This week I travelled to the West Midlands, for an exclusive interview with Staffordshire Chief Constable Chris Noble. Chris kindly set a couple of hours aside from his busy schedule to share incredible insights on the subject of police promotion and leadership. You won’t regret listening to this quality content, especially if you’re aspiring to Sergeant, Inspector, or higher ranks in policing.
I’d like to thank Chris again for making the time to share his insights on police promotion and leadership with you. I embed the podcast below, for which this blog gives extra context on Staffordshire Police along with my reflections and thoughts. Enjoy this audio and make sure you have a pen to hand!
I asked him a range of questions on policing and leadership, to which his responses are insightful and fascinating. There are tons of lessons here for aspiring police leaders everywhere, whether you seek promotion or lateral career development. He also shares his perspectives on controversial police matters like Performance Development Reviews (PDRs), his expectations of leaders, why Staffordshire decided to choose bespoke CVF values, the more strategic ranks of Inspector, Chief Inspector, and beyond, his advice for those officers seeking promotion, and much more!
Staffordshire Policing Context & Latest PEEL Assessment
“A safe and confident Staffordshire secured by an outstanding local police service that is passionate about serving the public, caring for its people and working in partnership.” – Staffordshire Police vision statement
Chris Noble became Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police in December 2021. This followed a varied and distinguished leadership career, beginning in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), before transferring to Humberside Police in 2017 as Assistant Chief Constable, at a time when Humberside was in special measures.
The force itself is a similar size to Humberside Police (which I visited just weeks earlier to interview CC Lee Freeman). Staffordshire Police has a 2022/23 budget of £233m to serve its 1.1m population. This funds a workforce of 3,400 people, including nearly 1,900 police officers.
The latest PEEL assessment was published in September 2022 by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), based on detailed inspection findings from earlier in the year. In another parallel with Humberside, Chris clearly has a job on his hands to turn the ship around in terms of performance. There were a raft of areas for improvement identified across the thematic inspection. See my video below for a summary overview…
To deliver the vision and improve the force’s standings among its peers in terms of PEEL performance, Staffordshire Police have set out their ‘plan on a page’. This incorporates an array of strategic objectives, organised under four simple themes: Communities, People, Partnerships, and Resources. Underpinning all this are three core values, as a locally bespoke version of the CVF: Caring, Collaborative, and Accountable. If you’re an aspiring police leadership candidate, you would do well to familiarise yourself with these priorities and values as part of meaningful, promotion-orientated CPD!
The BEST Advice for Aspiring Police Leaders
I start the interview by asking Chris the following bombshell question, cutting right to the chase for police promotion candidates listening in as part of their CPD:
“What’s the best advice you can offer listeners who aspire to promotion in the police service now?”
Chris comes back straight away with the importance of being clear with yourself on why you want promotion in the first place. What are your motivations? Also the importance of doing your homework on what you’re stepping into. Are you aware of the role for which you aspire to step up into? Have you considered the consequences, for example additional pressures and demands on you?
Then, he suggests exploring and understanding what good looks like, in terms of the role of Sergeant, Inspector, or other rank you seek. Then you can understand any gaps you have to making the jump. You can then make a really clear plan on your approach. Not just about planning for the promotion process, such as the forward-facing questions you may face at interview, but also planning for success and what you will do when you achieve promotion.
“The balance between good technical skills, someone who’s inspirational, and someone who looks after their staff.”
In another point that was music to my ears, Chris discusses how putting yourself in the psychological space of the role you aspire to will provide great advantages. For example, “start thinking like a Sergeant, immerse yourself”.
How to Get Promoted from Sergeant to Inspector?
We then got into the more strategic rank of Inspector, where I asked the following challenging question:
“What do you see the as the main requirement for a qualified Sergeant looking to make the jump to the more strategic rank Inspector?”
Chris articulates how he sees the Inspector rank as pivotal ‘middle managers’. Their job is key in terms of being aware of the force’s strategic objectives, then translating this into meaningful actions for their teams. In effect, making the strategy a reality on the ground. This comparison of strategic vs. tactical understanding is something I’ve blogged about before, and is expanded upon in my Inspector and Chief Inspector digital toolkit.
He also alludes to the often-overlooked function of the Inspector’s role: Inspecting. This means not just having a grip on the details and knowing what’s going on across their teams, but driving improvements in the business and standards. These are both operational and behavioural/cultural standards, and across a far wider ‘span of command’ than Sergeants. Cross-departmental working with counterparts is another aspect of this more strategic outlook.
“The expectation from my Inspectors is that they will get much more involved… beyond their immediate team, looking across the whole organisation.”
You may be interested to note that these themes of strategy, role definition, standards, inspecting, risk management and others are all incorporated my Inspector Promotion Toolkit.
Expectations of Leaders
We then get to the crux of what Chris wants to see in terms of leadership in Staffordshire, when I ask:
“What are your expectations of leaders?”
Firstly, Chris emphasises the importance of what he describes as “engaged leadership”. This means he wants leaders to be present in their daily work, not just visible in terms of rocking up to the occasional operational job. You’ll pick up on far more intelligence and information to inform your decision-making during the course of your day; picking up conversations in the margins and the bugbears to really know what is going on.
This is akin to the ‘intelligence led leadership’ approach I described following my conversation with CC Lee Freeman.
Secondly, Chris encourages his leaders to strike the balance between supporting staff, but also stretching and challenging them. This includes quickly and openly getting to grips with any performance issues emerging. He warns that too much friendly support may otherwise lead to an unhealthy dependency-based relationship, with a lack of feeling of autonomy in people’s decision-making confidence.
