Given the stresses and strains on policing, and the sea of change officers are facing, just for a moment, forget the cliché that ‘change is the only constant’. How can you as a leader provide an anchor? At least some stability or certainty? While being aware of and leading change well is important, the wellbeing of and success of your team demands a little stability.

“We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value, when none can offer a firm foothold?” – Marcus Aurelius

In this blog, first I’ll discuss the turbulent landscape for policing, change fatigue, your approaches to change, changing your preparation mindset to promotion, and scratch the surface of change models you might not have previously considered. Then we’ll dive into the value of certainty and your role as an anchor in the swirling sea of change. Enjoy, and do please consider contributing to keep the coffee flowing for more free content.

Thinking About Change… Too Much Turbulence?

Reactions to promotion changes

The above image is my bespoke ‘reactions to change’ infographic, one of many you’ll find in my tried and tested promotion eGuides. In terms of wellbeing, for many operational cops being driven daily from pillar to post ‘Change Fatigue’ is a chronic, yet mostly overlooked as an issue in today’s police organisations.

Change fatigue happens when there’s simply too much change taking place at the same time to allow people to focus on the regular job, and/or when changes happen straight after one another, without allowing sufficient time to settle and assess the new ways of working.

So what does change fatigue look like across your force exactly? Well, you’ll notice among individuals and teams a widespread sense of indifference, scepticism, or even anger towards new changes. Much like my bespoke infographic above of the ‘reactions to change’ (extract from my premium toolkits). This negatively impacts not only any attempts to implement other changes, but also causes deterioration in usual business, as motivation wanes while burn-out and frustration take hold.

In policing there’s a constant drive to innovate, change and to mix things up, be it new IT systems, processes and/or policies, whilst at the same time increasing expectations around service delivery. There’s even a specific wording nailing this in terms of leadership competency within the Competency and Values Framework (CVF):

Constantly changing and adapting is part of our role”.

So what are your thoughts about that?

The change landscape presents a constant learning curve, featuring a stack of ‘aide memoires’. Dare I say it, there’s also what I describe in my promotion journey map the ‘pet project cemetery’; a host of hare-brained, doomed initiatives, driven by ruthlessly ambitious leaders, simply seeking something of theirs to be able to point at as their flagship promotion evidence. Don’t be that person! There’s plenty of promotion evidence available in supporting people and providing stability too.

This is where your leadership approach can make all the difference, for example by alleviating the impact of changes upon those affected most. Keeping abreast of developments in policing as part of your CPD, you’ll hear constantly calls for change in police leadership and culture. Incidentally, you may have missed a blog published only this week, which shares research and findings by Fiona Meechan in her PhD: “Intelligence Led? Policing, people leadership and compassion”. She discusses the need for speed in culture improvement, through a qualitative study of senior police leaders, guided by ‘Intelligent Compassion’.

Is it ever really possible as a leader to be an anchor, or at least a source of stability in times of change? The short answer is “it depends”. It’s helpful to read widely as part of your CPD to understand different perspectives. This could be the rules of management or even taking philosophical approaches. On philosophy, Marcus Aurelius writes:

“There is nothing bad about undergoing change, or good in emerging from it. Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time makes eternity.

That quote is from ‘Meditations’, a source of stoic wisdom and philosophy I have personally found tremendously helpful when reflecting on my own life and challenges. Written 2,000 years ago, The Mediations take the form of a personal notebook. I have found the best translation is by Professor Gregory Hays, because he writes in plain English and makes the writing of Marcus Aurelius and his cosmic perspective succinct and clear, e.g. “There is nothing new under the sun”.

So why is this important? Well, presuming you have some thoughts and ideas on the subject and are happy to engage, in a promotion selection process, the panel are generally all ears as to what you say. In fact, they are assessing and marking you on what comes out of your mouth.

They may ask the following rear-facing promotion board question for example:

“Can you give an example of when you have implemented or introduced a change?”

This could be followed up with supplementary ‘probing’ or ‘drill down’ questions to help you communicate a full response. Even if not laid out like this, considering them anyway gives you the best chance possible to flesh out your compelling story. They could include:  

  • Who was affected?
  • What obstacles did you encounter?
  • How did you overcome this?

