MBO Pays Dividends in Cincinnati With Improvements in Three Areas
As municipal budgets get tighter, fire departments seek ways of accomplishing more or just maintaining the level of fire protection.with the same funds—or even fewer dollars.
A management technique that seems to offer great promise to fire service administrators who are trying to increase their departments’ effectiveness is management by objectives (MBO).
While MBO is not easily implemented and often requires three years for successful implementation in a large organization, Chief Bert A. Lugannani and his staff have made substantial progress in making MBO an integral part of the management of the Cincinnati Fire Division. Since MBO was adopted in Cincinnati, it is being viewed as a valuable management tool that is already paying dividends in increased fire department effectiveness.
Specifically, there are three areas in which MBO has achieved results in the Cincinnati Fire Division—training substitute apparatus drivers, improving fire prevention operations and carrying out company duties.
Training of operators
As a result of fire division layoffs following a shortened work week, the number of men assigned to temporary duty as pumper engineers and aerial truck operators increased significantly. The normal procedures for training and certifying fire fighters as substitute apparatus operators, proved to be inadequate to meet the increased demands.
As a part of MBO, a program was launched with a primary objective: “To have 98 percent of all fire fighters and operators qualified as utility operators on both pumpers and trucks.” The MBO procedure was followed as details regarding the numbers of operators and training procedures were jointly agreed upon by district marshals (equivalent to battalion chiefs) and company officers. Also, the training and personnel bureau worked out supporting objectives with the marshals to handle the increased testing of operators.
Marshal Donald Duddey reported that in a six-week period, the number of utility operators certified was 29—a 600 percent increase over the usual five expected in six weeks.
Each of the five Cincinnati fire districts has a fire prevention supervisor, one rank above captain. Two somewhat related problems have been a lack of contact between the supervisor and fire company inspection programs, and a large turnover of supervisors due to requested demotions. Recently some supervisors, as part of the MBO process, developed objectives to solve both problems. The primary objectives were to achieve a 25 percent increase in fire safety violations corrected through closer involvement with the companies, and a 200 percent decrease in supervisor turnover—both within one year.
A critical supporting objective, jointly agreed by the supervisors and Assistant Chief Charles Collini, in charge of fire prevention, was a change in the work week from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days. This change was designed to decrease turnover of supervisors and allow them to conduct needed fire prevention training for companies during early drill sessions prior to their normal working hours.
The MBO process laid out specific objectives, provided specific dates for review and evaluation, and obtained commitments from those participating. For this reason, what would have been considered a ploy to gain an additional day off under conventional management, now is being considered for early adoption.
Improved company work
A third example shows how MBO can improve the handling of fire company routine duties. Captain Howard Moore of Engine 12 established objectives with his two lieutenants to increase the quality and quantity of building inspections and hydrant checks. Specific percentages, target dates and methods of shift cooperation were agreed to by the three and incorporated into a company plan.
Management & Systems
The captain reported that due to this approach, virtually problem-free hydrant maintenance was continued throughout the bitter cold winter and the company inspection program was considerably ahead of schedule.
The above examples show the practical value of MBO and illustrate how it can be used effectively at all levels in a municipal fire department. While it is not a panacea, it is a management tool with considerable potential.
The MBO process in the Cincinnati Fire Division began in June 1976, when two management consultants were hired with training funds. These consultants offered a course consisting of six halfdays at the Cincinnati fire college to all captains and higher ranking officers. The course was given four times to fit in with work schedules.
Officers see potential
The participants learned about the MBO concept and they developed meaningful objectives, both as part of their training and also as potential inputs for fire division objectives. The fire officers expressed a general feeling that the MBO concept offered a potential for the development of bold, aggressive programs in the fire department.
In addition to the chief and his five assistant chiefs, the program was supported by the leadership of Local 48, International Association of Fire Fighters. Since it is a management system based on cooperation, communication, and participation by all levels in the organization, all organizational participants can realize benefits. In fact, MBO is essentially a system wherein supervisors and subordinates participate in setting objectives, working toward the objectives, and realizing satisfaction as goals are reached.
In the classical management system, authority is vested in and emphasis is on the positions in an organization. In MBO, objectives are jointly set by superiors and subordinates and there is a feedback which superiors can use to make better decisions.
While many managers may feel that any “participative” management system might erode their authority, this system actually strengthens authority by developing consent among those being directed. Since subordinates agree with a superior on objectives, a greater commitment to accomplishment is the the likely result.
