Police Promotional Assessment Centers Selection: Then What?

In small and medium sized law enforcement agencies, opportunities for promotion are periodic at best.  Often years will pass before another promotional opportunity is available.  It is in our professional best interest as leaders to prepare as many qualified individuals as possible for the next promotional opportunity.

In policing, a promotion is not only a personal and professional accomplishment, but a very public marker of a heathy organization.  Promotions are indicative of change and with change can come growth.  But there is risk in every promotional process.  We select those for promotion through any one of several promotion processes with the singular goal of identifying those best prepared to assume the role and responsibility of the next higher rank.

But a question that must be considered is – and then what? Routinely that individual selected for promotion begins an orientation and onboarding process for his/her new role in the organization.  But what about those who are labelled as the ‘not selected’?  What is to come for those men and women who are not promoted?

Reality is simply this – those not promoted can choose any of several responses to their situation.

  • Those not promoted may disengage from the organization, justifying that disengagement is the logical response to non-selection.
  • Those not promoted may opt to undermine others’ confidence in the promotion process or even the individual that was promoted.
  • Those not promoted may seek to consider their individual performance in the promotion process and seek to improve future performance prospects.

The clear and preferred choice is the third response.  Yet the question left unanswered at far too many law enforcement agencies is – how prepared are we to encourage those not selected for promotion to reconsider their individual performance and seek to actively improve their future promotional prospects?

The window in time we have available to answer that question is limited and truly bracketed.  An opportunity to review performance in a Police Promotional Assessment Center is invaluable.  Assessment Center participants, like most of us, have a flawed and often erroneous recall of personal performance.  During a voluntary, yet structured assessment center debriefing, participants can review their actual performance.  With the advent of video technology, they can view their actual performance as captured on video as they review the assessors’ comments.

Predictability and transparency are important attributes of any successful debriefing.  The debriefing should be highlighted as an element of the Assessment Center as it is being formed, for it is a logical step in the process.  A flexible but realistic schedule should be designed with opportunities for applicants to register for a debriefing during the week to ten days after the announcement of assessment center results.

Successful debriefings share several attributes.  First, these debriefings are flexible in regards to duration.  An hour may be a perfect fit for some while painfully too long for others.  A successful debriefing should not be rushed. Second, the debriefings are structured to ensure all major aspects of the assessment center are reviewed.  Third, those conducting the debriefings should be knowledgeable about the process and the technical aspects of the particular assessment center.  Finally, discretion must be ensured.  The place where the debriefing occurs can be as important as the content of that debriefing.  Seek a quiet but professional space, where a productive but uninterrupted dialog can occur.  It need not be at an office per se and it does not necessarily need to involve police command staff, rather qualified Human Resource professionals and career development specialists can prove to be very useful in all debriefing processes.

A voluntary Promotional Assessment Center Debriefing is not for the weak at heart.  Simply, it can be brutal to read the critiques of performance that demolish deeply held personal recollection of events.  However, having watched more than one non-promoted applicant read and then react to the written comments of assessors – it can highlight some specific areas for individual improvement.  Those identified individual deficiencies and a sensible improvement plan can be the foundation on which that individual can begin to improve performance in a future promotional assessment center.  In my view, such voluntary promotional assessment center debriefings are not only the right thing to do for the individual officer, but a necessary step in preparing your organization for the next promotional cycle.

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