My aim as a police promotion coach and mentor is to support, challenge and respectfully provoke thinking relating to the formal leadership roles of Sergeant, Inspector or Chief Inspector. In a nutshell, each of these roles encompass leadership responsibility for three key areas: People, Performance and Change.

Changing Your Leadership Preparations

When it comes to change, as with other areas, I find significant knowledge gaps with my clients. This includes a basic overview of what’s happening at a local, force, or national level of policing. This is almost always due to a lack of preparedness or readiness, which can then constrain your ability or willingness to have a professional conversation about change pitched at the level of the rank aspired to, aligned to CVF Level 2, and importantly proactive in nature. That stems from confidence.

Such gaps of course then significantly reduce your chances of success in a promotion selection process. In an interview or as part of a presentation, you are provided with an opportunity to share verbal responses that demonstrate your leadership thinking and leadership actions relating to questions, scenarios or briefing exercises. Nobody can guarantee your success but you, and it all comes down to your smart and effective preparation.

Performing well in highly competitive processes is (almost without exception) linked to effective preparation. By that, I mean you making a personal and professional commitment to yourself to apply yourself to a depth and breadth of preparation beforehand. I’d estimate that around three quarters of candidates actively or unwittingly sabotage their chances of success by making the decision to start preparing only when the force advertises a promotion selection process.

A solution to that and to get match fit ahead of opportunity is the tried, tested and proven support option to download a bespoke digital promotion toolkit. This quickly raises your awareness and builds your confidence via focused effort, making best use of your time. It also equips you with the means to ‘hit the ground running’, get a head start on competitors and improve the odds of your success.

“A colleague told me about you and I started listening to your podcasts. I invested in your digital Inspector’s toolkit. I found out yesterday I passed my board, I came top in the Force – I’m flabbergasted! Thank you for what you do. Your free content alone changed how I think about policing and my role within it. I watched and listened to your masterclass video several times over – it really is excellent” – Dave

When you decide to go for promotion, you are seeking to step up and asking for the chance to formally lead others in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment, so how will you support your teams in such a setting? Are you ready now? What’s important?

Thinking through these issues now really pays off when you come to have that professional conversation. The one that determines whether it is you or someone else who receives that life-changing call confirming your promotion:

“Today I discovered I passed my Chief Inspector board (1st time)! I’d been listening to your podcasts and reading your blogs, but found most benefit in the downloadable guides and masterclass, which cemented my knowledge and helped me structure my responses. I am so grateful to you for giving clarity to a process which is incredibly competitive and brutal… even when you pass!” – Zoe

Change Management Models: All are wrong, some are helpful

“One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” – Robert E. Quinn

When it comes to change, especially if you are considering promotion to the inspecting ranks (where more strategic awareness is required), I may ask you to share some of your knowledge about change models. George Box said of these “All models are wrong, but some are useful”, which is an interesting observation, so ask yourself:

  • What useful models do you have in your change management toolkit right now?
  • What you do you know about the different models?
  • How can they help you as a leader?

Here’s another article on change mangement models to aid perspective and develop your strategic thinking. It features change models you may not have considered, but which you can incorporate in your leadership thinking and approach, and your reflections and conversations.

Continuing the theme of developing your strategic thinking, take a look at my policing PESTLE analysis. In this, I allude to some of the main changes creating turbulence for cops. It’s just one of the strategic- and future-thinking tools I provide in my Inspector and Chief Inspector promotion toolkit.

Police promotion to Inspector

That said, that version of PESTLE doesn’t even take account of more recent reviews such as Casey, or indeed acknowledge that in the real world, given the churn of promotion and lateral moves at all ranks, it can be rare for officers to even have the same supervisor for over 12 months.

The Value of Certainty in a Sea of Change

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” – Niccolo Machievelli

Given this age of exponential change and technological revolution, it’s refreshing when leaders can help provide some consistency for people. After all, “nobody likes change”! In fact, it’s essential to provide certainty to people in times of constant change, something they can recognise as an anchor.

