The Balanced Scoreboard: Marketing The Effectiveness of Your Department

Question: Is there a shorthand mechanism that any citizen, organization, institution or corporation can use to measure the effectiveness of its fire department? If there were such a tool, what would the average citizen do with it anyway...


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Question: Is there a shorthand mechanism that any citizen, organization, institution or corporation can use to measure the effectiveness of its fire department? If there were such a tool, what would the average citizen do with it anyway?

Answer: Significant strides have been made since the establishment of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International Inc. (CFAI). After 15 years of developing standards, CFAI was created in 1996 to provide a comprehensive assessment tool to achieve a uniform standard of excellence for the fire service. The challenge is converting the standards of CFAI into a language every citizen can understand.

In January 2003, I wrote a column called: “Marketing the Effectiveness of Your Department.” I received over 1,000 e-mails after that column was published. Obviously, this subject is of intense interest. In my June 2004 column, as the final installment of a four-part piece on marketing, I discussed the aspects of price and value. Again, I received many responses. This month’s column will dig in even deeper to the issue of measuring departmental effectiveness and why it is so important. Finally, this column will provide ideas for a single “report card” status report for those measurements that the public can understand.

The environment. Why would a citizen need a measuring device for a fire department? Probably to make an informed decision about whether we continue to be a value for their money. Most of us know that we are long past the days when it could be taken for granted that the fire department will receive the resources it wants just because it asks for them. It would serve us well just to review, for a minute, the environment in which we operate.

There is not a business, institution or individual today that is not susceptible to measurement. A business uses a number of measurements to determine its “health.” In publicly held businesses, this is standard and is usually expressed in an annual report, punctuated by quarterly updates. Consider the kind of scrutiny a successful business applies to itself on behalf of its stockholders. Should a public service have any less rigorous observation? The answer is obvious, yet this is not necessarily the situation.

Government bureaucracy has long had a reputation for overspending with the trust, yet without the rigor of a watchful public. Some in public service have used the fact that we are not a business to blur the “bottom line” discussion when asked to be accountable. The worn-out response is that “we do not turn a profit.” The fact is that regardless of the profit discussion, we are critically accountable to the entire “market.” It is true that we are measured in different ways, but in the end someone must pay the bill. The “bill” is spelled “money,” from the citizens, businesses and institutions we protect.

What does measurement have to do with me? As a firefighter you may ask, “What does this have to do with me today as I start or end my shift?” Here’s the answer. I have rarely met a firefighter who did not love what he or she was doing. Want to keep doing it? Then consider yourself to be a public service business of one firefighter. How much measured, tangible value do you bring to the department, enhancing its value to the citizens it protects? How much intangible value do you bring? That last one is critical, because much of it depends on the value of departmental and individual relationships. How much value does your team bring to the department and to the citizens? And because we cannot be inside the heads and hearts of citizens every day and night, much of this value depends on perception. Enter the marketing equation.

Accountability and marketing. All of this discussion points to the following: department accountability, organizational effectiveness and return on taxpayer investment. Why should it be so important to the fire service? Because we are a completely transparent service created to meet the life-safety needs of the entire market or jurisdiction in which we are located. We exist for our citizens, not to sell a widget and make a profit.

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