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Do you need to rise through the ranks to be successful?



It has recently been reported in the press that there are government plans underway to open up the top jobs in the police force to outsiders. Plans have been drawn up for a new law enabling civilians to compete with senior police for chief constable jobs in England and Wales. The idea of rising through the ranks is firmly established in the police service but this is intended to help the force to attract more professionals and boost the talent and experience of chief constables. In many respects, it is encouraging to see such a broad-minded and flexible approach to sourcing talent.

I’ve been with Hays for around 30 years now so I can definitely advocate the benefits of rising up the ranks in an organisation. It means you understand the detail behind your business, are fully engrained in the industry and are a proven success to your colleagues. It also means that staff know that the company offers a long and rewarding career path.

Schools fairly recently opened up their senior roles to “outsiders” too, in part led by the rise of academies and their need for executive heads/CEOs. This approach faced similar scrutiny and questions about whether you could effectively run a school or academy without having been a teacher. The signs are positive, particularly in cases where there are multiple academies, and there are benefits to bringing in an experienced leader of a large, multi-faceted, multi-site organisation. You could argue that the job is focused around budgeting, staff management and leadership, which is very far removed from being a teacher.

But, that’s not to say there aren’t pitfalls with the approach. Perhaps one of the main questions here is how do you garner respect from a workforce when you aren’t proven to them and haven’t been promoted through the ranks? How do you convey that you understand the nuances of the sector and the organisation when you are from a completely different background? The reality is, that this is what good leadership is all about – you can’t possibly be expected to understand every single aspect of your business, but by having a strong team in place you can still be an effective leader.

At Hays, we are advocates of growing our own talent, largely focusing on promoting from within and supporting this with experienced hires only where necessary. That’s the beauty of investing in your employees’ career progression and having strong succession plans in place - it means they are clear about their career paths and where the opportunity lies. Opening up the talent pool could be a wise move, but only if it is as part of a wider reform of the recruitment and talent planning strategy. You will want to consider whether you need to review other parts of your recruitment strategy. Will you just open up the most senior jobs to external applicants or does it apply at all levels? Opening up just the top job is potentially a risky move that will lead to dissatisfied, disenchanted staff.

You’ll also have to look at the impact on the morale of the change on existing staff. Will you have more talent leaving than staying? Don’t underestimate how negatively it could be perceived and make sure you’ve mitigated the risks, particularly with very capable senior staff who may have pursued a career path through the ranks and have their eyes on the top job. You don’t want to be faced with an exodus of your management team.

We all have to move with the times and it is clear that a job like a chief constable is only going to get more challenging and more demanding, but in isolation opening up just the top job could potentially be more damaging than it is positive. However, top talent is often scarce and this new approach from the police force is a good reminder that we must have effective people strategies in place. We have to make sure we can access the right skills when we need them and that we nurture the ambition of our existing staff at the same time.

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs, please contact your local consultant.

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