By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety
As a police chief, if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, would someone in your agency be ready to step into your role? Police chiefs must take the time to develop robust short- and long-term succession plans to ensure their agency does not experience a leadership crisis upon their departure.
“Your value as a chief is leaving your department better than you found it. Too many chiefs retire with little to no notice and leave their agency rudderless,” said Richard Kreisler during an educational session at the annual California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) training symposium. Kreisler retired as the chair of the public safety employment practice group with Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (LCW), a law firm specializing in advising public safety agencies across California. He was joined by two colleagues to share the firm’s succession planning strategy and how this strategy can be used by law enforcement agencies.
Be Open and Honest about Your Retirement Plans
Succession planning is a constant process and it takes a minimum of five years to develop a robust plan. Because succession planning is such an involved and lengthy process, chiefs must be willing to disclose their retirement plans. This request is often extremely difficult for chiefs to accept, said Kreisler, but one that is critical to the strength of the department.
“Succession plans aren’t something you plan in a month,” said Kreisler. “Yes, some of you could get screwed by doing this, but it will likely only be a minority of you. Do not wait to tell people when you plan to retire.”
One benefit of informing your agency about your retirement plans is that it gives you an opportunity to mentor a successor. “In many departments, when it comes time for transition and a chief to step down, it often falls to human resources to hire a recruiter and conduct a search. There often isn’t much participation by the retiring chief,” said Morin Jacob, current chair of LCW’s public safety practice group.
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Taking this new approach of sharing retirement plans enables chiefs to take an active role in identifying officers to replace them, preparing them for the role, sharing experiences with them, and supervising their development.
Make Succession Planning a Team Effort
“It’s relatively easy to forget to do succession planning; it’s not something in your job description,” Jacob said. Fortunately, chiefs don’t have to do it alone.
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The panelists recommended starting a committee, comprised of command and supervisory level officers, that’s devoted to succession planning. This ensures others are invested in succession planning and agency talent development. Be sure to write the plan down so the committee can review it periodically. Meet regularly (monthly, if possible) and update the written succession plan on an annual basis.
How to Develop Successors in Your Agency
Think about succession planning as a way for you to coach and develop those who will lead the agency into the future. Once again, this requires a shift in mindset for many chiefs. “You need to put your ego aside and devote your attention to creating colleagues who can take your place,” said Kreisler. It’s important to identify rising stars in your agency, put them into challenging positions, and supervise them as they take on greater responsibility.
Delegation is an important component of succession planning. Delegation is not abdicating work; it is an opportunity for rising stars to do the work while under your supervision. “Your colleagues can’t improve if you don’t delegate work,” emphasized Kreisler. “This all seems to run counter to your ego and sense of security. LCW acknowledges you operate in a political world that is different than a law firm. While there can be repercussions, we want to provide tools that encourage you to think outside the box and push the envelope.”
Bring selected people into closed-door or difficult meetings so they can see the situations you deal with and how you handle it. It’s the only way they can learn what you do. “It’s never too early to start positioning that person and start matriculating them into the role of future chief,” said J. Scott Tiedemann, managing partner with LCW.
Share Your Experiences, Good and Bad
As you educate others about your job, be sure to share both your professional successes and failures so others can learn from your gains and shortcomings. Sharing both the good and bad is a way to prepare future leaders by allowing them to learn from all of your experiences.
Write Down Your Job Description
Take the time to document your job responsibilities. By doing so, you are creating a roadmap for your successor and providing them something tangible to prepare them for the job ahead. Be sure to update this document annually so it accurately reflects your job, said Jacob.
Police chiefs need to start thinking of succession planning as a critical function of their job. Take the time to identify and develop future leaders within your agency so there isn’t a leadership crisis upon your departure.