The accompanying chart compares traditional management with MBO in several key areas.
The benefits of MBO programs have been summarized in many ways. For the fire service, a convenient grouping shows 15 advantages, five each for the organization, the supervisor and the subordinate, as follows:
- For the organization:
- Clarifies goals,
- Forces planning and control,
- Surfaces conflicts,
- Obtains commitments from supervisors,
- Draws upon first-eschelon expertise.
- For the supervisor:
- Forces effective delegation,
- Frees time for managing,
- Gains two-way communication,
- Improves evaluation criteria,
- Obtains commitments from subordinates.
- For the subordinate:
- Improves direction and guidance,
- Provides autonomy,
- Allows participation,
- Forces feedback from above,
- Heightens morale.
Two MBO disadvantages which are at least partially valid for a fire department are (1) difficulty of quantifying objectives and (2) conflict with the paramilitary nature of a fire department.
Any objective weighing of advantages over disadvantages indicates a heavy plus favoring MBO for a fire department.
The training sessions conducted by the consultants emphasized four basic phases of the MBO process:
- Goals and objectives for the division,
- Agreement on duties and responsibilities between superiors and subordinates,
- Mutual goal setting, and
- Performance review interviewing-
The consultants emphasized at the beginning of the formal program that before meaningful mutual goal setting could occur, the Cincinnati Fire Division must first establish and communicate overall goals and objectives throughout the division. All department administrators, from captains to chief, were involved in developing and explaining the basic objectives throughout the organization.
The first two training sessions were devoted to this complex task. The third session was directed at providing techniques for getting superiors and subordinates to agree on individual duties and responsibilities. The outside consultants made it clear that superiors and subordinates must be on the same wavelength in this vital area to have rapport and attain agreement on objectives. The fourth and fifth sessions identified basic problem areas and some key objectives for each unit in the fire division. Participants were put into small groups to work on these problems in a manageable way.
These latter sessions produced some important individual objectives for department managers. Also, because of their complex problems, two areas of the fire division were singled out for further study—(1) management policy and personnel development and (2) fire prevention.
Lugannani, in consultation with his assistant chiefs and with the support of the consultants, formed two task forces, one for management policy and personnel development and the other for fire prevention. The members of the two task forces were selected because of their past ability to perform for t he fire division. They represented a cross section of all ranks in the fire division.
In the sixth and final session, the consultants covered the basic techniques of communicating and interviewing. During role playing, some of the participants conducted both goal setting and performance review interviews in front of the training group. Seminar leaders critiqued these interviews and common pitfalls to be avoided were pointed out. At the conclusion of the sixth session, the seminar leaders felt that the participants were ready to make MBO work in the Cincinnati Fire Division.
Upon completion of the training program, the challenge of continuing the MBO process fell on two task forces that were an outgrowth of the program. Assistant Chief Robert Rathman, a member of the management task force, and Assistant Chief Charles Collini, a member of the fire prevention task force, accepted this challenge. Assistance was also given by William Kramer, assistant professor of management at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and a Cincinnati fire fighter.
As chairman of the management task force, Kramer decided that an immediate priority was the education of the fire division personnel in the theory and potential of MBO. The facilities of a local TV station, WCET, were used to tape a 45-minute MBO program, introduced by the chief. The men on all three platoons were directed to watch this program, which was telecast by WCET prior to the start of its normal programming day.
Management task force members then visited all fire companies to answer questions, alleviate apprehensions, and gain grass roots support.
Specific points made
The televised program and company visits made the following points:
- Company objectives are of two types: objectives set within the company and those which affect fire division policy. The latter must be resolved by top fire department management and incorporated into higher level objectives.
- MBO is not a democracy or voting session. It is a system that forces cooperation and agreement between levels of authority by establishing objectives whose performance can be measured.
- MBO is not a suggestion-box approach to management. Objectives are far more solid than suggestions and require definite performance.
- The authority of officers is not undermined. It can be strengthened because of the consent of subordinates.
- Decisions from upper levels in the fire division will not be cast in the traditional mold but will reflect subordinate objectives.
As the task forces operated, MBO was kept in the foreground of management decision-making. Additionally, the management task force decided that its function was fourfold: see that MBO works, assist all levels in objective formulation, coordinate objectives between levels and set long-range fire division objectives.
Whereas fire fighters originally were skeptical about the introduction of MBO in the Cincinnati Fire Division, they later began to recognize the dedication of the task forces to the improvement of the management structure.