Carter: Management by Objectives: You Need to Plan

More than 520 years ago, Christopher Columbus discovered the new world. Not that it was the New World he was really looking for, but it was the best he could do at the time. Let me suggest that a part of what we are and who we are have come about owing to his influence. A great deal of time was spent in planning suitable commemorations of that occasion. A review of history tends to lead to an interesting dichotomy.

Many people spent vast quantities of time and talent charting the course for that memorial event. They had a good idea of just what was going to happen and the exact points at which the various events were to occur. This is an important point for us to ponder. I want you to contrast all of this planning with the actual voyage of Columbus himself. He did not know exactly where he was headed. He was armed with a simple abiding faith in his theory that if you sailed to the west, you would eventually reach the east. We know now that his was a solid theory, but at the time that is all it was: theory.

So picture the actual view of Columbus' fantastic journey in contemporary terms. A man set sail across uncharted seas, with just a vision of where he and his people were headed. Armed only with strong hearts, a hopefully ample store of provisions, and only the stars to guide them, they set out in search of the unknown.

Sound familiar? It sure should because it could describe the manner in which many of our fire departments work everyday. People have a vague perception that combating fire and helping people are a way of doing good things for their fellow travelers here on earth. They have no idea where they are or where they are going, or what they will do when they get there; but they continue to charge into the unknown territory of municipal fire protection.

The purpose of this visit with you is to explain that a way to plan does exist for your chaotic journey. Most managers will agree that a day started without a plan, without some goals to achieve, normally results in fewer accomplishments than a day lived with setting and meeting objectives. Therefore, let me state unequivocally that Management by Objectives (known as MBO) has been around since the 1960s. It is not some new fad to be looked at with fear and doubt. In cases where MBO has been properly utilized, the results have been outstanding.

According to Odiorne (1979) in his book Management by Objectives, MBO "… provides for the maintenance and orderly growth of the organization by means of statements of what is expected for everyone involved, and measurement of what is actually achieved." Simply stated, before the trip to success begins for any organization, the players have to agree on what constitutes success, how to accomplish it and how to recognize when they have achieved it.

For many fire chiefs, however, MBO means no more than endless rounds of meeting to discuss top-level goals. For too many people, the game of MBO becomes more important than the successes which can result from its use. MBO is "… a process whereby managers of an organization identify its goals, define each individual's major areas of responsibility in terms of results expected… and use the measures as guides operating the unit and assessing the contribution of its members." What one accomplishes with MBO is the mapping out of a journey for an organization. Management by objectives allows for the conduct of these steps in an orderly manner, within a well-thought-out organizational framework.

If, for example, the MBO plan states that at the end of a given number of months, the number of in-service fire training programs performed by individual companies will double, this becomes a recognizable, quantifiable entity. Presumably you will know how many sessions your companies are currently performing. If at the end of one yea, the number of sessions is not two times the original figure, you will be able to judge the degree of success which you have achieved. In this way, you will be able to determine how well your fire department has performed during the period of analysis.

Similarly, it would be a good thing to manage your department's response to emergency situations. Here is an example which can help you to frame your understanding of my thoughts. "At the end of eighteen months, our fire department will work to increase the emergency personnel response to twelve people operating two pumpers and an aerial device in greater than 90 percent of the fire department's operational incidents. You can easily measure the count now and then at the end of eighteen months you can make a new measurement.

The hard thing here is that you will actually have to lay out a plan which specifies just how you will meet this new goal. I am suggesting that a lick and a promise will not achieve this type of organizational objectives. In the career world you will have to battle for the bucks to get the people you need. In addition you will need to beef up your mutual aid agreements. Remember that the keep word in mutual aid is 'mutual'.

In the volunteer world, you will need to insure that some form of recruiting and retention are undertaken to increase the operational pool of people who are available to respond. You will need to create incentives to respond. Most importantly, you should put a great deal of effort into creating the camaraderie which will motivate the people to turn out for the calls. And like the career world you will need to develop effective mutual aid and automatic aid agreements.

It has been my personal experience that more and better successes will occur when something is expected of people by their leaders. If leaders expect nothing of their people, subordinates will always work to fulfill their expectations to the fullest extent possible. This is a sad story which I have seen repeated countless times during my career in the fire service.

Cooperation, communication and trust are the cornerstones which must exist in order to have a successful MBO program. When the subordinate lacks faith in the intentions of the supervisor, the necessary communications and cooperation will not be forthcoming. In order to engender the necessary good feelings, supervisors must always operate in an open and honest way. Hidden agendas and vested interests wills surely scuttle an attempt at managing through the use of objectives.

If it is your intention to become an expert in continuing crisis management, then don't even worry about MBO. Remember, nothing can ruin a good solid crisis like the existence of facts, empathy and cooperation. So as we pause each October to celebrate the deeds of Christopher Columbus, let us also pause to do away with the sort of unorganized approach to progress that let him to "accidentally" discover the land in which we now live.