Having supported countless UK police officers in recent years successfully achieve promotions, the element of strategic thinking (or initial absence of it) is a consistent area of focus particularly for Inspector and Chief Inspector ranks. Effective promotion preparation always includes, considers, or addresses strategic aspects, especially if you seek promotion to the more senior roles and ranks of Inspector and Chief Inspector. Here I provide a police PESTLE, SWOT analysis and other strategic thinking tools.

“Strategic thinking rarely occurs spontaneously.” – Michael Porter

In my previous blog entitled Inspector: A Strategic Perspective, I allude to the Inspector’s role featuring a strategic dimension, highlighting this as something many Sergeants aiming for the next rank frequently overlook. It is also one of the 5 common mistakes made by Sergeants seeking promotion to Inspector! That’s often still the case, but quickly resolved when motivated individuals read, think through and reflect upon the detailed strategic evidence examples, tips and guidance in my bespoke Inspector/Chief Inspector preparation toolkit.

Developing Your Strategic Thinking

Police strategic thinking

“The most effective tool to develop your strategic thinking skills is that you are led by someone who is highly strategic.” – Institute of Knowledge and Leadership

Strategic briefings, strategy meetings, performance management, and strategic project boards all await you in the next ranks after your police promotion. So, what does ‘strategic thinking’ really mean? More importantly, how can you develop your strategic thinking skills?

In the reality of promotion selection, things don’t just stop at the Competency and Values Framework (CVF) Level 2. In this postcode lottery of UK police promotion, some police forces assess Chief Inspector candidates at the Superintendent and Chief Officer level (CVF Level 3) on at least some of the behavioural aspects. This is something to bear in mind if you have an eye on career progression beyond the Federated ranks.

As I’ve mentioned before, your CPD and that of others is the number 1 leadership area. CPD is also a common interview question and good to build your evidence around the CVF competency, ‘We take ownership’. As you develop your career into more senior roles, you will need to cross the Rubicon from tactical supervision to more strategic management and leadership. The relevance of strategic thinking is clear to your promotion within the following example CVF descriptors, which provide clear insight into strategic aspects of the inspector role.

We Deliver, Support and Inspire: ‘I keep track of changes in the external environment, anticipating both the short and long term implications for the police service.’

We Analyse Critically: ‘I think about different perspectives and motivations when reviewing information and how this may influence key points.’

We are Innovative and Open Minded: ‘I am able to spot opportunities or threats which may influence how I go about my job in the future by using knowledge of trends, new thinking about policing and changing demographics.’

Inspector Promotion Toolkit

So what do the terms ‘strategic’ and ‘tactical’ mean exactly in the context of police leadership? Here’s six examples of the difference between strategy and tactics; you’ll find more in my digital toolkits for the Inspecting ranks:

1: One attribute distinguishing strategic leaders in public service is recognising that the techniques of past success do not guarantee future success.

2: Strategic means taking an interest in your force and the police service as a whole, not just your own department, area or unit.

3: Strategic awareness can be demonstrated by linking outcomes (end result, final product, consequence, or conclusion) of your examples to benefits for the force. For example, how did your actions benefit staff or the wider community or contribute to performance? What processes were improved as a result of your actions? Where did you add value? How have you contributed directly to force policing priorities, to improvements across other departments, or perhaps a change you made has been implemented as good practice elsewhere? This is all great for building your promotion evidence and articulating the impact you made.

4: Strategic means a leader who does less themselves and more through others. Improving delegation skills/ability within the role function is a way of working more strategically.

5: The role of leader changes from influencing individuals to influencing organisations.

6: Strategic means operating within longer time horizons. The function of ‘developing and implementing plans’ may take many months to achieve, so an effective Inspector will build in milestones and reviews along the way.

What does strategic thinking mean to you?

