In 2019 the HMICFRS FRS Inspections summary of findings reported that ‘Staff in more than half the Fire and Rescue Services inspected told us they see the promotion and selection processes as unfair or not clear and open enough. Staff often feel the process and selection criteria are poorly communicated.’
Read the HMICFRS FRS Inspections Summary here.
Does this matter?
Well yes, it does. Staff who feel that an organisational process, which has a direct bearing on their personal career progression, is ‘unfair, not clear and not open’ are going to be negatively impacted by that. It might mean irritation or annoyance for one person; for another it could result in anger, distrust or stress. Whatever the personal impact, this sort of situation can affect commitment, satisfaction, and well-being. Each person within an organisation contributes to its culture. People who are unhappy with a key aspect of their FRS career will have a negative impact on the culture of the organisation and morale of the workforce. From there you get into the murky waters of under-performance and risk.
Any employee has a psychological contract with their employer. This is the unwritten expectation which goes along the lines of;
‘You will treat me fairly, with respect; you will support me, inform me, allow me to contribute and flourish. In return, I will be conscientious and reliable; I will be committed to our goals and values. I will contribute to the team and invest part of my identity and self-esteem in the role I hold which will motivate me to succeed.’
This glue holds the relationship together far more strongly than the written version of the employment contract might. But when there is a perception of unfairness or lack of openness, particularly over something as personally significant as promotion, the psychological contract can become frayed around the edges. Who can blame an employee for thinking, ‘if you’re not going to hold up your side of the bargain, why should I?’ and from there, there’s a wealth of researched evidence that factors such as increased absences, lack of engagement, lower standards of performance and dissatisfaction can predictably follow.
So how do we avoid this? When it comes to promotions, here are our suggestions (based on our practice with our Career Progression Gateway online assessments for promotion).
- Be clear about what your process is. If you aren’t sure yourself what it is now or what it is likely to be in the future, it’s very hard to communicate coherently to others. This is disconcerting for people who want to feel in control of their career aspirations.
- Be consistent. When you have found a system that works, stick to it for a while. Many FRS’s change their process over successive years. Of course, improvements need to be made, and lessons will be learned. But if you start with a process you have thoroughly researched and got buy-in for, alterations can be made within an existing framework without a complete re-write.
- Deliver briefing sessions to candidates. These can cover what the process is, what the candidate can expect, what the assessors will be looking for; define the criteria and give the group time to discuss and ask questions. Give examples of effective performance and highlight potential performance pitfalls. Give candidates a chance to try practice exercises, and provide guidance on what they can do to prepare for the event on their own.
- Get candidate feedback at every stage. Create anonymous questionnaires with rating scales to gather opinions and comments boxes, and find out about your candidates’ perceptions. Listen to what they like and don’t like, what they don’t understand and what fuels their frustrations. Provide an opportunity to propose adjustments, and to also tell you what they appreciate.
- Make sure your feedback post-assessment is crystal clear and details what they did and how they can improve. Those delivering the feedback need to be trained and familiar with the exercises used and how to identify further ways to develop. Different feedback methods should be used to cover different learning styles, from written reports to a coaching- style verbal discussion.
- Communicate planned changes to an assessment process. Outline the proposal and seek feedback, through short surveys and focus groups. Run a trial version at all each level of assessment, on the understanding that unsuccessful candidates will be able to reapply next time. This will help you accurately gauge if you’ve found a system that works for you and your workforce, and gain agreement for a supported roll-out.