Thrifty Shades of Grey – Chapter 1

“We must become more comfortable with probability and uncertainty.” – Nate Silver.

For many UK police promotion candidates, selection processes in the police service are perceived, viewed or thought about as a ‘grey area’; some may argue there are many more than 50 shades of grey! Successful candidates report that preparing effectively for their promotion opportunity helped to “demystify” or “lift the fog” surrounding this aspect of career progression.   

With that in mind, I was inspired to write this trilogy of blogs when I heard of a question asked in a recent police promotion interview at a Superintendent’s selection process. The question was similar to:

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

Police badges inspector

It’s a cracking question, one that could equally be asked for Inspector or Chief Inspector candidates. I include many more example questions (and answers!) in my promotion toolkit for Inspectors and Chief Inspectors. Alluding to ‘grey areas’ evokes the uncertainty and complexity facing senior leaders today. More on that will follow in subsequent chapters of this blog series. For now, note that operating in ‘grey areas’ is a matter likely to dominate police leadership for at least the immediate future, whether relating to public demands, questions of police legitimacy, but particularly when operating with constrained resources.

An Inspector or Chief Inspector candidate would be assessed on this question at middle manager (Level 2) of the Competency and Values Framework (CVF), itself a grey area for many aspiring police promotion candidates! With that in mind, the specific competency descriptors for each rank are important guidance to focus upon. For example, Superintendent candidates are assessed at Level 3 of the CVF, covering senior and executive level behaviours.

This blog trilogy will hopefully ‘arouse’ your ideas, towards a considered response to questions about how you can operate effectively in an environment of perpetual uncertainty, for whichever CVF level you will be assessed at.

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We Are Innovative & Open-Minded

Innovative open minded police

“Flexibility requires an open mind and a welcoming of new alternatives.” – Deborah Day

“How will you operate effectively and efficiently in the grey?”

Well, if you are one of many aspiring promotion candidates yet to familiarise yourself with the CVF, then this question might easily be aligned to the specific CVF competency: We are innovative and open minded.

A quick look at the guidance for this specific competency offers some context and perspective around what is meant by operating ‘in the grey’. 

New and emerging threats mean our required response will not always be obvious. We will need to adopt new thinking and assumptions, be continually inquisitive and committed to continual improvement. The perpetual need to adapt, innovate and question our assumptions is at the heart of being able to serve and protect the public. It includes taking innovative, preventative action to reduce demand. Being open-minded and reflective also allows us to tailor our approach to specific contexts and the communities we serve.” – The College of Policing

Below are the Level 2 (Sergeant to Chief Inspector) ‘competency descriptors’ used to define the exact leadership behaviours sought. Importantly, this is what you would be assessed against if asked such a question about how you implement change, collaborate with others, or are innovative while operating ‘in the grey’

I explore a number of different sources of information and use a variety of tools when faced with a problem and look for good practice that is not always from policing.

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 in the population.

I am flexible in my approach, changing my plans to make sure that I have the best impact.

I encourage others to be creative and take appropriate risks.

I share my explorations and understanding of the wider internal and external environment.

A powerful interview response, reflecting this guidance and aligned with the CVF competency descriptors provided, is far more likely to meet the standard required in a promotion selection process. That is as true in relation to submitting a written promotion application as it is for a verbal response in an interview board

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Getting Thrifty…

Police efficiencyu

“Thrift is an attractive idea until you get down to specifics.” – Mason Cooley

Thrift – using and prioritising resources carefully – is an essential element of leadership responsibilities, particularly for more senior roles (i.e. Inspector and above). It’s often described in UK policing as ‘efficiency’.

It’s all about the money, more so now than ever. Finance and budgets are a reality check for anyone looking to operate effectively ‘in the grey’. Though the competency descriptors do not specifically mention resources or finances or efficiency, it will an important priority for your force to relate back to when evidencing any of the behaviours (aka competencies, values).

Your Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is your bridge from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. Financial awareness can be a grey area to improve for promotion to the more strategic-looking ranks. This is especially true if you haven’t addressed or included this aspect as part of your CPD, or given it any meaningful thought as part of wider promotion preparation. Of course, you’ll have some talented and specialist finance staff to call on for technical expertise and general budgetary advice, but a financial skillset supports tough decisions, which come with the territory.

Where to start for some general understanding? The following are some ideas to support your strategic manager-level CPD, but isn’t essential for the promotion process…

Always lit up, never in the grey is this question:

How’s the force doing financially?

Or more to the point:

How could you help operate things more efficiently?

When you consider that 80%+ of force budget is spent on staffing, an overview of the challenges facing your force (especially financial and resource-related ones!) demonstrates awareness and recognition of potential constraints. Often forces have a vision that includes the strategic priority of ‘sustainability’. It is such an important aspect, the HMICFRS dedicates an entire theme of force inspections around ‘Efficiency’ as part of every England & Wales force’s PEEL inspection. Now this is highly relevant… have you read yours?

All of this is an important starting point and context when recognising ‘pushes and pulls’ upon your role that you will experience in the Chief Inspector rank and beyond: Watch out for Chapter 2 of ‘Thrifty Shades of Grey’ to learn more about these. If you can’t wait, want a head start and a more in-depth view around this, the pushes and pulls are included within my bespoke new guide for promotion to Inspector and Chief Inspector.

Chief Inspector Examples
Solid examples of what works in police promotion evidence

Until next time, good luck on your promotion journey and watch out for some new free videos and something new coming in early 2021…

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 my Police Promotion Masterclass or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a bunch of free videos, guides plus free blog content both here on my Rank Success Blog and via my Police Hour articles.