How Selection Systems Play A Part In Succession Planning

This is part two of a three part series on succession planning in public safety departments. Part 1 focused on the organizational review and design of a succession planning process. Part 2 focuses on how selection systems play a part in succession planning. Part 3 will focus on implementation and maintenance.

As emphasized in Part 1 of this series of articles, it is critical in succession planning, to identify the employee pipeline in terms of its source, entry level and end point. It was also established that while rather generic in general, this series of articles is written with public safety organizations in mind and is intended for their benefit. In my experience I haven’t worked with any public safety departments that give serious consideration to the promotional potential of entry level candidates and yet to be successful, succession planning, needs to recognize that this is where it starts.

Most public safety organizations have rather rigid promotional requirements that typically include a specified time in the grade occupied before being eligible to compete for vacancies in the next level. That is, police officers usually have to spend two to four years as an officer before they are eligible to test for or be considered for sergeant, sergeants typically have to be sergeants for two to four years before they can test for or be considered for lieutenant and so forth on up to the top position. Police departments vary, of course, in their time in grade requirements as well as their selection methodology; however, the requirements cited are typical. Other things, typical or relatively common within public safety organizations is that selections for lower levels are not made with higher levels in mind or with any consideration of candidates outside the organization, both of which are important factors impacting succession planning.

Again, the key in the pipeline flow of qualified individuals to fill the needs at all levels within the organization must be included in the design phase, the entry and the end points. Entry level selection procedures typically identify and test for the knowledge, skills, and abilities, required at the police officer level, but perhaps should include consideration for factors related to promotability.

Similarly, public safety departments as well as other organizations often overlook the top end of the organization, in the case of police organizations that would be the chief, or perhaps sheriff. I believe this is a serious error. Setting aside the top level as unattainable creates a discouraging atmosphere for an organization’s top performers while encouraging them to look outside the organization for top level positions. That means that the best and most expensive talent within the organization is unavailable. Since this too is common, succession planning should consider getting those within the city, county or state that are involved in the selection process for the “top cop” onboard with the fact that there is a succession plan in place that is designed to provide well qualified internal candidates to fill that position. As indicated in the discussion on design, there may be factors such as local laws, civil service rules, or other constraints that impact the ability to promote from within, but these things should be addressed and considered in the development of the plan. This is particularly important since in many large public safety organizations, the chief or sheriff has the authority to appoint who he or she chooses to fill positions such as assistant chief, deputy chief and perhaps even captain. A succession plan that has no impact on all of these selections at the higher levels will be doomed.

Once the scope of the program has been established, it is critical to look at the levels covered and how individuals will be identified to participate in the succession plan along with who will receive the necessary training and experience to rise through the ranks. In that regard, assessment centers which are in common use as selection tools to determine eligibility for becoming lieutenant and above provide and excellent methodology for identifying those who currently have the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics (KSAP’s) necessary for promotion along with those who don’t and what is lacking in those that don’t. That is, the assessment center becomes more of a diagnostic tool as conceived by the original users of assessment centers which started during WWII inGermany, then progressed toBritainand then finally had their first use in theUnited Statesthrough the Office of Strategic Services, a wartime agency used to recruit and train spies.

Of course, to identify who does and who doesn’t have the prerequisite KSAP’s for promotion, it will be necessary to identify what those KSAP’s are. Therefore, it will be necessary to do a very thorough review of all available information. This review should include a thorough job analysis of all positions included in the succession program as well as a review of job descriptions or class specifications, reviews of recent results on selection instruments, a review of incumbent success or non-success and discussions with incumbents in the targeted positions as well as supervisors. The success of the program is going to depend on a thorough job of identifying the key components of the work for each position in the program as well as the KSAP’s necessary for success. It should also be noted that it may not be sufficient to look at lieutenants, captains, and deputy chiefs generically since in essence this is where that question arises as to whether a manager is a manager or managers in different fields are indeed different and possess different KSAP’s. Organizations will, out of necessity, have to determine the extent that they believe managers and supervisors are generic and need to possess the same basic KSAP’s and the extent to which they believe they have unique positions. Put another way, is a Division Chief just as capable of managing the crime lab as he or she is capable of managing the communications division, or investigations, or human resources or are other mangers with more training in these areas more capable.

Organizations that are willing to honestly consider this question will also be confronted with some other questions or considerations. In particular, they will need to take a hard look at the absolute policy and practice of promotion from within and civilian versus commissioned in terms of filling key management levels that are not truly police functions. It can be argued both ways. Many “top cops” having risen through the ranks want to maintain the status quo and ensure that there are promotional opportunities for their fellow commissioned officers, on the other hand, it can be argued that in many instances highly trained and knowledgeable civilians who are professionals in their field make better managers in their respective fields than commissioned officers do. In that regard, some studies were conducted many years ago that found several police organizations suffered from what was termed “organizational incest.” The authors found that efficiency and effectiveness suffered when everyone that was promoted had to come from within the organization which represented a much smaller applicant pool when compared to the applicant pool outside the organization. Therefore, KSAP’s were more confined and more conforming within the organization as was awareness of other ways of thinking and accomplishing missions and goals.

Hopefully, the examination of the necessary KSAP’s will shed some light on the answers to this question. Then, the focus can shift from identifying the KSAP’s to determining how they are best measured.

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