“Helped me to elevate my thinking to the level of the next rank.” – Successful Inspector after using Rank Success services

The good news is that your ability to think strategically can be developed. Where are you now with this? There will be opportunities to hone this ability. Finding a mentor to aid your development is one option and there are various strategic thinking tools you can use to develop your skills too. What follows are some specific tools that you may find helpful, plus you may also be interested to watch my recent video about strategic thinking and PESTLE on my Rank Success YouTube channel…

Promotion support for inspectors and sergeants

UK Police PESTLE Analysis

Police PESTLE analysis for promotion

Definition: The PESTLE analysis is a thinking tool to structure external threats and opportunities facing an individual, team, organisation, or policing more generally.

What is a PESTLE analysis? PESTLE is simply one of many helpful mnemonics to help structure thinking around the external factors and issues facing individuals, teams or organisations. You use the tool to help examine the external environment and assess societal trends. PESTLE analysis is a framework to analyse the following key factors: Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental.

Everyone and anyone can think of resource/funding limitations impacting on policing (under the ‘Economic’ theme); in fact it has almost exclusively dominated the national debates and attention throughout the history of policing, in particular the last decade in relation to how many police officers there are. However, the infographic above provides a police-specific PESTLE giving you a broader understanding of key issues for each theme beyond the mundanities of money. 

The factors to consider may impact policing locally, forcewide, regionally, or nationally. These factors can then be translated into recognising particular opportunities and threats in your operating environment to help inform your strategic planning. A key function of the timeless role of Inspector I define in my eGuides and Video Masterclass is ‘Develop & Implement Plans’. Police promotion candidates in Police Scotland may want to view its assessment of the external environment within the 2020/21 Police Scotland Annual Policing Plan.

Examples I discuss in my Police Promotion Video Masterclass is shown in the bespoke police PESTLE analysis infographic above. With a little research, you may find your own force has conducted their own PESTLE analysis, for example see this PESTLE analysis and SWOT for the Metropolitan Police Service. You will also find the key factors in your force’s own ‘Strategic Assessment’ documents, often published publicly on the PCC’s website. Here’s an example Police Strategic Assessment for Cumbria Police.

Identifying the external opportunities and threats then in turn can help build a SWOT analysis…

Police SWOT Analysis

Police SWOT Analysis Template

Definition: The SWOT analysis is a thinking tool to appraise external opportunities and threats against internal strengths and weaknesses, aiding future planning for individuals, teams or organisations.

What is a SWOT analysis? The SWOT analysis is another mnemonic and strategic thinking tool. It’s used for considering external opportunities and threats (identified for example in a PESTLE analysis) against your own strengths and weaknesses, to inform future planning. It involves pairing together the external environment with internal capabilities, considering the potential implications. This analysis then informs more effective strategic planning for the future.

Consider the prompts in the above Rank Success template SWOT infographic above to help get you started on your own appraisal. For example, the Met Police have identified digital technology as both a threat and an opportunity for the future in the current Met Police 2018-2025 strategy. An additional useful resource for risks can be found in your force’s Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment (STRA) documents.

The SWOT can be scaled to the national, regional, force, BCU, or even local / team level, depending on the context. You can also use it as a personal SWOT to inform your CPD, a ‘Killer Question’ on police promotion boards and helpful should you face strengths-based interview questions. As I’ve blogged before, reading is essential to your CPD; so reading broadly and deeply about the issues facing policing and your force (here’s my 5 top reads to get you started!) will help connect you to strategic thinking.

The SWOT is also one of the useful approaches I outline in my comprehensive ‘Interview Success’ eGuide. This is because it helps structure your thinking when preparing for presentations or briefings, as part of a promotion interview board.

Promotion board inspector sergeant

Pushes and Pulls on (Chief) Inspectors

Chief Inspector police pushes and pulls

“Pressure can burst a pipe or make a diamond.” – Nate Silver.

My bespoke Rank Success infographic of ‘Pushes & Pulls’ gives an idea of some of the pressures and demands you may expect at Chief Inspector rank. The graphic is also a bridge to more senior leadership roles beyond the Federated ranks. You are likely to have the opportunity to perform ‘Acting’ Superintendent duties sooner than you may think. Therefore having this graphic to support your thinking towards more strategic awareness, may help provide an ‘edge’. Certainly so over candidates limiting themselves purely to Level 2 (middle manager) preparation.

