In my recent podcast, I discuss police promotion success stories literally from Cork to Kathmandu. I share success stories and insights from England & Wales forces, PSNI, and a one of the many successful officers who contacted me about their 2022 An Garda Siochana promotion competition…

A Mountain to Climb?

“The hardest mountain to climb is the one within.” – J. Lynn

The Kathmandu reference relates to a fascinating story of Dan, an officer achieving Inspector promotion. On a trip to climb Mt Everest, and having to take a flight from Kathmandu to find the only hotel with a reliable internet connection in Pokhara, he shut himself into his room to prepare for his imminent promotion board. What a setting!

I found his dedication inspiring and was encouraged by the fact he confirmed my Inspector’s digital toolkit and videos were invaluable. You’ll see below how even the Superintendent who chaired his promotion panel was astounded. Clearly he did well in his force promotion competition; not bad considering he had to prepare whilst on the other side of the world!

“Hi Steve, we have never met, nor had any kind of dialogue. I’m emailing you to acknowledge your free videos on YouTube and the positive effect they had on my Inspector board. I had chosen to walk to Everest Base Camp, and shortly after booking the tickets my organisation opened a promotion process, announcing the new CVF being the assessment criteria. With days to go before I flew out, I had to start my application form from scratch, which presented a challenge in itself. With just a fortnight left to go before my board I took an internal flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara and after finding the only hotel with reliable Wi-Fi, I locked myself in my room with only your videos, a copy of the CVF, and my application form for preparation. The closing remarks from the Superintendent who chaired the panel were, ‘I don’t know how you managed to get so much information into your answers, but you managed it. I’m confident you’ll be successful in this process’. Yesterday it was confirmed. So, I’m emailing to personally thank you for your guidance. Without it, I would have struggled. Once again, many thanks. I thought you might like to know, hence dropping you a line.” – Dan, Newly Promoted Inspector

And yes Dan, it’s always a pleasure to hear of success so thanks for letting me know!

Don’t Forget: It’s a Competition!

Women promotion barriers

This aspect of ‘competition’ is an element many aspiring officers forget or overlook. Particularly when their only experience to date has been to hit a pass mark on an exam, or to achieve the leadership qualification in Police Scotland. This qualification is challenging enough, yet the next promotion hurdle is bigger, considering there’s competition involved; especially when processes faced by candidates can and do vary each year

Forces select only the best available candidates. In effect, these are typically the best prepared in advance for the opportunity. The preparation enables them to improvise, adapt and navigate any changes or booby-trap questions. There’s far more applicants for promotion opportunities than actual vacancies, ergo competition.

Becoming a ‘well prepared’ promotion candidate is different to being an effective operational cop. Failing to realise this proves frustrating for officers possessing the talent their force wants. Many will criticise current selection processes (and may well have a point). Others will commit to effective preparation to become the best that they can be. It’s also fair to say that some forces do little to support their own officers with relevant leadership and promotion CPD. These are the exact reasons why I started Rank Success, to support aspiring cops to progress their careers and become the next generation of future leaders in policing.

Promotion can sometimes feel like a mountain to climb. The exam is the first peak to conquer, akin to getting to ‘Base Camp’. You may need a rest before tackling the next stage and the biggest peak. In addition, the next stage can be tougher given there’s no black-and-white correct answers as the exam offers. Your ascent now includes interviews, psychometric tests, role plays and briefing or presentation exercises. All are designed to test your thinking, communication skills and abilities in other ways.

In competitions you can do well, maybe even set a ‘PB’, and still not get through; if others climbing to the next rank perform better, you’ll not make the cut. So, planning and preparation are key to understand what is required. More importantly however, this will also raise your awareness, build your confidence for the challenge and in competing, improves the odds of you reaching the summit.

