Riddles and Rules. A Perspective on Promotion Aspirations

“It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key”

The above is part of a quote by Winston Churchill from a speech made in 1939 on the subject of Russia and what role it might play in World War 2.

It might also accurately describe the perceptions of aspiring police officers who seek promotion to formal leadership positions to Sergeant or Inspector, giving the selection process their best shot but resulting in a ‘no thank you’ (for this time) from the organisation. Disappointment probably doesn’t begin to describe the initial feelings of rejection and it doesn’t help when there are individuals, who far from being ‘favourites’ (in gambling terms) at the start, emerge from a promotion selection process having been successful to the ‘surprise and amazement’ of many.

Train Smarter: The fitness testing analogy…

Police fitness runningOn promotion to sergeant, I failed the promotion fitness test in place at the time. This was a timed stationary cycling test whilst wired up like a lab rat to machines, with what I think was some kind of suffocation device over my mouth and nose (that’s my excuse anyway).

The weird thing was – as an ex Royal Marine – I was probably the fittest I had ever been and you could have knocked me down with a feather when I (narrowly) failed it! It just didn’t make sense. I was running about 40 miles a week at the time. I thought it would be a breeze.

The force physical training officer (PTI) put me right with a bit of feedback, “it’s a cycling test Steve, you need to prepare specifically by cycling, not running”. This was no doubt obvious to any PTI and it seemed everyone else worldwide, but it was a real light bulb moment for me! Thank heavens.

I had put a lot of effort in, but my preparation was wrong. A few days later, having adjusted my approach, I passed easily.

There is an analogy there, with many otherwise capable, operationally excellent officers, with how they can sometimes approach their own force promotion selection processes. Perhaps you’ve been ‘acting’ or ‘temporary’ in the rank of Sergeant or Inspector for a while. Perhaps you are the one who colleagues turn to on the section or team as the most experienced and respected problem solver; who ‘gets things done’, who keeps the wheel from coming off, who’s always the epitome of professionalism and who few would seriously doubt to be a clear ‘certainty’ for promotion. You know and everyone else knows you can do the supervisor’s job.

There’s a pinch point

It might seem wrong, but as with the cycling test I alluded to…little of that really matters in terms of preparing for the ‘actual test’ or tests for promotion. There isn’t enough time or space here to go into what’s fair in terms of promotion selection processes. Times change and the organisation needs different skills and talents at different times. Arguably it’s not a fair system the goal posts seem to change every year or so it seems.

However, if promotion is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, perhaps the ‘key’ or best strategy is to prepare as far ahead as possible. Easy to say, difficult to do. Especially when working shifts. And preparing in the right way for each stage is necessary (think prep for Ospre/NPPF exams… oh and cycling tests!).

Only the best applications get through

What does yours look like now? Here are some resources to help you on your way.

Those who perform best in interview tend to prevail

How are you preparing for yours now?

Promotion Do's & Don'ts

Some Do’s and Don’ts…

Some of the things you can DO right now…

  • Be clear ‘why you want promotion – what do you want?
  • Ensure your line managers are aware of your aspirations for promotion
  • Know the role you aspire to – how do you explain it if you are asked?
  • Find out and research as much as possible about your force and it’s promotion process in advance (it might be different each time)
  • Start collating your evidence by making notes about the times where you have demonstrated specific behaviours – aligned to the respective role requirements
  • Acquire and draft a promotion application form (if that is part of the process)… in advance and before you need to. Even if you don’t have this in your force it’s a great development exercise
  • Ask your SMT to arrange a mock board for you (and absorb every aspect of feedback you can get)
  • Have a CPD plan (hustle while you wait). Focus forward on what you want to achieve

Also here are some DON’TS…

  • Don’t lose heart. If you don’t succeed first time or you have previously/recently failed a selection process always seek feedback – to inform and adjust your future approach – and to learn from the experience. If your goal is to win promotions….they may be a stop further along the route than you had planned for and you may need to play a longer game
  • Don’t take ‘advice’ from too many people, it can confuse your approach. Find a couple of people who genuinely want you to succeed and are prepared to help
  • Don’t ignore books, articles and resources
  • Don’t overlook personal development opportunities e.g. coaching, mentoring, 360 feedback, speaker club, etc. They can build confidence and provide valuable insights e.g. Identifying knowledge and/or experience ‘gaps’ so you can get to work on filling them

In short, as Einstein put it, to solve the riddle, unwrap the mystery or to explain the enigma that sometimes surrounds promotion, perhaps the key is that:

“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else”

Kind Regards, Steve

Wherever you are on your promotion journey, www.ranksuccess.co.uk can help with guidance and support.