Webinar presenter Dr. Kimberly Miller answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Securing the Future of Your Agency through Succession Planning. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: When challenge in an organization is focusing on the development of sworn personnel, while virtually ignoring non-sworn personnel, how would you suggest we start changing this culture especially with our leadership?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: That is probably a super long answer but I’ll share some things and you can obviously see in the screen my phone number and my e-mail. Feel free to reach out to me and we can talk more.
I would first, and I don’t know what rank you are – if you are a person of rank, but I would talk about what civilians contribute and how civilians are a key component to any law enforcement public safety organization. Talk about the gifts that they bring and also some of the challenges that civilian employees face. For example, civilians might be struggling with some leadership issues. They might be struggling with some conflict avoidance. They might have a particular negative group of civilians or bullies. You might say “Gosh, we’ve got to do some more leadership development of our civilian leaders because they are dealing with these challenging employees that they don’t have the skills to help navigate.
I would talk about the value civilians bring and also the real challenges that people in the civilian ranks struggle with and how training development, succession planning, and skill-building is critical. Oftentimes, sworn people complain about the civilians for a whole myriad of reasons. You can sit back and throw stones but if you’re not helping your civilians develop, then you can’t honestly complain about them if you are not doing anything to help them.
I think I could have a better answer for you if I knew more of the specific dynamics that you’re struggling with so if you like, reach out to me. But I think that might be how I would start. Talk about what value do they bring, and where the struggles that we see, and how succession planning leadership development training can help address those.
Audience Question: William went straight from patrol officer to the chief of police. He asks, how does a one-person agency work on a succession plan?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: That’s hard. If you’re a one-person agency, here’s what I would suggest. Number one, what are you doing to develop yourself? What are you doing on a regular basis to challenge yourself to grow? If you don’t have people that you lead, you probably have a city manager or a town council. You can get feedback from them about areas you need to grow. Peer chiefs is another way. Get feedback from them about what you do well and how you can grow.
I would also encourage you to do some mentoring or get some coaching from other chiefs that you feel do a great job or you look up to and you respect because that’s another way to get your own development perhaps formally or informally. You might be the only person in the organization right now or maybe you have one-civilian admin, but ask yourself, are you going to hire one person in the next two or three years? If so, write down what do you want in an employee. What are the skills and character you are looking for? If you want and/or need more employees, how can you market that need better to your town councilor, your town board, your city manager?
But first and foremost, it’s harder when you are by yourself. Ask yourself how you need to grow and get feedback from other people. Get some mentoring from other executives because there’s probably not a lot of people who are going to hold you to your ongoing development. I would challenge you to create your own plan at least for yourself.
Audience Question: How would you talk with an employee that indicates that they are not interested in further professional development such as attending training or conferences because they believe they know everything that they need to know about their job and their role.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Those people are so interesting and obviously challenging. First, you would need to assess what’s the quality of the relationship that you have with the person. If you don’t have a relationship with them, they’re probably not going to be open to feedback. So what you might need to do first is develop some sort of relationship where you have some level of influence and they’re motivated to listen to what you have to say.
The second thing is to look at the person’s behavior. Are they really that perfect? If not, what could you give them feedback on based specifically in behaviors that would demonstrate a need? They say they know everything about their job, and that they don’t need additional training… That they’re good. But they have no positive mindset about teamwork and they alienate everybody on their inner group. That’s a problem. They might be technically proficient at the job but they struggle interpersonally and they struggle with their character. I would challenge them if they’re proficient, by saying “you know what, you are technically proficient but the other fifty percent of what we expect from you is interpersonal skills and good character, and you are not exceptional there.” Sometimes these people will get defensive and push back and say, “Oh, other people are too sensitive or whatever.” So what I often say to them is, “You can label them as whatever you want, but when everybody says that you’re doing these things and that’s a problem, it is a problem. It’s not that one person is saying it. Everybody experiences you like this. It is your responsibility for the experience you create for other people. It does matter how you come across. In the organization, we do expect that you show kindness and compassion, teamwork, and have a good attitude. When you come in here doing these things, creating these negative experiences for your co-workers, it brings down the morale of everyone and so you can either choose to change that on your own or we’ll make a plan for how you’re going to change that. But that behavior is not acceptable.”
Now, of course, if you were to say any of this, you have to make sure that you have the power and ability to write this person up and discipline them. Because if you don’t have the ability to do that or people above you are going to undo the discipline you do, then you might have to approach this in a totally different way. But if you do have the support and ability to discipline and hold this person accountable, then I would give them the difficult feedback.
Another thing you might do relates to strengths. Part of what this person is probably doing is overusing and underusing some of their strengths and they need feedback. I’m sure that when you first give them feedback about it, they’re like “that’s just who I am. I’m sorry I’m just honest and people don’t like it.” “Yeah and when you do that, you alienate everyone. I’m not saying lie to people but you have to moderate your honesty. Find a way to induce kindness or compassion.” I would look at behaviors. I would look at what’s the quality of the relationship you have, how much influence do you have over them before you have this conversation. But then talk to them about the soft skills versus the hard skills. Talk to them about character, maybe get them to take a strengths test but also ensure that you have support from people above you and that you can discipline and hold them accountable. And then –and this is sort of a hardline — but if they don’t change or refuse to do so, then document them out the door. If you keep the Darth Vaders and you let people get away with only being technically proficient and not having soft skills, then that’s the culture that you’ll create.
Audience Question: If we silo a succession plan to a particular division such as telecommunications or channel, is that counter-productive to the overall culture of the organization?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Yes ideally. If the whole organization doesn’t want to do it, well, if you’re the civilian manager even if you can’t formally succession plan your people, I would say do it informally because it’s your responsibility to do it.
Now, obviously, I would want every organization to have a formalized succession plan, but the fact is you only control your world and if the whole organization won’t buy into it, do it in your area. I would also say, like you’re dealing something in your comm center and some of the sworn people go, “Well, hey we don’t have that in patrol. Can we come to your webinars or be in your book club?” I would say, “Sure come on!” Unless you have some opposition to that, I would create something in your area for your people if you have no other way of doing it.
Obviously, you can do it for the whole agency that would be ideal. But if you’re going to do something in your area and you create some really good stuff and other people want to participate, I would welcome that. Because then, if people start talking about what great leadership training you’re doing formally or informally in your comm center so much so the sworn people want to come, then that might motivate people in patrol or the jail to start doing their own things. I wouldn’t wait to develop your people because the whole organization won’t get on board. I would obviously ask the organization to partner with you on the things that you’ve learned or the ideas that you’ve taken from this experience today but don’t not develop your people because the organization won’t do it.
Audience Question: On one of your slides, the setting people up for success, you’ve indicated to be yourself 60 percent of the time. Can you talk a little bit what does that mean?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: I realized I skipped over that so I appreciate you asking. What I meant is this. I used the example of being honest. For me and that’s one of my struggles. My second strength is honesty. What I used to do is a hundred percent of the time, I beat people in the face with the truth. And that’s just how I was and I would overuse that strength and I hurt people’s feelings and I alienated people which is pretty bad.
When I learned to moderate myself, that does not mean that I can’t sometimes be brutally honest, right? It doesn’t mean I’m a jerk when I do it but it doesn’t mean I can’t say, “You know what? That’s a bad idea or that’s not going to work for me.” There are some times I can still be brutally honest but not cut people to the bone with a brutal honesty if that makes sense. I can just be direct and say, “No, that’s a bad idea.” In some situations, being brutally honest works just fine and people appreciate the directness, they’re open to the feedback, no worries.
In life, I figure that I can be myself 60 percent of the time with how I’m hardwired, meaning my honesty, but 40 percent of the time, I don’t get to be brutally honest. I don’t just go, “Nope. You know here’s my perspective and here’s my idea why that might not really work effectively. My past experiences say XY and Z have happened and I know the people that you are talking about and their mindset is XY and Z at this time. So, what actually might really be much more effective because I know these people is to approach them in this particular way by doing these particular things.” So I’m much more reserved in the way that I offer my opinion. I’m offering suggestions instead of directly just saying no. It doesn’t mean I lie. It doesn’t mean I minimize my perspective. There’s always a key in communication that you have to know your audience. You have to know what people are going to be open to, and you have to know how to deliver messages differently. I don’t get to be brutally honest 100 percent of the time. I can do it about 60 percent. But for 40 percent of the time, I have to be honest in moderation so that I make sure the message is delivered and heard.
And that’s true for all of our strengths. For example, kindness. Super kind people, they can’t be kind all the time because when they are, they’re doormats and they’re taken advantage of. They end up giving and giving and giving until they’re totally burned out. So 60 percent of the time be kind — but forty percent of the time say no. Set a boundary. Be kind but be kind with limits. That’s what I meant by that. We all have to learn how to moderate ourselves so that we do not deplete ourselves, and that we communicate effectively, and we can have influence instead of being alienating.