Some officers choose to get ahead of the competition and significantly increase their odds, by seeking targeted police promotion and leadership support. It’s standard practice to buy Blackstone’s and other materials to prep for the purely intellectual challenge of the Sergeant’s or Inspector’s exam. However, most officers don’t even think of getting similar support or training for when the real competition begins. I wonder if I has something to do with the ‘back-biting’ and criticism when it comes to promotion preparation…

Inspector toolkit promotion
Inspector promotion toolkit:

‘Back-Biting’ on the Greasy Pole

One cultural issue in policing I sometimes notice is that seeking leadership support and promotion CPD can be frowned upon by peers. This antiquated ‘back-biting’ aspect of policing culture is why aspiring officers often seek career support covertly. Officers are also reticent to publicise their success stories, for fear of criticism from peers. That’s one reason why I always ask permission to use officer’s feedback on my services, rarely mention names with forces, use only first names, sometimes use aliases, and often don’t even publish the comments I receive whatsoever. In fact, confidentiality is key to any professional coaching and support.

It’s also one of the reasons why I’ve previously described promotion as a ‘greasy pole’ to climb…

Clearly for some officers, such as those in specialist/covert roles or forces like PSNI, attributing their feedback to an agreed alias or ‘Anon’ as a testimonial is an acceptable compromise. However, it’s also at this point of seeking permission that I pick up on genuine concerns expressed by officers, who you might otherwise think would want to shout their success from the top of a mountain! Examples of the sorts of things I hear include:

  • “Happy for you to share it Steve, but I’d rather you didn’t use my name; lots didn’t get through and I’m younger/have years less service than many of them.”
  • “Can you use Anon please Steve. I haven’t mentioned I’ve had support and I’d feel more comfortable under the radar.”
  • “Coaching is cheating” is another phrase used in policing. Such comments discourage successful individuals from ‘admitting’ to colleagues that they prepared quietly, behind the scenes, with targeted support with things like demystifying the CVF.

It’s a strange and unhelpful phenomenon in policing when you think about it. In stark contrast, other sectors actively encourage their leaders’ CPD, or even mandate and fund!  This includes support to progress their careers and an expectation for senior leadership positions. I’m aware of such practices from my executive coaching experiences and general ongoing leadership research.

I’d be interested to hear any views, comments, or experiences on this in policing. I think it may just be scratching the surface of some of the cultures around UK and Ireland police forces.

Moving Goalposts

In my podcast episode below, I also cover how forces, both across the UK and Ireland, consistently change the promotion processes. This requires significant resilience and was a challenge for the officer in An Garda Siochana, with new tests and even a new competency framework to surmount since she began preparing for promotion. I do however like the straightforward definitions of the new competencies used in Ireland, which unlike the CVF provides a simple explanation of the role:

  • Evaluation
  • Judgement & Decision-Making
  • Organising & Managing Delivery
  • Relationships & Effective Communication
  • Supervising to Achieve High Standards
  • Leading on Inclusivity, Diversity, Wellbeing & Resilience

The skills are quite clearly defined, but can also be easily mapped to the CVF for an anorak in behavioural frameworks like me. Plus ca change!

“Well at last the day has arrived where the results of the Garda to Sgt promotion results are out and………. I did it!!!!!!! Thank you so much Steve for your guidance, mentoring and coaching in my quest to follow my dreams! Your digital guides and aids really focused my preparation, and I was so grateful for them. Every good wish to you and continued success.” Anon – Passed Garda Sergeant promotion competition

If you’re also finding the ‘moving goalposts’ a challenge from one year to the next, you may find my specific blog on this subject helpful: ‘Police Promotion: A Postcode Lottery’. Further, my digital toolkit (eGuides and video Masterclass) provide timeless definitions of the role, how you can focus your preparation, and examples of what good looks like to help you on your journey. If you do the targeted yet hard work, in time the competencies will become clear to you. More importantly, you’ll more naturally be able to evidence against them why you are a suitable candidate for promotion.

Another aspect of moving goalposts is the introduction of psychometric tests, which I also discuss here in another dedicated free blog. In short, the secret is PRACTICE!

Watch, Listen, and Learn…

I hope you’ve found this writeup of my recent free video and podcast helpful. If you want to listen, I’ve embedded the Spotify version below. You can also listen to my podcast via other apps or by asking your smart device to play the Rank Success podcast. In addition, I embedded the video for those of you who want to see me talk this through; the ‘Closed Captions’ (CC) feature on YouTube is a handy tool for seeing what I say written down and with the sound off.

Until next time, I wish you all the very best on your journey to success!

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 videoseGuidesa podcast, plus free blog content both here and via my Police Hour guest articles.