It’s a modern cliché that good leaders demonstrate adaptability. But I believe the best ones can adapt to the changing operating environment while providing stability and certainty for others. There are various reasons an anchor can be helpful for people as they are expected or seek to navigate change:

  • Reducing anxiety and stress: When people are uncertain about something, it can cause them to feel anxious or stressed. Providing some certainty can therefore help alleviate negative emotions, in turn improving attendance and quality of work.
  • Easier decision-making: Certainty can help people to feel more confident in their decisions, as they have a clearer understanding of what to expect. This can make it easier for people to make decisions and better contribute to wider objectives, for example small steps in the right (new) direction.
  • Sense of stability: Certainty can provide a sense of stability and security, particularly important anchors during times of uncertainty or significant change. Not least given it can otherwise be a reason for leaving policing.
  • Building trust: When people are certain about something, it can help to build trust between individuals or groups. This can be especially important in relationship building within your team.
  • Maintaining focus: Certainty enables people to better focus on the tasks at hand, rather than be preoccupied with potential changes or disruptions, in turn increasing productivity. It also reduces the rumour mill and speculation that can become unhelpful.

Overall, providing some certainty wherever possible can be important for helping people feel more secure, confident, and reassured in challenging situations. In this context, consider for example the following forward-facing promotion interview question or presentation scenario, which could be used to assess you at Level 2 against the CVF ‘We Are Emotionally Aware’ competency…

“As a newly promoted leader, how will you develop the resilience of your team given the challenges they face?”

Or consider the following strengths-based promotion question:

“What strengths will you bring to police leadership? How will your strengths help you when leading others through change?

Consistency in Leadership Behaviours

Leading with certainty anchor

“Change will never be this slow again.” – Digital Policing Strategy

Continuing the theme of consistency, is it possible to predict leadership behaviours themselves that will stand the test of time? What about competencies or values used to assess police leaders? Of course it is!

If you think about it, the Competency and Values Framework (CVF) is merely the latest iteration in a long line of assessment frameworks. Even this will no doubt morph again in a year or so, to something else (plus ca change!).

I expand more in my guides and masterclasses, but think about you how you will provide some sense of certainty or stability for those you lead through change. Not just for effective preparation for your next promotion opportunity, but to stand you in good stead as an authentic leader when you’re promoted. After all, Rank Success exists to help improve the overall leadership in policing.

No one can predict what the future holds, so something I encourage aspiring promotion candidates to do is to think about change from different perspectives. One of those is: What won’t change?

Thinking about your responsibility as a leader, manager and supervisor, three things that you might think unlikely to change could be to:  

I encourage you to think of these as anchors in the swirling sea of change.

With one foot in the present and the other poised to step into tomorrow, you can even look back 200 years to find a giant anchor. One which has provided certainty and stability for UK policing, through some very stormy seas of change. That anchor is still there and underpins our model of policing by consent, prioritising for example the prevention of crime. I am of course referring to the Peelian Principles.

So what else won’t change? Below are five broad anchors that will remain constant into the future, to aid your growth as an effective leader in policing. You’ll find more throughout my timeless digital promotion toolkits.  

Taking an intelligence-led leadership style is also worthy of mention here. This approach comes back to understanding the issues facing your teams and removing blockers and problems. One effective tool for this is going on duty with your teams, as many Chief Officers are now doing.

Stephen Covey emphasises leading by example in his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Listening and effective communication are timeless qualities and critically important. A good example is that of CC Lee Freeman KPM in turning Humberside around, from worst to best performing force in the country.

On the subject of leadership styles (more in my premium toolkits), here’s another potential promotion board question:

“What is the leadership you will need to provide?”

And for some consistency in your upcoming police promotion process, consider the tried and tested ‘Rank Success Framework’. It outlines an easy to remember practical summary of behaviours for the role of Sergeant, Inspector, and Chief Inspector. It stands the test of time too, being regularly updated to suit whatever promotion process or assessment frameworks are used!

“I’ll go anywhere, so long as it’s forward” – David Livingstone

As a parting gift, to support conversational style interview responses, you might also want give my intuitive and unique ENAMEL© mnemonic a try! It’s helped countless officers achieve success over the six or so years since I created the tool. This is mainly by easily organising thoughts and structuring delivery, especially in response to forward-facing questions.

I hope this has been helpful and wherever you are on your promotion journey, I wish you the very best.

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 videoseGuidesa podcast.