Promotion

Police Promotion the Knowns and Unknowns

Promotion to Sergeant and Inspector ranks are significant transitions in any policing career.

Becoming More Promotable

Following a kind invitation from Police Hour, I am delighted to have this opportunity to support UK police officers aspiring to police promotion and looking to make the jump to first and second line supervisor positions.

With that in mind, i aim over coming months to offer guidance to help navigate some of the real and perceived barriers associated with achieving promotions.

If you missed my initial blog you can find it here: The Greasy Pole 

I thought I would start this blog by looking at some things generally well known around promotion in the service, whilst also considering valuable aspects that often remain unknown.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll expand on some of these themes to ensure officers working to become ‘more promotable’ can benefit from FREE tips and insights to raise awareness and deliver their best performance when it matters.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Preparing ahead is a simple strategy for promotion success.

Adopting this approach will help confirm what you know, identify what you don’t and identify things you hadn’t even thought about knowing.

Imagine walking into your promotion board and every question the panel asks you is an unwelcome surprise.

You struggle to understand the relevance of the first question. You are uncomfortable. You find yourself struggling to string together a meaningful response. You wish the earth would open up and swallow you. It’s a big relief when it’s all over. You know afterwards in your heart that they didn’t see you at your best.

Does this happen? Yes. Is it entirely avoidable? Of course!

I was inspired to write this blog partly through speaking recently to a group of promotion candidates. Some honestly believed that being effective at their day job equated to being a good promotion candidate. Signposting them to certain information resources came as a significant revelation with one commenting:

You don’t know what you don’t know, how are you supposed to know this stuff?

This brought to mind the following quote by Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defence:

As we know, there are known knowns; these are things we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. – Donald Rumsfeld

People initially thought Rumsfeld’s speech was nonsense but I believe the statement makes good sense.

Scientific research often investigates known unknowns, so when it comes to awareness levels and knowledge in the context of preparing for police promotion opportunities, I thought it might be helpful to reflect upon Rumsfeld’s statement and some of its points.

Known Knowns

Things we know we know about promotion selection processes include some of the steps involved:

  • Written applications
  • Psychometric tests
  • Interview/board

Written applications

The initial application could be a full competency-based format or a simple registration form. If the former, there’ll be a requirement to align your evidence or examples to your own force promotion framework (CVF/MLF/PPF).

Word limits apply too, ranging between 250 words to a couple of thousand.

We know some forces don’t require applications, instead, they require first-line supervisors to ‘write up’ individuals to be considered for promotion.

Psychometric tests

Additional gateway stages involving psychometric tests are now a common feature of promotion selection processes.

These include Inductive Reasoning Tests (IRT) or ‘diagrammatic style’ tests, designed to measure abilities important in solving problems.

Another variant is the Situational Judgment Test (SJT), which assesses the ability to choose the most appropriate action in workplace situations. It’s considered to be a particularly effective measure of managerial and leadership capabilities. There are others.

Interview 

This is perhaps the best of the known knowns.

An interview is a consistent theme and perhaps the most recognised component of a selection process AKA a promotion board.

Although it’s well known, individuals still turn up and knock on this particular door of opportunity significantly unprepared for it. That’s despite weeks and sometimes months of advance notice.

The timescales for a promotion selection process are a known, along with the fact that line supervisors are likely to recommend you for promotion and hopefully offer assistance.

We also know there is always more to learn and support is appreciated and valued.

Last but no means least, we know there will be more candidates than posts – ergo competition.

Known Unknowns

Things we do not know. 

In my experience, it is not unusual for aspiring officers to not know the role they are applying for. Being able to speak about it for five minutes is beyond them initially.

It’s easily admitted by most and quickly remedied but it’s a significant knowledge gap for anyone hoping to impress a promotion panel. Having a good understanding of the role also facilitates confidence in being proactive in written applications and verbally in an interview.

Another known unknown is lack of understanding around the type of interview or kind of questions candidates will face. Again, this gap is easily filled and awareness improved, so that reasonable anticipation of questions and potential responses can be considered and factored into effective preparation.

Wider challenges facing policing, a candidate’s force or what they will do as a newly promoted Sergeant or Inspector to contribute to successful policing are frequently recognised as known unknowns. A few choice questions can quickly identify these gaps and get to work on filling them so that a candidate is not only aware but has an in-depth insight and focus on what they have to offer the force in tackling these issues as a newly promoted leader, manager and supervisor.

A simple thing that can bypass candidates is the value of guidance and instructions issued by their force for the forthcoming promotion process. This often includes specific detail about what is important for the organisation at the time, qualities the force is looking for, guidance around the process and important rules to follow (e.g. Word limits)

Lots of candidates know they don’t know these things, but they attempt the process anyway. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but preparing ahead to get it right first time is about working smart as well as hard.

Especially when support is often hidden in plain sight.

Unknown Unknowns

These are things we don’t know we don’t know. For example, did you know that different forces have different promotion processes in place at different times for different ranks?

Not a lot of people know that  – Michael Caine

Most unknown unknowns can be thought of as ‘impossible to imagine in advance’. In other words, unidentified risks.

Preparing you to be an all round better candidate, confident and aware with a rounded perspective on leadership and your own development needs, can take time. The benefit is that it stands you in good stead for any process.

Discovering your unknown unknowns is about converting them to known unknowns so that they become manageable. You can focus and fill your gaps from there.

Why Are the Goal Posts Changing? 

Unknown unknowns become apparent or may ‘surface’ in coaching conversations. Alternatively, the ‘penny drops’ in a promotion Masterclass, where an unknown issue is highlighted and can then be expanded upon as required.

What occurs out there in the wider world and how it links to changing requirements in the context of promotion processes is one example. Common questions officers ask include:

  • Why are the goalposts changing?
  • Why are all these tests being introduced?
  • What have they got to do with policing?

These unknown unknowns remain unanswered for many.

It comes as surprise news that the World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified specific skills needed – up to 2020 and beyond – by leaders and line managers across various industries. It detailed them in a report the ‘Future of Jobs’ as follows:

  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • People Management
  • Co-ordinating with others
  • Judgement and Decision Making
  • Cognitive Flexibility.

Now overlay them across assessment tests in current police promotion selection processes and you can quickly recognise links, understand the context and get to work on practising assessment tests in advance to close your gaps. These skills are assessed against competencies described in your force promotion framework (e.g. decision making)

Indicators of Leadership High Potential

A common unknown is that the College of Policing (COP) has produced a document, which details indicators of leadership high potential. You’ll find it as an appendix to fast-track promotion guidance.

It describes expectations and is helpful for aspiring promotion candidates to align against. You can recognise skills identified in the WEF ‘Future of Jobs’ report including Emotional intelligence, Critical thinking and Decision-making.

Image Reproduced with permission of the College of Policing.

7 Things Promotion Boards Also Look For

Finally, if you are preparing ahead and would like something to trigger and support your thinking, you might discover some known knowns, known unknowns or even unknown unknowns in my FREE 50 page downloadable guide: ‘7 Things Promotion Boards Also Look For’.

In my next two blogs, I’ll focus on the roles of Sergeant and Inspector.Until then, wherever you are on your promotion journey I hope I have provided you with some food for thought.

Let us know your views by tweeting @PoliceHour We'll feature the best tweets within the article.

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