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“Running the play that’s called”: Shared characteristics
By Kevin H. Kempf
Published: 07/06/2015

Footballplayers In 1992 the Arkansas Razorback Football Team was coming off a big win at South Carolina and were fired up to be hosting the Alabama Crimson Tide in Little Rock the following Saturday. I was the starting inside linebacker for the Razorbacks and just the thought of playing Alabama was enough for me to lose a lot of sleep that week. Saturday finally came and the feeling in the stadium was electric. It was cool to see the then Governor Bill Clinton sitting about 5 rows back from our bench. I should mention that Alabama was predicted to win the National Championship this year which made our hatred from them that much more intense. Well, I wish I could write that we won that game. The truth is Alabama destroyed us from the opening kickoff until the last whistle blew. As I look back on this game and others where we fell apart I keep coming back to how we executed, and more importantly, when we didn’t. One thing our team suffered from was at times we wouldn’t run the play that was called. Example, we would get the play call from our coach, we would huddle, the play would be called, and when the ball snapped we would each run the play that WE thought would score a touchdown.

How does this apply to Corrections?

Fast forward 25 years and I find myself as the Director of the Idaho Department of Corrections. I started as a Correctional Officer and worked my way through the ranks. I bleed blue, always have. What’s great but also concerning about those of us in the corrections business is that we each share very similar characteristics. Generally we are alpha males / alpha females, we like to be given a job and for people to get out of our way, we are passionate about our fellow brothers/sisters in law enforcement, and what makes us successful can also make us tough to manage! Not “running the play that’s called” for us looks like an old crusty block sergeant telling a brand new cadet fresh from training to “forget what they taught you in the academy, we don’t do that here”, or it’s a probation/parole officer listening to an administrator talk about research based practices and saying under his breath “This is all hug-a-thug crap”. You get the point. I hope we can all agree how bad this is for an agency, company, or team. Choosing to run your own play can cause serious trouble in a business like ours. Think of how this affects your current work site or agency. When we are all running different plays the agency is rudderless and ineffective. Now, let me say this, I agree 100% some plays/decisions that are called are stupid! Seriously, why in the world are we doing some of this stuff? No agency, company, or team makes the right call 100% of time. Teams that fail keep running that play because the “Coach said so”. Successful agencies gave their best effort in running the play that was called, listened to their when they said it didn’t work, and decided to re-huddle and call a new play! An example of this would be when a prison tries to change work schedules from an 8 hour shift to a 12 hour shift. We just did this in Idaho in several of our prisons. In some facilities it is working great and the outcomes are where we hoped they would be. In others it was failing. Turnover went up, staff were mentally exhausted, and sick days started to rise. Even though our Prison Administrator really wanted 12 hour shifts he saw that it wasn’t working. He re-huddled with staff, listened to them, and called another play that is working great today! So, if you have leaders who will listen and adjust as needed you have something special on your team.

In closing, I’m going to encourage each of us to run the play that’s called. Lets not be to quick to say things like “This sucks” or “No way this works”. Instead, lets run the play, give it 100% effort and hope for the best. If it works, awesome! If it doesn’t, lets re-huddle and try something else.

Editor's note: Kempf joined the Idaho Department of Correction in 1995 as a correctional officer at Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center. He went on to serve in a variety of positions including parole officer, investigator, section supervisor, district manager, warden, chief of prisons and deputy director. The Idaho Board of Correction appointed Kempf director of the department in December 2014. Kevin can be reached at kkempf@idoc.idaho.gov

Other articles by Kempf



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