EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 23, 2013

Keefe selected through "assessment" trials

By Dustin Luca
dluca@eagletribune.com

---- — ANDOVER — A $15,000 fee paid to a New Hampshire company helped lead Andover to its next police chief, using two days of focus groups, interviews and role-playing exercises.

Municipal Resources, Inc. in Meredith, N.H. was the firm that helped town officials line up three internal candidates vying to replace retiring Police Chief Brian Pattullo when he retires July 31. They did so through an “assessment center” that narrowed three hopeful candidates down to one sure-fire leader.

Coming out of the process, the town offered the job to Andover Police Sgt. Pat Keefe, a 15-year veteran of the police force and lieutenant colonel in the National Guard.

Keefe, along with the other two unidentified candidates, went through the same process that Pattullo said he underwent in 1998 when he first eyed the police chief gig.

“In both cases, there was focus groups that were put together to see what the community was looking for in a police chief, and how the community felt with the police department at the time,” he said. “It also identified problems and issues in the department.”

To start the process, MRI employees met with department heads, a focus group of residents, business people and more “to develop a profile for the next chief,” Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said.

From there, the group took the needs identified by the focus group and assembled a series of exercises to test the candidates in those areas.

One of them was called “the in-basket,” Stapczynski said.

“You have to leave in two hours to catch a plane. You can’t miss it,” he said. “They hit him with 12 things, a couple of memos, a couple of reports and perhaps some phone calls to return.”

While the exercise goes on and the candidates manages his or her time, the group then introduced some “crises that would make them rethink if they want to go on the vacation,” Stapczynski said.

The assessment center Pattullo went through was a little longer and got a bit more hands on, according to Stapczynski.

“With Brian’s, the assessment center was interesting because they hired an actress. The actress came in disgruntled about ‘the way her son was treated at a motor vehicle stop,’” Stapczynski said. “That was pretty stressful. She was a good actress, and got fairly real life.”

This time around, an exercise that caught Pattullo’s attention was one “where they had actual stakeholders, townspeople, business people, school people in a group. [The candidates] basically walked in, and they didn’t know the topic of the questions,” he said. “It was everything from school safety all the way up to parking in the downtown parking district, to crime in the town. There was a whole variety of questions that was proposed to them that they weren’t able to prepare for and had to react to.”

The $15,000 paid for the company’s services and to give them a place to stay in the area for two nights, according to Stapczynski. Around $1,000 more was spent on meals for the MRI employees.

The town has used assessment centers for other positions as well. A center was run to ultimately hire Fire Chief Mike Mansfield in 2006, and MRI was tapped to review candidates for the finance director position filled by Donna Walsh last year, Stapczynski said.

When asked about his assessment center experience, Mansfield said it “was very fulfilling. It was a very well thought-out process that was developed to ensure that the candidates were challenged throughout the process.”

“I think the process actually leads to the selection of better candidates rather than just using an oral interview process only,” he said.