Implementing and Maintaining Succession Planning in Public Safety

This is part three 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 focused on how selection systems play a part in succession planning. Part 3 focuses on implementation and maintenance.

In this series of articles we have been sharing information regarding the design, implementation, and maintenance of succession plans with our focus being on public safety organizations with a particular emphasis on the use of assessment centers to assist in selecting appropriate participants. We have also emphasized the necessity of determining the scope of the program and ensuring that the KSAP’s identified for measurement in the center cover the levels within the organization and provide diagnostic information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of all participants.

Creating and selecting the appropriate exercises for inclusion in the assessment center may require the assistance of a consultant if a sufficient level of expertise is not available within existing staff. Regardless of who does the work, it is critical that job related simulations that closely parallel the work to be performed are used to elicit the widest range of behaviors possible from candidates. Again, this is an area where people are tempted to put candidates on the spot or get tricky or clever and all these temptations need to be avoided. Whoever designs the center needs to include those elements that have been identified as constituting an actual assessment center, these generally include:

  • More than one assessment technique is used and at least one is a simulation.
  • More than one assessor is used and assessors receive extensive training.
  • The decision on who participates and receives training is based on a pooling of information.
  • Overall evaluation occurs after completion of the exercises.
  • All rating dimensions are created from a thorough analysis of the job
  • All techniques used relate back to the dimensions.

Administration of the assessment center along with the selection of candidates for inclusion would generally mark the implementation phase. Although, it should be noted that a good succession plan will most likely move back and forth between the phases since modifications should be made as information is gained.

The important things that make the assessment center an effective diagnostic tool have to be the point of focus. The KSAP’s that are critical need to be identified, appropriate exercises that provide a link between the job and elicit behaviors that can be evaluated in terms of these KSAP’s need to be utilized, and of course properly trained assessors need perform with due diligence in evaluating the participants and providing feedback to the participants and management.

The critical aspects of feedback should be focused on creating a document that serves as an accurate indicator of the current development level of participants along with a delineation of strengths and weaknesses. Further, the information gained from each candidate’s performance in the center should be used to create and individual development plan. This is where the department’s organizational development unit will dovetail with the succession plan. The capabilities and course offerings of the Organization and Educational Development (OED) unit should have been evaluated in the design phase and once the assessment center has been administered and individual development plans have been created, they should be compared to what the OED unit has to offer. In some instances the coursework that facilitates promotional potential will have already been put in place and in others the development plans may indicate the need for new courses. In either case, the OED unit is a key element in supporting the succession plan and the development of human capital.

In addition to formal training of the class room variety, the organization should be prepared to provide mentors to facilitate and support the development of individuals assigned and a rotation of candidates through the key assignments should be developed and implemented. That is in the case of lieutenants being prepared to become captains; the lieutenants should be given the opportunity to shadow captains in each one of the unique assignments given to captains. For example, if in addition to being a control commander, captains are also assigned management responsibilities for the crime lab, communications, investigations, and intelligence, a schedule should be established that allows lieutenants that have chosen to participate in the succession program to spend a specified period of time in each one of these assignments.

Selecting mentors to work with the participants in the program and selecting assessors to evaluate those indicating an interest in participating in the program are key elements to the success of your succession plan. Mentors out of design and necessity will be current employees while assessors can be employees, but do not have to be. In that regard, there is value in selecting at least some assessors from outside the organization so that they can provide a perspective of the candidates beyond what internal assessors may see. Organizations should be careful not to label employees too quickly and allowing these labels to impact future evaluations of individual performance despite real changes in an individual’s behavior. Outside assessors may help overcome some of these biases.

Mentors and assessors regardless of whether they are internal or external need to reflect the type of thinking and accomplishments that contribute to the success of their respective organizations. In addition to selecting the best individual available to serve as mentors and assessors, both groups need to be provided with extensive training.

Assessors need to be provided training that includes a complete overview of the program that emphasizes its importance along with an overview of the assessment center and what it is designed to accomplish. In particular assessors need to be reminded of the basics of observing, classifying and rating behavior. They need to know exactly what each exercise is intended to measure and what constitutes each level of performance through the use of behaviorally anchored rating scales. Assessors should also be schooled in basic EEO concepts and what types of behaviors may be considered as discriminating on an illegal basis. The training also needs to emphasize the criticality of documenting observations, taking extensive notes and being prepared to provide extensive feedback on performance.

Mentors need to be selected based on their positions, level of education and training, success in their career progression and willingness to participate in the program. These individuals need to receive training also. Their training needs to focus on an overview of the program, the KSAP’s that are targeted for development and the importance of remaining neutral in the process. That is, they should be made aware that it is not their role to champion the cause of any one individual in the program. In addition, each mentor that is part of the rotation of candidates through key positions should be shown how to develop a lesson plan for his or her assignment that can be used to ensure that each individual in the rotation gets a standardized learning set.

In the maintenance phase it may be necessary to actually assign a full or part time succession plan manager or coordinator. While these articles have only skimmed the surface of the myriad of issues involved in the succession planning process and have identified how assessment centers could be utilized to select participants, they have indeed demonstrated just how complex this entire process is. Therefore, the value of having someone intimately familiar with all aspects of the plan including its goals and objectives to oversee the program can readily be seen.

It should be the role of the coordinator to continually advertise the program and its successes, respond to questions from participants and mangers, monitor participants and mentors, schedule and administer assessment centers, revise policies and procedures as necessary, and monitor the progress and retention of participants. In addition, the coordinator should serve as a liaison between OED and the program as well as the liaison between unions and the program.

Hopefully, this series of articles has provided some insights into the succession planning process and its importance along with how assessment centers can be used as a key element in selecting participants. As emphasized, assessment centers not only provide a recognized and fair methodology for selection, they also provide a great diagnostic tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses which can form the foundation for training successors. The complexity of succession plans and the uniqueness of organizations prevented this series from being an in-depth how-to manual, but rather identified issues and concerns with the process along with possible solutions.

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