Thrifty Shades of Grey – Chapter 3

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden

In TSOG Chapter 1, we considered the following potential interview question about operating ‘in the grey’. We discussed the importance of being ‘thrifty’ (aka ‘efficiency’) and introducing a relevant CVF competency to your promotion.   

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

In TSOG Chapter 2, I introduced my bespoke Rank Success ‘pushes & pulls’ infographic to aid your thinking around operating ‘in the grey’ at a more strategic level. This included the type of development that will help you progress and be considered for more senior roles. We now reach the climax of this ‘Shades of Grey’ series, in which we recognise and consider the ‘VUCA world’ in which you will operate, with one eye on the future…


Police Promotion in a VUCA World

VUCA police leadership

“The more uncertain things are, the more leadership is required. Today’s leaders need to thrive in uncertainty.” – Satya Nadella

The role of leadership is to bring clarity in uncertain times. Strategy is the art of leading and coordinating actions to achieve goals. In this context, the term ‘VUCA’ is a mnemonic to aid strategic thinking and planning for ‘operating in the grey’. The term was adopted from the military in the 1990s and has been adopted by business and organisations.

VUCA is an acronym that stands for:

Volatile: Greater focus required on planning processes.

Uncertain: Recurring challenges to take action despite uncertainty.

Complex: Expectations of more flexibility (not stability or ‘old school’ thinking).

Ambiguous: Yes, required to curiosity, with quick and constant learning (CPD).

UK Police promotion insights
Police promotion Masterclass for Inspector & Chief Inspector ranks: www.ranksuccess.co.uk/promotion-masterclass

Below is an insightful infographic by Tanmay Vora depicting leadership in this VUCA world, covering the mindset and skills necessary to thrive in the Grey. How does this relate to how you operate? How will you convey your promotion evidence using some of these notions to respond to interview or application questions? Clearly, VUCA can be linked to ‘We deliver, support and inspire’ and decision-making. Can you connect it to other skills or competencies? What would your ENAMEL response look like?

VUCA police leadership

As you can see, the CVF is not the only resource that can equip you for promotion preparation, or to respond to questions about how you might operate in the grey. There is a tremendous amount of information out there, try starting with what you don’t know. For more ideas, why not download example evidence at the Inspector and Chief Inspector level?

I encourage candidates to research broader information sources to underpin the necessary ‘depth and breadth’ of preparation for success in a promotion process. This includes information on the current operating environment as well as the longer-term future for policing.


Back to the Future: 2040

Police future 2040

“Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

If you were looking to inform your leadership thinking about how you might operate in the grey, an understanding of some of the most consequential trends for policing over the next 20 years might be helpful. 

There’s lots of free information around to support you and to signpost and direct aspiring promotion candidates. Here’s another example blog: 5 Great Reads for Police Promotion Candidates. In it, you will note that the College of Policing alludes to trends and future scenarios to 2040, not as a prediction of what will happen, but as “a resource for thinking about the future more strategically”. 

The good news is that you can start to develop and raise your awareness of the future operating environment for policing right now. Ask yourself what you know about any of the following trends, challenges or scenarios, which describe a “range of possible futures that leaders can step into, explore and learn from”. 

How might these themes influence your leadership approach and wider thinking? I cover such things in my Masterclasses, but for now here are some examples dominating the national policing debate:

  • Operating in conditions of increasing policing complexity
  • Rising concerns about inequality and social fragmentation
  • Technological change and convergence
  • A larger, older, more diverse population
  • Harnessing artificial intelligence / workforce automation
  • Building trust in a digital era
  • Shaping the future police workforce
  • And currently of course, in an unprecedented environment of restricting public freedoms, it would be remiss not to point out contrasts in perceptions of police legitimacy as they enforce the UK Government’s policy response to Covid-19. Certainly, some potential there for promotion board questions!

Promotion isn’t awarded to those who can simply relay the nature of the challenges ahead. It’s more likely to go to those who can paint a brighter picture of the organisation in the future, under their leadership as a Sergeant, Inspector or Chief Inspector. That’s something often lost by aspiring individuals who line up to ‘tell it like it is’.

And finally, to finish this series, imagine that instead of a ‘shades of grey’ question, you are asked it like this instead: 

“Can you please describe the future police operating environment? Tell us what your own contributions will be as a newly promoted leader.”

Painting a brighter future of policing

I provide bespoke guidance on strategic thinking in the Inspector & Chief Inspector promotion evidence guide if you want to accelerate your preparation. One toolkit, two ranks…

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

Until next time, good luck on your promotion journey and watch out for some new new free videos and something exciting 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.