Promotion processes are complex to get right, and approaches can shift like the tide as services struggle to find the holy grail of what will a) cause least complaint b) be manageable for overworked internal teams c) fit tight budgets and d) identify leadership potential appropriately. (The pressures of a-c can leave point d. somewhat at the back of the queue.)

The fact remains that Fire & Rescue Services need a fair, transparent, evidence-based and valid mechanism for choosing who will be developed into more senior leadership positions. Promotions processes need to accurately identify the leaders who will effectively improve your organisation. They also need to do this whilst reducing grievances, supporting development and prioritising staff well-being.

How many FRS’s can hand on heart say they are achieving these? (And have the data to back it up?)

Not everyone is suited for the next role up, and fairly and accurately working out who is and isn’t needs to be a fundamental organisational priority. The wrong decisions will impact negatively on organisational culture, and it is these affects which are now starting to show. And while senior leadership teams are investigating causes and solutions through extensive culture reviews, promotions probably aren’t the first place they will look.

How do poor promotions processes affect culture?

  • The requirement to produce detailed, reliable, valid and objective assessment tools internally puts pressure on professionals already juggling numerous demands. Done properly, exercise design is an extremely time consuming and complex task, with developing a sound scoring framework at least 50% of the task (which is often not prioritised). Despite their commitment, internal staff, unless solely dedicated to this role, may not have the skills to produce tools which are a reliable and valid measure. Independent verification and validation of the assessment tools tends not to be sought. Unreliable (i.e. that don´t produce consistent results) and invalid (i.e. don´t accurately predict future performance in role) tools mean you’re unlikely to identify the right talent fairly or accurately. This can have significant consequences and risks individuals in senior positions engendering cultural norms and making decisions that oppose the NFCC Leadership Qualities and values, which in turn impacts the entire FRS top-down.

  • Promotions happen frequently enough to have a big impact on internal teams, but not frequently enough to be smoothly integrated. This puts candidates and HR teams on the backfoot, with other tasks impacted and unwanted pressure on internal assessors and administrative teams.

  • Different FRS’s use different methods to assess candidates’ promotional suitability. Exercises are scored differently so integrating the data to a useable format is impossible. This means results aren’t transferable to other FRS, which undermines candidate work-life choices (and therefore satisfaction). It also misses opportunities for meaningful comparison across FRS’s.

  • Internal dissatisfaction with promotions processes leads to a ‘sticking plaster’ approach and changes to promotion activities are frequent. Candidates dislike the lack of predictability, and regular change means processes aren’t streamlined or efficient, and meaningful data monitoring is difficult. This negatively affects perceptions, which in turn affects morale.

  • Pre-assessment preparation and post-assessment feedback and coaching are some of the first tasks to suffer when time is not in generous supply. Lack of support can leave candidates feeling apprehensive and distrusting. Lack of priority for managing candidates post-assessment leaves unsatisfied candidates with poorer morale and levels of engagement than prior to their application. This can negatively affect their performance and have considerable impacts on the wider team.

Naturally, at VCA we are going to highlight the benefits of our outsourced promotions solutions. That’s because we’ve recognised all the issues above, and addressed them. Despite the availability of this effective and easy solution, there’s still a reluctance to outsource in some FRS. Its usually down to three factors;

  • 1

    An understandable lack of capacity to explore anything new and the associated decision making to get it implemented (the ‘it’s easier to just do it myself’ mindset);

  • 2

    The assumption that it won’t be affordable (and working out what it actually costs to run internal processes, taking into account hidden costs is a big task in itself);

  • 3

    A lack of objective or scientific scrutiny on internal methods and outcomes (pre HMICFRS inspections particularly i.e. can you prove you are getting fair and accurate results using objective methods?) meaning there simply isn’t the pressure to change any time soon, irrespective of the deeper impacts and wider implications.

Why it is now time to focus on your Promotions Process?

  • Out-sourced promotional assessments are a huge weight off when you’re juggling too many priorities. The process is handled by people who do this ALL the time. This means it’s easy, streamlined and efficient. You hand over the detail to us to manage the candidates, receive results tables and feedback reports shortly after, and have the confidence of knowing the results are accurate and fair.

  • External support means there is time to deal more effectively with candidate development and morale. Support is built in, from pre-assessment e-learning and briefings to results, feedback sessions and Leadership Behaviour online workshops. A portion of the video call feedback sessions is spent mopping up the niggles and complaints which can grow arms and legs if left un-addressed. Having an opportunity to talk them through and create strategies to deal with them diffuses potential time bombs which will impact not just the individual but team and wider culture.

  • Although no one is going to throw a party about these types of assessment processes, they aren’t as unpopular as internal ones. We gather feedback at every stage so we can make tweaks on areas candidates don’t like. Using external assessors cuts off arguments about bias or unfairness. Some candidates will inevitably be disappointed with the outcome, but they are given clear opportunity to discuss it. When there is less to complain about, processes don’t need to change as often. Using the same type of assessments year on year, across all levels makes everything more predictable, accepted and streamlined.

  • There is enough evidence, anecdotal and objective, that organizational culture is bearing the brunt of not enough time, energy, capacity or resources. It’s all very well having clear objectives around supporting well-being, meaningful development, high standards of integrity, inclusivity, partnership approaches and practical collaboration, but without proper attention and investment on a core pillar of almost every green and grey book member of staff’s career, there’s a danger they will remain well-meaning concepts, with limited real-world application.

The Solution- The Career Progression Gateway (CPG)

VCA works in partnership with Fire & Rescue Services to deliver outsourced leadership behaviour- based assessments for promotion – the CPG. With five years of data from fourteen FRS’s, including use within the NFCC’s Direct Entry Scheme, the CPG online assessment system reliably and accurately identifies the most suitable candidates for promotion, whilst also offering developmental support to individuals both pre and post assessment.

For an informal discussion of your requirements and a tour of the CPG, please contact us here.

You can also request to join our ‘Assessment Forum’ to attend one of our regular online ‘Best Practice Sharing Meetings’ on topics relevant to your FRS. Dates and details of forthcoming events can be found.