management tools can indeed be costly and time-consuming.

But the value of catching performance issues as early as possible—even before they arise—is the greater benefit in the long run, when longer retention is the result.

As distinct from early warning systems (EWS), early intervention efforts:

  • Send the message that agency leaders are attentive and responsive and take responsibility for helping everyone continuously meet standards and uphold the agency’s mission.
  • Motivate employees to adopt positive behaviors.
  • Show employees that they add value to the agency and are therefore expected to perform at their level of potential.
  • Provide employees with a better framework for understanding their job going forward, reducing confusion and frustration.
  • Avoid a “punishment model” of management, where the emphasis is placed on reacting to negative behaviors that could have been prevented earlier.
  • Involve employees in an ongoing collaborative process grounded in transparency.

Using the right tools to get what you want

Two types of performance management are integral to ensuring that intervention happens early and effectively: human-centered and technology-centered.

At the center of performance management are your agency’s people: your employees, supervisors, and administration.  

One effective way your agency can demonstrate its commitment to its mission on a human level is to make the recognition of positive behavior a regular part of your organizational culture:

  • Employees rewarded for good performance are more likely to take pride in their work, report higher job satisfaction, and feel more accountable to their agency.
  • When agencies reinforce performance standards through recognition, employees are more likely to want to emulate the rewarded behavior.
  • Encouraging positive behavior through recognition may help agency leaders identify suitable candidates for future leadership.

But make no mistake: When properly applied, data-driven technology solutions have a critical role in performance management for public safety agencies.

The right technology solutions, like Envisage’s Early Intervention System (EIS):

  • Take into account how indispensable human relations are in the performance equation.
  • Relay potential problems to all appropriate personnel, including the employee in question.
  • Allow individual agencies to customize intervention thresholds and other system settings.
  • Organize employee data into a central location.
  • Allow documentation to follow an employee across agencies.


While the nature of public safety work doesn’t always allow for clear-cut, one-size-fits-all solutions to performance management, combining early intervention with proactive leadership and mission-aligned technology is a powerful approach for retaining quality employees.

Agency leaders who embrace this approach demonstrate their commitment to excellence and integrity at all levels and benefit from highly organized data to guide and reinforce their performance management strategy.

Posted on Jun 3, 2021