with Dr. Larry F. Jetmore
Tackling the supervisor/subordinate exam II
My September article on career advancement continued a series on how to excel on promotional examinations that use an “assessment center” process. The article concentrated on the supervisor-subordinate (also known as the employee-conflict) examination and provided a sample test for readers to take. Since all my articles build on one another I recommend you briefly revisit my last article and review it.
The Supervisor/Subordinate Examination
In the mock supervisor/subordinate examination the directions indicated that you had thirty minutes to read a scenario and then take whatever action as a police sergeant you deemed necessary to resolve the situation. The directions also indicated that the officer (role player) mentioned in the scenario was outside of the testing room waiting for you to call him in and in the room was “assessors” responsible for grading how well you did or didn’t demonstrate behaviors previously determined to be critical for the rank for which you were being tested.
In the practice exam you received written information that your name is Sergeant John D’Amico; assigned to the patrol division, and that Officer Frank Thomas works directly under your supervision. Further, you learned that Officer Thomas is a 10-year veteran whose job performance has significantly deteriorated over the past six months. He is often late to work, has failed to submit written reports in a timely fashion, and his reports often contain obvious errors that must be corrected. His appearance has deteriorated; he has lost more than 25 pounds in the past six months, has difficulty moving from point to point, and his uniform doesn’t fit properly and is often dirty. He has used five sick-days in the past two weeks.
The background information indicated that two weeks ago you had had a meeting with Officer Thomas to discuss his job performance. Officer Thomas advised you he was having “family problems” and would “shape up.” He also reminded you of his excellent past record and that he “broke you in” when you came to the department.
You suspect that Officer Thomas may be a functional alcoholic.
The written information you received also informed you that Officer Thomas is presently on duty, has a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, was thirty minutes late for work, and is not in uniform. The instructions for the examination indicated that you are to call Officer Thomas into the office in and take whatever action you deem necessary to resolve the situation.
How to Receive a High Score
Remember, you only have 30 minutes, so time is a critical factor. The assessors can only grade you for what they see you do and what they hear you say in the 30 minutes you have to read and understand the test directions, scenario background and facts, and meet with the officer. As you're reading through the various items in your supervisor/subordinate envelope, underline or highlight key material. Use a separate sheet of paper to outline exactly what your plan will be when you speak with the officer.
This will be noted by the assessors and give you extra points for "planning and organizing." However, be careful about what you write – in many assessment centers, all notes are turned in to the assessors.
Rearrange the environment appropriately for the type of interview the situation requires by pacing the chairs in front of, or next to, the desk in a manner that will put you in better control of the interview. Arrange all of your material for ready reference before the interview begins. All of this preparation will be observed by the assessors. Remember, you're playing the role of a Sergeant. You're no longer an officer. Act the part!
When you open the door, greet the officer with a smile and a handshake which will give you added points for professionalism and interpersonal sensitivity. The role-player will act out the role of someone who is slightly disoriented and his clothing will be in disarray. Since the scenario stated he has “an odor of alcohol on his breath” and “has difficulty moving from point to point” the role player will take on those characteristics.
Ask the officer to have a seat and sit next to him in the “father/confessor” mode. Act the part of the concerned Sergeant. Advise the officer that two weeks ago you met with him to discuss his deteriorating job performance and that you are now are observing inappropriate behavior such as being late for work, out of uniform, odor of alcohol on his breath, and difficulty in moving from point A to point B. Ask him how he got to the police station: did he drive? Since he is in plain clothes, determine if he is carrying his service weapon. If he is, ask him to surrender his weapon to you. Recommend to the officer that he should take advantage of the department’s Employee Assistance Program.
All of this sets the stage for you to get up from your chair and sit at your desk in a more authoritarian posture. Obviously, this case calls for negative discipline. The ability of Sergeants to use negative discipline varies from city to city. At the very least, advise the officer that you are going to recommend he receive a written reprimand for:
(1) reporting late for duty,
(2) having an odor of alcohol on is breath, and
(3) conduct un-becoming an officer.
If you have the power to suspend the officer on the spot you would do so. There certainly is no problem with taking his firearm as he is not fit to carry it. One could make the case that he could be arrested for operating his vehicle under the influence (he drove to the station), but for the purposes of this test, you would indicate to the role player you were going to either drive him home or have someone else drive him home.
It’s important that you explain to the officer that you will be conducting a daily inspection to make certain he comes to work on time, in proper uniform, does not have an odor of alcohol on his breath, and that his reports are completed properly. In other words, you must outline a plan (the assessors are listening) that deals with the future job performance and behavior of the officer. You also have to advise the officer about the progressive discipline process and that you will be recommending termination if preliminary negative discipline does not work. You should point out that this is the last thing you would like to see happen – remember, the purpose of discipline is not to punish, but to insure the officer is meeting the standards of job performance and behavior required by the apartment. You also have to take into consideration past practice in the department in similar cases.
When you’re ready to end the interview, stand, shake hand of the role players (if appropriate) and tell him you (or someone else) will be driving him home. Also mention that you are going to brief the Lieutenant and/or Captain on what has transpired. During the interview, the assessors will judge you on all of the dimensions that apply: oral communication, planning, organizational integrity, judgment, control (positive, negative, progressive discipline) etc.
In order to do well at assessment centers, you have to be a good actor. Proponents of this type of testing argue that candidates, when put under pressure, behave as they would in real life. That may be the case, but since you know in advance the behaviors that will fulfill the requirements of the grading dimensions, you'll add points to your final score.
You're as much "on-stage" in an assessment center as you are in the oral exam, so play the roll, act the part, and know the rules of the game!
Be safe out there!!!!!!
Larry the Jet