Is your FRS thinking about how to make improvements to meet HMICFRS report recommendations? Or about making changes now, to establish best practice in advance of future inspections?

Topics such as succession planning and identifying high potential are universal concerns across FRSs. How can we help streamline these issues?

We’ve been working with the FRS since 2002, and have been fortunate to be able to focus our efforts on creating assessment exercises, processes and development options which meet the needs of both organisations and individuals.

Here is a snapshot of some of the HMI ‘People’ issues, with best practice suggestions from our experience, and that of our clients.


Succession Planning

This can be difficult to manage, but having a clear assessment schedule provides predictability for individuals looking to manage their career, and a pool of candidates for promotion as required.

Choosing a specific month for each level of assessment on an annual basis usually works well from Crew to Station, with more flexibility at Group Manager and Strategic levels.

Another option is to run a rolling programme of assessments. For instance, the first week of each month is when assessments are held (which can easily be facilitated using systems such as the online Career Progression Gateway- CPG).


Identifying High Potential

HMI reports across the country show that many FRSs struggle to identify high potential candidates. High performance can be identified through existing processes, providing the existing procedures for promotion and development are properly designed and managed. For instance, in the CPG, we can use our existing data, in collaboration with performance reviews at various intervals, to identify the target score for high potential individuals, who can then be developed further with support packages including psychometric assessment, coaching and mentoring.


Consistency across Staff Groups

There is plenty of evidence across the FRS of disparities in promotional and development opportunities across different staff groups. This does not need to be the case. By using assessment exercises which are carefully designed around the NFCC Leadership Framework, set in a recognisable but generic context, the same exercises are easily adapted to different groups: operational, non-operational, on-call and control.

The consistency in process doesn’t need to end with the assessment either. Development programmes and process pathways can equally apply at all groups and levels. Some of the content of development programmes will vary, but a basis in a core behavioural framework (the Leadership Qualities) makes the programmes generally applicable.


Commitment to Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

EDI monitoring needs to be tied into results, in a way which doesn’t compromise anonymity, but does allow for the relationship between individual differences and performance to be monitored. This can be done by EDI questions at the point of assessment and careful results tracking.

Support for neuro-diversity needs to be very clear. This should include options such as text-to-speech functions and choice over how information is presented, in addition to the standard extra time allocation. Individual requirements need to be better evaluated to ensure the additional support offered is sufficiently targeted to individual needs.


Eliminating Bias

Using external assessors means that even face to face interactions don’t create the difficulties associated with assessors knowing candidates. If you are using internal assessors, marking of written reports or case studies can easily be anonymised. Telephone roleplays can also be done anonymously, even with internal assessors, but external assessors are preferable for video roleplays.

Ensuring candidates are anonymous using candidate numbers is an easy step which many FRS have taken.

Tip: It is useful to maintain records of the CPG assessment specific candidate ID number that is allocated to each candidate, to make performance tracking easier.


Staff Experience

HMI survey results can show that individuals are not always satisfied with their assessments, even if you are doing everything you can to create a fair and robust process. A difficulty with evaluating this after final results have been shared is that results can influence later perceptions. Using a candidate survey at the point of assessment can give a more accurate overview of opinions.

Essential to satisfaction is making sure that people are adequately prepared before any assessment activity. As part of the CPG, we have developed an e-course which is recommended to be a pre-requisite to attending an assessment process. The e-course focuses on essential knowledge and explores target behaviours, covering the NFCC Leadership Qualities, the exercises, what to expect, the IT element, how to tackle tasks etc. It’s presented in an interactive format, taking a range of learning styles into consideration. Any questions still unanswered at the end of that process can be submitted to us for a response. Once candidates are satisfied they have had all necessary information and that their assessment is fair and valid, they will be allocated their dates to complete the CPG.

Face validity has a huge impact on candidate satisfaction (the irritation directed at the fictitious airport of the national toolkit springs to mind). Psychometric ability tests and off- the-shelf management exercises are also unpopular, due to lack of relatability. Personality testing fares better, but these are usually used more in a development context.

Satisfaction ratings are dramatically higher when exercises are set in a fictitious FRS setting, with familiar, relevant problems to resolve. The exercises are still generic enough that they can be used by support staff equally well with only small changes to the context, but this shift in focus helps settle nerves and expectations.


Post-assessment Development

What happens after the assessment? As part of our CPG process we offer Developmental Feedback Session with our team of psychologists. These sessions are highly-valued and have been well-received. We cover not only performance at the CPG, but also exploring next steps and coaching around behavioural change which can positively impact workplace performance. But from there, there needs to be a clear path supplied by the organisation for candidates who are successful, and those who are not.

When development happens seems to vary, and there are mixed views on whether to develop individuals before they are selected for post (which has cost implications) or after they begin a new role (which creates additional pressures on learning and workload). Most FRS have development modules in place for successful candidates, drawing on internal resources and external support.

Some FRSs have a development programme in place for unsuccessful candidates, culminating in re-taking the assessment, the CPG in this example, after approximately 6 months. A successful result feeds into the standard development programme. An unsuccessful result at this stage can leave individuals feeling they’ve reached the end of the line for their career aspirations so also needs to be carefully managed.

We’re working on a project with a client which covers the development cycle at all stages, so there is always a path for candidates, irrespective of result. Even if it takes them back to the start of the application for promotion process, there will be development along the way. Closing these loops is important for candidate well-being, but not always easy for an FRS to implement.


Line Manager Support

A line manager can wear various hats within an assessment and development process, and aside from the extra time pressures, they may not always feel fully equipped to deal with these roles as well as they’d like.

Line managers should be trained for these responsibilities; from how to make fair and evidence-based decisions about an applicant’s suitability for access for the promotions process, to practical ways to provide development post-assessment.
The additional benefit of prioritising this training is the development opportunity it provides for the line managers themselves. Both areas of intervention will require coaching skills and the ability to identify innovative and experiential development opportunities, skills which support line managers to perform their roles effectively (course materials currently in development at VCA).


Moving forward

At VCA we are currently collaborating with one of our FRS clients on an integrated Succession Pathway. It covers assessment of all staff groups and creates a clear system of development for individuals at all levels, both for those who progress through each stage, and those who do not, and ensures line managers are fully supported to deliver the important functions within this.

If you would like to receive a one-page summary detailing this approach, or any other questions please contact us here.