There has been a great deal written lately about the need for businesses to enact leadership development programs in order to better plan for the future. Due to the changes in retirement policies in the Safety Forces, Police and Fire Departments are also recognizing the growing need for similar succession planning efforts.
The Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) increases the advantages of retirement for command staff and more tenured officers. As a result, Departments are beginning to experience increasing turnover at leadership levels. The question then becomes what action these Police and Fire Departments are taking to prepare themselves. In some cases, the answer is none. One reason for this is cost. However, the cost of not enacting such programs can be much higher in the long term.
Another reason Departments do not address leadership development as much as they could relates to the traditional use of training within Police and Fire Departments. As Chief Shaw from the City of Solon states, “The fire service has historically been weak in training personnel to handle the human resources part of being a fire officer and historically strong in training personnel to handle emergencies….Today’s fire officer needs to be equipped to deal with the various generations and personalities they will command. ….management training programs assist us in developing our officers into well-rounded, well-trained, effective supervisors.” Police and Fire Departments have been successful in training effective individual contributors, but that does not necessarily translate to successful leadership. This ability to lead is not something that is instinctive, but something people have to learn. Even the top scoring candidate on a promotional exam is not a fully-developed leader.
What can Police and Fire Departments do to identify and prepare future leaders? There are a number of possibilities for current leaders to consider. For future leaders, such as frontline officers, an objective assessment of strengths and developmental needs can be used to both identify and develop individuals for future promotion. For those currently in the command staff, assessments can identify common developmental needs that can be addressed via group training. Finally, when developmental needs vary from person to person, leadership coaching and/or 360-degree evaluations can help to identify ways leaders can improve their effectiveness.
Clearly, there are several methods for accomplishing the goal of preparing future leaders and developing current leaders, so each department would benefit from choosing the approach that works best for them. As the effects of DROP become more widespread, those departments who are proactively developing their current and future command staffs will be the best prepared for future changes.
We’d be interested in hearing from you. What are you doing in your organization to prepare your staff to be the next generation of leaders?