I cover this strategic thinking tool more in my blog series, ‘Thrifty Shades of Grey, which considers the following example police promotion interview question:

“Senior & police leaders often work in grey areas. How will you operate effectively and efficiently in the grey?”

Consider also being asked the following interview question on your Chief Inspector’s board relating to CPD: “What have you done to develop yourself beyond the next rank?” It’s a useful question to consider. 

It’s a question that could easily be used to distinguish candidates who are thinking more strategically in this highly competitive process. The force is making a significant investment in your potential by promoting you into a position that may extend beyond Chief Inspector… if you want it!

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

Green hat de Bono thinking tool

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

I’ve blogged before about De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats in detail in the context of police promotion uncertainties. I’ll briefly cover again here, because it’s a fantastic and flexible tool to generate different perspectives on any given problem or challenge. It is useful when considering options individually, in teams, and to inform strategic approaches for the future. That’s having considered the operating environment (PESTLE), your capabilities (SWOT), and pressures within the Inspecting role (pushes & pulls).

In a nutshell, it is using different types of ‘thinking caps’, denoted by different colours, to prompt you into thinking differently about problem solving and decision making (key leadership behaviours!).

The six hats are considered in sequence and are as follows:

White Hat: The white hat is about information gathering and data. It is used to identify further information that may be needed.

Red Hat: The red hat considers feelings, emotions, and intuition. It allows you to express your feelings without having to offer a rational explanation.

Yellow Hat: The yellow hat considers the benefits and feasibility. It is optimistic, encouraging consideration of the bright side of a new idea or decision and to view it logically and rationally.

Black Hat: The black hat expresses caution and criticism. It is for a stern judge to critically assess the risks through critical thinking and using a devil’s advocate approach.

Green Hat: The green hat is your creative thinking hat for brainstorming new ideas, possibilities and innovative approaches.

Blue Hat: This is the strategic thinking hat, summarising ideas, giving an overview, forming conclusions and then making decisions.

Whilst you may not directly refer to the Six Thinking Hats model in an interview, utilising this thinking tool can aid your preparation of responses for questions relating to problem-solving and decision-making (e.g. under ‘We Are Collaborative’). Download my Interview Success guide for an assortment of practice example interview questions, aligned to each UK promotion framework competency and value.

Bespoke Guidance for Inspector & Chief Inspector Promotion…

Inspector Promotion Toolkit

Whatever the process for promotion selection, understanding of the past, investigating the future, and using tools like PESTLE/SWOT to interpret the present, can all help you demonstrate strategic awareness. Understanding the operational pushes and pulls upon strategic leadership roles and using different thinking hats for problem-solving provides further perspectives.

“I purchased Steve’s inspector guide, which I found useful to see how evidence should be structured. What I particularly liked was the way the guide laid out the different word count examples, for example 250, 300 and 500 words, and how to answer force specific questions around personal statements of what I would bring to the rank. The guide also helped to structure my interview examples and how best to create a clear vision for what I would demonstrate and achieve in the next rank. Steve’s assistance has been over six years and I thoroughly recommend the Inspector guide for those seeking promotion. The guide helped me broaden my thinking and awareness for the rank of Superintendent and would be equally of use to those applying for Chief Inspector and Superintendent, because I’ve yet to see anything which gives candidates this clear advice and guidance to best structure their evidence to be successful in a police promotion process.” – Jon, Superintendent

If you would like to go further with some smart, targeted preparation in relation to the Inspecting ranks, understanding the role, and seeing nearly 70 examples of what great promotion evidence looks like, then download my 150-page Inspector and Chief Inspector digital toolkit.

I hope you found this blog useful and please see my dedicated toolkit for the ranks of Inspector and Chief Inspector (two ranks in one product) for further targeted support on your journey to the more senior ranks.

Kind Regards, Steve

If you found this blog helpful, you can hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast, plus free blog content both here and via my Police Hour guest articles.

Rank Success Services for Promotion