Webinar presenter Thom Dworak answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "Succession Planning for Continuous Organizational Growth." Here are a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Firstly, where do you find the time to read so much?
Thom Dworak: I'm retired. I do make it a part of my, I try to read at a minimum of 25 minutes a day. But I'm on the road a lot, so I do read in airplanes and airports and in hotel rooms. It's a habit I've developed over time and it's really how I make myself to continue to learn and make myself better.
Audience Question: Next question, why are some organizations so reluctant to actually do succession planning? And why does it seem like such a taboo topic?
Thom Dworak: I can go back to the things that I talked about earlier. I think that they actually fear it, because they don't want to either appear that they are playing favorites or give somebody a competitive advantage over somebody else. To me, if we started it and made it a priority well then true, everybody gets the same advantage at that point. Then cream's truly going to rise to the top. On the other side maybe, they have a favorite or a chosen one, and they fear the possibility that that person's not going to get promoted. To me, I see it's really a win-win if we make everybody better, and work for the personal and professional excellence of the entire organization rather than trying designated chosen few.
Audience Question: How does diversity play into this conversation as well in terms of succession planning, and as you were trying to talk about, trying to create an environment where everybody can succeed, and everybody can win?
Thom Dworak: I got in law enforcement back in 1983, my police department was all white males. It was difficult when we hired our first female, it was difficult when we hired our first African American, it was difficult when we hired our first African American female. From my standpoint, I don't see color, I just see people who want to do a good job. Giving everybody the same opportunity, at least from a developmental standpoint, really kind of levels that playing field and then we get into individual differences. We're giving everybody the same set of materials, we're giving everybody the same training. The organization's saying, "Hey, this is our value system. This is our culture, this is what we want everybody to be. Then at that point, I don't want to say it's going to be limited, based off of testing, or whatever, but at least we're giving everybody the same opportunity to at least to start with.
Audience Question: Thom, if an agency doesn't have a large budget for professional development programs or if they haven't established formal mentoring programs for growing the next generation of leaders, how can people take control over their own careers? What things should they be looking in doing beyond going to those couple of seminars that you were talking about, what are the things that should they be doing? I like to think of this, going back to my corporate experience, we called it "punching our ticket." We needed to have small group management experience, we needed to have large group management experience, we needed to have union experience, all those kinds of things. What are those experiences that people should be looking for?
Thom Dworak: The short answer is come to the webinar in September. When I would talk to some of our younger officers, "Where do you see yourself? Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?". Those people who are more successful in the organization how did they get there, what was their paths? If you could control your own career kind of thing. Rough as my agency earlier, all of our supervisors were in investigations, and all of our supervisors were FTOs. That doesn't necessarily mean that they were good at either or both, but they all had experience in them. And that is part of the culture of our organization. We might have to look at, somebody's got to look at, what are commonalities that exist in your organizational structure, in terms of what do the supervisors do, or what does their staff? You can't work at my agency unless you have a college degree. So, we're all college-educated. A lot of our supervisors have master's degrees. Or formal education paths at the minimum when haven't completed their master's degree but they were working towards it. We have a couple that were lawyers. Education in surveillance is highly valued in the organization. A lot of it is in terms of the effort you put forward to making yourself better. A lot of times I hear, "the organization wants me trained, you'll send me." Okay, that's good. But how do you separate yourself from somebody else? How do you go through to your putting out that effort to want to make yourself better, to acknowledge as a police officer, probation officer, corrections officer, you want to be, become a value to the organization?
Audience Question: As you know, I know we hear it all the time here at Justice Clearinghouse and you heard it certainly as you crossed the country, organizations simply don't have the budget that they used to have. While getting training from your organization is certainly important, and if there's a place for that, well, they don't have the budget like they used to.
Thom Dworak: No, we didn't lose budget money, but it was a lot of years before budgets got raised. Usually, the training budget's the first one to get cut. If we can go back when I was talking about the establishment college, a lot of those resources in there takes a little bit of elbow grease and Google. TedTalks are free, the WinX Talks they're free, a lot of podcasts are free, you have how many free webinars every month with all great topics. I log in every once in a while and listen to the webinars that you guys put on. Not only am I here presenting, I'm also a student of what you guys are offering. That stuff is there, and if questions come up, you got questions, my email is right there, shoot me an email. That's how we grow, that's how we establish relationships with each other. If you got a question about how to put something together, how to do something in the organization, shoot me a quick email. I may have not the answer, but I do have other resources where I can go get the answer for you, or put you in touch with that person. I do it in my life training classes all the time, and I'll extend it to our listeners. That's part of what we do, that's part of establishing relationships, making ourselves better, and giving value back to what we do.
Audience Question: What do you think the some of the biggest mistakes people make in managing their career in the attempt to, or in the pursuit of, moving up in their organizations?
Thom Dworak: Doing it for the wrong reason. Or trying to mimic somebody's career ladder and you are a completely different person than they are. I used myself as an example. About mid-career, it was very important to me to get promoted. Almost because I needed to, I can do this in retrospect, I was not ready to be in charge of people, much less lead them. But I saw what was going on in our organization in terms of, we had a couple of guys who were lawyers, we had a couple of guys who had master's degrees, so I went back to school and got my master's degree. Cause I was looking for a leg up. Now I will never get that experience back and it's benefited me way more in the second half of my career and post-retirement than it ever did. But I did it for the wrong reasons, I did it to try to look good — rather than work on being good. If that makes sense. I was trying to build an impressive resume rather than being an impressive person. What my actions speak, I really needed to work on my emotional intelligence, abilities, really to connect better with people. To not be so brutally honest, so to speak – or opinionated. There’re times when we need to be opinionated, but there are times, really, where we get, it can affect us. Choose the right the reason, take the good qualities of what you see from people, try to incorporate them, but don't try to be somebody you're not, it's not going to work.
Audience Question: And last question, Thom, as you traveled across the US, and you've seen a lot of different types of agencies, agencies that don't always have the big budget that the big cities have, etc. What are some of the creative ways that other agencies across the US are creating programs that help out or help grow their next generation of leaders? You mentioned tabletop exercises, what are some of the other ideas of how they're creating the training programs, training culture, to grow that next generation of leaders, even in spite of a lack of budget.
Thom Dworak: I'm seeing a lot of internal stuff they're using tools that they already have to build the infrastructure in there. If they want to bring in-person training in, they might pull up two or three different organizations. Early next year, I'm doing an in-service with five different organizations with all of their FTOs, and each organization is contributing an equal amount to be able to whole their training. So, it's not hurting more organizations more than another. They're spreading the cost out there. That's how we work with people. Being able to establish those abilities there. I think sometimes we get caught up so much on the formal training aspect of a benefit. It's not written down, it doesn't have a set of objectives, or we're not put on butts on seats for eight hours it's not training, it's not development. But a lot of these shorter videos, reading, all that type of stuff, a lot of times serves better than sending somebody off to school for a week or two and then never have anything coming back to reinforce what they've learned. And it really helps to establish that, this is a value-based culture system that we exist in, and when they do it, it shows that they care about the development of their employees. Because they're making an extra step to go forward and put this in there. It takes some time, it takes a little bit of effort, but it really doesn't cost a lot of money to do it that way, there are tons and tons of resources that are available to us. Sifting through the wheat from the chaff though is probably the most difficult part. It's really finding the best of the TedTalks, the best of the WinX Talks, those things are really going to feed into a culture of the agency, or personally, in terms of what you're trying to accomplish.
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