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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We in the fire service should always be in a position to reveal our entire service mechanism, if asked. We should be able to justify every area of our service for the investment of taxpayer money. This justification must be “bullet-proof.” The more the citizens can understand what we do, the easier it is for them to support our efforts, provided we present it to them in terms they understand.

So what does “accountable” mean? It can mean different things, depending on who is asking the question. Think about the way people purchase a service or product. Some people want to know everything about every purchase. These people will research every aspect, then determine if the cost of the service or product is truly a fair investment for the potential result. Then, there are those people (usually most people) who just want to be sure that the service is of a quality standard to fulfill their needs without any research into the subject. These folks usually rely on word-of-mouth coupled with a few basic and agreed-upon standards for measurement.

“The Balanced Scorecard.” In the early 1990s, Dr. Robert Kaplan and Dr. David Norton of the Harvard Business School developed a strategic management and measurement system called “The Balanced Scorecard.” Recognizing some of the weaknesses and vagueness of previous management approaches, the Balanced Scorecard approach provides a clear direction toward what companies should measure to “balance” the financial viewpoint. The Balanced Scorecard is a management system – not just a measurement system – that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. Then, it provides feedback around both the internal business processes and external outcomes in order to continuously improve strategic performance and results.

The Balanced Scorecard suggests that business leaders and employees view an organization from four perspectives: learning and growth; business process; customer perspective; and financial performance. Then it prescribes that the business should develop metrics, collect data and analyze it according to each perspective. The value of these measurements provides strategic feedback to show the present status of the organization from many perspectives for decision makers. The key areas are:

Applying the Balanced Scorecard concept to emergency services: ISO and CFAI. There are two key organizations that measure the quality and ability of a fire department: ISO and CFAI. The ISO rating has been used over the past 50 years predominantly to measure the strength and preparation of a fire department’s resources (physical and human) to deliver its service to the community. Its significant use is tied to the community through the discount an insurance company gives to businesses in the jurisdiction that the fire department protects. The lower the ISO rating, from 1 to 10, the better the quality of the service as it affects the department’s ability to protect the community.

The mission of CFAI is to help fire and emergency service agencies to achieve excellence through self-assessment and accreditation. The purpose of CFAI is to support continuous improvement and enhancement of service to the community. CFAI seeks to understand the underlying reasons for the success of a department as well as provide a road map to achieving service excellence. The model for this process includes 10 performance categories:

Among these 10 categories there are 255 performance indicators, 118 of which are core competencies, such as water supply, prevention programs and staffing levels. Presently, 88 fire departments have received the accreditation designation.

However, CFAI should consider developing a “Balanced Scorecard” conceptually along the lines we have discussed in this article. This would be a sort of “shorthand” so that every citizen, business or institution within a department’s jurisdiction would know how accreditation relates to the quality of the protection from their department 24 hours a day, year after year. For example, perhaps there is a way to describe measurements for each of the 10 key categories so citizens can understand how the department in their community applies them directly to the protection it provides.

For information about CFAI or to apply for the accreditation, contact: