Effective Police Succession Plans: Identifying Tomorrow's Law Enforcement Leadership
"To be prepared is half the victory" - Cervantes
There aren't many "sure-things" in life. We can count them on one—maybe two—hands. The funny thing about humans is, even though we know something is coming we sometimes ignore it. Maybe this is because it is too far in the future, or we do not have time to think about it at the moment.
Economists have been forecasting a "brain-drain" caused by baby boomers leaving the work force. A recent survey shows that even as the first of the baby boomers reach traditional retirement age, most businesses are still not preparing for the inevitable. A survey conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College found that 77% of businesses have not planned for this coming workforce shortage.
The volume of this turnover is so great that it will change the balance of the work force. According to Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work, "U.S. companies need to start planning strategically for work force sustainability." As experienced staffers leave, without succession plans in place, there will be too few skilled employees to take on leadership roles in U.S. businesses.
The study: Succession planning in law enforcement, the human resources connection
Succession planning is also important for law enforcement, as their workforce is susceptible to the same forces as civilian businesses. This fact led to the development of a study of succession planning practices in law enforcement. Of particular importance was the investigation of whether human resources collaborates with law enforcement on creating succession planning programs.
Businesses usually have internal human resources departments to help with implementing new policies, administering personnel activities and handling personnel issues. Human resources departments for law enforcement are generally outside of the agency itself, usually in a separate city, state or federal department. Even if law enforcement agencies want to implement succession planning processes, there is a perception that outside experts are not needed to help with these processes. This brings up the question of whether policing agencies' succession plans are effective without human resource assistance.
Purpose and findings
The purpose of my succession planning study was two-pronged: first, to determine the extent in which law enforcement agencies were involved with succession planning initiatives, and secondly, whether law enforcement agencies are collaborating with human resources to institutionalize these initiatives.
The quantitative study methodology included a written survey to 4,000 senior law enforcement officials across the United States, combined with a qualitative inquiry in the form of a face-to-face interview for select respondents. Of the 209 respondents, which represented a statistically significant return rate of 5.23%, 83.25% reported that their agency did not use succession planning while 12.44% reported that their agencies did use succession planning, 3.3% skipped the question or said they did not know.
Of the 26 agencies that had succession planning, seven agreed to a one-on-one interview.
Even though succession planning is a relatively new phenomenon, the average time that the succession plan was in place was four years. Twenty-three percent of those respondents indicated that when succession planning was put in place, it received a warm welcome; 10% said it was not welcomed.
When it comes to human resources involvement, 42% reported that a human resources department did not participate, 26% said there was minor involvement and 7% reported extensive participation.
Of the 7% who reported extensive human resources participation, 24% said that this department was not useful in developing succession planning plans, and 41% said that they were useful.
During the one-on-one interviews, in-depth questions were asked about strategies and obstacles that were utilized by law enforcement agencies that had adopted formal succession planning initiatives. One of the most important factors had to do with the perceived value of succession planning among the agencies. There were six separate values that were identified when succession planning was utilized in law enforcement agencies:
- Increase in overall professionalism
- A more formal and professional succession process
- Enhanced development of law enforcement personnel
- Identification and development of in-house leaders
- Improved relationship with citizens
- Decreased citizen complaints
The obstacles that respondents reported relevant to the initiation of law enforcement succession plans were identified as follows:
- Financial restraints
- Resistance to organizational change
- No buy-in from upper management
- Organizational culture (closed with no outside involvement)
- Overcoming resistance to collaborating with non-law enforcement officers
The results of the study are not unexpected given the closed culture of law enforcement agencies. The positive is that more than a quarter of the respondents have succession planning in their agencies, which ensures that new leaders are developed and expertise is shared. This makes the organization more effective in continuing to execute its mission as the old guard retires.
It is clear that more work must be done in communicating the importance of succession planning in policing organizations before retiring baby boomers create a gap in leadership that could affect public safety on local, state and national levels.
For a first-hand look at how succession planning in law enforcement works, read Tom Milner's "Mentorship prepares young officers for leadership opportunities".