Finally, he’s keen for leaders who know the detail of their business areas, whether it’s the operating environment of staff, performance issues, or systems used. But not doing so in a way that undermines trust or autonomy of your team. From the discussion so far and points Chris made earlier, this seems to more be about seeking a deep understanding of your team and their work. You might even consider this part of being an emotionally-aware leader, a key competency of the CVF.
“Good leaders strike that balance between support and challenge.”
The CVF and Staffordshire’s Bespoke Values
We then explore the subject of values, the core element of the CVF, and how Staffordshire Police (like many other England & Wales forces) have chosen to create the bespoke CVF values…
“What made you diverge from the standard CVF values to your bespoke force values of Caring, Collaborative, and Accountable?”
While not aiming to compete with the Competency & Values Framework nor the values in the Police Code of Ethics, Chris felt it was important for values that come from his staff themselves. Leading this change in approach was a key part of moving from a ‘directorate’ model of policing to a much more local one.
- ‘Caring’ came out of recognising the importance of not just caring for victims and others in the community, but the desire to care for one another in the police family.
- ‘Collaborative’ goes beyond working with partners, but by also breaking down brick walls between departments and functions within the force, while also improving teamwork.
- ‘Accountable’ derived from staff wanting to be held to account, but having the tools to do the job.
These values are core to the culture of Staffordshire Police specifically and derived from staff engagement. As such, they’re also used as part of police promotion processes. With that in mind, it’s worth considering as a police promotion candidate:
“We spoke to around 1300-1500 staff, and those three values came through really strong as to defining Staffordshire as a police force.”
PDRs and Managing Individual Performance
We next got onto the controversial subject of Performance and Development Reviews (PDRs). I’ve blogged before on PDRs and how to do it right as a leader. But this is also a subject of keen interest to Chris. Here’s the triple-barrelled question I posed:
“PDRs are a controversial topic in policing. Why do you think that is and what are your views? How else should personal performance be meaningfully assessed?”
Chris shares how Staffordshire Police have recently reintroduced PDRs, treading carefully and consulting with staff along the way. Coming back to accountability value however, PDRs are a useful vehicle for holding people accountable for their performance.
Often overlooked however are the importance of PDRs to facilitate wellbeing conversations and aspirations for the future (including promotion). This is where the ‘development’ part comes into play in bridging any gaps. Chris suggests this should be based around a monthly conversation between supervisors and their staff.
He identifies some key reasons (including resolutions) for why “PDRs often trip over their own feet”, including for example how to avoid the bureaucracy of systems in completing them.
Chris is keen to point out however that managing personal performance shouldn’t be limited to PDR processes or monthly conversations. This should be dealt with in day-to-day supervision, as succinctly put below:
“If you see something, deal with it. If it’s good work, recognise it.”
The approach of 360-degree feedback from colleagues, bosses, and even victims are an interesting option being explored in Staffordshire Police. A useful learning point here to develop your own leadership capabilities is simply and informally asking for feedback and personal perspectives in your day-to-day work environment. As I’ve blogged before, gaining feedback is an important development tool for you as an emotionally aware leader, opening your Johari Window.
Further Questions & Insights
Believe it or not, this brief summary so far covers only the first half of my podcast interview with CC Chris Noble. Chris shares fascinating insights for the remainder of the interview, responding to the following questions about more senior leadership, his national policing portfolio and more:
“For ambitious Chief Inspectors, what do you expect to see in those seeking to cross the Rubicon to the rank of Superintendent? What would be essential CPD for them?”
You may find Chris’s views on ‘operational credibility’ interesting in response to this question.
“As the NPCC lead for Policing Protests, are there any key messages you’d like to share?”
“It’s been reported in the media recently that the police are recruiting people who are ‘barely literate in the English language’ to improve diversity and meet Uplift. How’s your force Uplift going, and how are you striking the balance between quantity and quality?”
This part of the conversation includes the controversial topics of police degree entry, attrition rates of new joiners, and accreditation for the profession. The story of Staffordshire’s uplift so far is also fascinating to hear, including the emphasis on standards given recent high-profile cases of some officers undermining public trust in policing.
“What are your views on using interviews in promotion selection processes?”
My ‘Postcode Lottery’ two-part blog outlines the controversies surrounding the myriad of selection processes in police promotion (and importantly how you can navigate them!). Here we discuss the subject and interviews in particular, including how to answer values-based questions, strengths-based questions, and forward-facing questions. Chris also shares his views on the Holy Grail of assessment processes: a competent and credible workplace-based assessment.
The ’professional conversation’ perspective is one I share within my Police Promotion Masterclass, encouraging promotion candidates to get into this mindset. I also liked the following statement as part of the response to my question:
“I’ve got a responsibility as Chief Constable to make sure my promotion panels get the best out of people and aren’t slaves to the process itself.”
I then closed with the following question (you’ll have to listen to find out CC Noble’s response):
“If you could travel back in time and speak to yourself as a young Constable, what single piece of career advice would you offer him?”
Closing Remarks & Thanks
All Chief Constable’s diaries are busy, so I was grateful for the opportunity and time Chris put aside to sharing his valuable insights on police leadership, including the local context within Staffs Police. Whether you’re at the rank of Constable or aspiring to Superintendent, I’m sure all levels of policing can learn from the leadership approaches and development ideas discussed.
I hope you found the podcast interview insightful and this executive summary here helpful for your own leadership and career development. If you’d like to get serious with your promotion ambitions, by all means download a toolkit and/or join me on my next police promotion masterclass.
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also 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.