Webinar presenter Thom Dworak answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "Career Planning from Academy to Retirement." Here are a few of his responses.
Audience Question: We heard from the audience earlier that quite a percentage of the agencies don't have career development programs. What's it in your experience? Do you find that agencies don't have career development programs and why is that?
Thom Dworak: It kind of runs that they don't have them or they do have them and they don't use them. One of the things I wanted to do before I left is start the process was how do I make it so that we look at developments and break it down to what is going to be most need to know based off our people right on their careers. Don't shut off leadership and management training as something that only the bosses get. That led to several very robust discussions. I am a firm believer that even our newest, youngest person is a leader. If he's/she's the only one that's there until somebody else with stars, stripes or bars gets there, we're doing a disservice to our youngest people if we're not giving them leadership training very early on in their careers. There are organizations that really have good plans. I think the ones we had was really good but there was really no like master level. It was just some basic advanced or basic on steroids kind of thing but there was nothing for those guys and gals who didn't want to get promoted, maybe done their time as detectives and they come back in patrol. Now, what are they going to do in the next 10 or 15 years in their career? So, it really helps to get to the whole Maslow's self-actualization model, to be able to be the best at what they're at. To help to keep motivated, keep them involved, keep them part of that process. If we're not guiding development, we're losing out in terms of being able to influence a large percentage of our people who are just leaders and forget and just get back to the slider, leave it all to chance and we’re going to see what's going to happen.
Audience Question: You talked about mentorship and having a mentor but what is the role of a network when developing one's career?
Thom Dworak: Well, from a law enforcement standpoint, a lot of those are connections-driven. Having what they say a support network within your organization is a good thing to have but it needs to be more than just at one level. It needs to be above, below and lateral to be able to get the information that we need. Not all departments are the same but being able to network with the departments around you, if your department doesn't have a career development program but the department next to you does and you're of the same size or makeup or whatever it may be something you can consider in there. Hosting training events with each other or doing combined trainings or working on people's developments. I hope this isn't the case, but maybe you don't have anybody who's going to mentor you in your department, network with other people, you may network with other people outside of your organization. You might get some insights that you might not get from within. A lot of what we do is very much connection driven in terms of getting information and, I guess, they're becoming successful.
Chris: And it's so much easier these days with the advent of LinkedIn, it's so much easier to be able to keep tabs on people, keep in touch with them. It's so much easier than it used to be.
Thom: Same with social media.
Audience Question: What are the best ways to prepare for the promotion boards?
Thom Dworak: Understanding what a role is. You're going to have to work, do the readings. We used to do study groups where we sit down, makeup questions about stuff that we've read or for those of us who's been through the process before, who knew what questions are going to be asked. Having to understand each part of the process, our promotion process was multi-step. You fill out an application. First was the written task, you read all the books. Next, we have the assessment center where those who passed the written test now went into assessment center phase where you are given tasks and might be an inbox exercise, might be a policy exercise, might be a question and answer session, could be a problem employee exercise. There's going to be a large and small group of discussions and what they're looking is can you get your point across without dominating the discussion? How do you answer questions? How do you handle some things that you may not totally believe in but the administration wants done? Next to that process, at least for us, was what we call the leadership assessment, which was a series of emotions-based test because emotional intelligence is big at our organization. How to fit in the department culture and how your abilities work. There's not really a way to prepare for those, to be honest, because the psychologists, they are kind of like cops, they know when they are being lied to especially when they deal with the police often. What would help is to focus so much on your emotional intelligence often because those qualities, competencies really help us as we develop and continue to grow as we go on. The last part, at least for us, was the oral boards in front of our Police and Fire Commission, those are the people who had final decisions concerning your promoting or not. When you're going to answer those questions, I kind of alluded to this a little bit earlier, when you're answering the question you have to answer in the position that you're going for. If it's a sergeant position and I’ll throw out a question in terms of, okay, as a sergeant how are you going to impact morale? The answer you give has to come from that position as a sergeant. If you answer that question and the answer given might be for a chief's job or deputy chief's job, or a commander's position, you're answering over and above your limitations are. Even worse when you get asked those questions, you start talking about how the chief's spun down morale, whether he has or has to, when you start personally attacking, issue personal attacks on people in those positions. Those are going to kill any chance you have of becoming a part of that management team. It's really about doing your homework, know what your policy procedures are, having an understanding of laws on arrest or seizure, constructing search warrants — I'm just pulling stuff off of the top of my head from what I remember from a lot of tests that we have taken, investigation procedures. For a lot of us, this is where being an investigator, being a field trainer, being one of that staff positions where you're dealing close to people, you really have to work with the staff all of the time. You really have a better overall understanding, knowing it what it is because you've taught it, knowing how it is also used to help us overall. So, understanding the job, given an array of experiences in terms of what's there and just knowing what the process is to help you succeed.
Audience Question: The next couple of questions are kind of related. Why does a college degree qualify you to be a leader when time and experience alone does not?
Thom Dworak: I'm not saying it does. I have my own beliefs, again this is an opinion. It's the education system itself. I don't care what your degree is. A large part of us in criminal justice, a lot of us get criminal justice degrees. Both my undergrad and masters are both in management. From a criminal justice standpoint, when we go and take our core curriculum classes, the criminal justice classes, we're being taught by guys and gals who were the police who were now instructors, professors who got their PhDs, so we're still kind of being trained by cops. I want to get into the standpoint of when we get into, what I call gen-ed classes, your social sciences, English, Math. You're in classes with all kinds of different people. Most of the people who go into criminal justice go there for specific reasons. They want to be police, they want to go into corrections, maybe it's an undergrad degree prior to going to law school. It's in those gen-ed classes where we, especially in social science or psychology classes or whatever where you're going to hear people who have different opinions and different value systems of your own. Having that understanding that not everybody thinks like we do. While you're not going to probably change my value system. It gives me a deeper appreciation for okay somebody got a different opinion than I do and that's certainly what it is a difference of opinion and I'm going to respect it, I'm going to try and understand it. This goes back to the emotional intelligence side of this communication and empathy. To me, it's just we get a more well-rounded person. Do we limit our application pool if we go to just degreed people? Absolutely. Are we going to miss some good solid guys and gals who don't have a degree? Yeah, we're going to. I get that. From an experiential side, since around 1988 or so, you couldn't even take an application at our police department unless you have a four-year degree. It's an expectation that we worked in. It was an expectation in terms of if you want to be a police officer. Did we miss some good people? Probably. It's completing the process. It's showing that you've done the work, you've made a commitment. Not everything that we learned in college is going to have applicability to what we do in the street. It helps us especially if you've applied critical thinking as part of development, it helps us to make sense and rolls back into sense-making that I talked about earlier.