Realistic Planning Needed to Justify Goals
For public fire safety organizations to be effective and keep pace with evolving social and technological conditions, it is vital to plan ahead. Plan ahead, so that these conditions and the problems they incur can be faced head-on and be dealt with accordingly.
The fire service has entered a period in which there is a need for definite accountability. Effective utilization of a fire department’s total resources, reducing costs, improving resource management, developing and applying innovative methods, and proving the need for continued and increased community support are important elements in maintaining organizational viability.
It’s now necessary that the fire service, as never before, give serious consideration to its future. It must be able to answer the questions of where it can he and where it wants to be in the next few years.
Guidelines for future
What does this call for? It calls for a comprehensive process of planning. When this is done, it provides an organization with vitality and direction for the future, the ability to make changes when necessary, and assistance in determining priorities and how best to allocate resources to achieve the goals and objectives established.
The increasing cost of public services and the competition for available funds among the various governmental units is resulting in a public demand for greater accountability. Public fire safety organizations must now interpret the quality, content and effectiveness of their services. This is a must if they want continued support from the community and administrative bodies. They must match performance with promise.
The goals and objectives toward which they are striving have to be more definite and must maintain a continuous relevancy to changing needs.
Goals must be realistic
Planning demands the establishment of realistic goals and objectives which in turn provide direction for development of the organization on all levels.
These goals—and we can term them action goals describe the desired future for the organization within a given time period, say from two to five years. They relate to doing things in a different, yet more effective way. They call for innovation and yet serve to bring the efforts of all the operating units into a total effort by providing a definitive direction for the whole organization.
Basically, what is done when an organization sets these goals is to look ahead and predict desired future conditions and situations that can be achieved by it within the stated time period. Once established, the goals are accomplished by designing and stating specific objectives which lead to the direct achievement of the goals. Once objectives are decided upon, organizational activities are implemented to achieve them. An overview of the process is illustrated in Chart I.
Action goals and objectives will vary in many ways for any given organization. Each fire department must develop its own to fit its own situation and its perception of its role in the community it serves. However, this writer feels that the following examples may provide some further insight on how to make it work:
To increase the role of the fire service as a strong and effective spokesman for fire safety in the community.
Objective A: By December 1, 1977, identify four major fire problems seriously affecting life safety in the community.
- By August 15, collect sufficient information through statistical analysis, observations, interviews and inspections to develop a position paper.
- Review problem areas with staff and administrative personnel, establishing relationship to fire department. Appoint a committee to develop a position paper by November 15.
- Present position paper on December 1 to city management and general public
Objective B: By January 1, 1977, develop and implement a strategy for taking action to minimize the four problem areas.
- Organize a speakers bureau of qualified interested department personnel willing to address community groups on the problems. To be completed by August 1.
- Schedule, for the following 12 months, speaking engagements for bureau personnel.
- Identify and plan cooperative efforts for corrective measures with other interested local government units and community groups. Target date, November 15.
To constantly improve the capabilities of management personnel on all levels.
Objective A: By April 1, 1977, have all management personnel from lieutenant up involved in a management training program of at least three weeks.
- Obtain schedules of activities of this nature from state training, colleges and other agencies.
- Make personnel assignments— which members will attend which programs.
- Appropriate necessary funds from budget. If not available, secure approval for reallocation.
- Develop an in-service management training program to cover the next 12 months.
Schedule outside speakers with expertise for in-service program.
Evaluate present library and AV material for appropriate content; if not sufficient, develop materials and obtain texts, etc.
- Schedule all key staff personnel to attend at least one national or regional conference relating to fire department or municipal management.
To improve the image of the fire department in the community.
Objective A: By November 1,1977, institute an organized public relations program which provides interpretative information to all segments of the community to achieve a better understanding of the need and value of fire safety programs.
- Appropriate funds to establish a public relations program on a year-round basis.
- Develop a public relations program which will include at least one or more of the following:
- A community service project each month.
- At least one meeting during the year with all local service organizations, government units, etc., to gain insight to the status of the department image and to present the fire department story.
- In conjunction with other interested groups, develop programs for improving the fire department image.
- Design cooperative programs with professional groups concerned with fire safety.
- Include in the in-service training program subject matter dealing with public relations.
Orderly planning enables a public fire safety organization to set its priorities and concentrate its resources and activities on achieving its reason for existence, not on projects which are no longer relevant, just add glitter or look and sound nice. Organizational activities are the tools—the means—the way to get the job done. However, they should not be treated as though they are the ends. The ends—goals and objectives—are identified and stated. The organizational activities—the means— are determined on the basis of their contributions toward achieving the objectives and goals.
The next step
Now it’s not enough to say this is the total planning model that can be used in an organization, so we must take our model one step further to be effective. Chart II is a suggested model and indicates the following steps:
- Organization purpose: This is the overall purpose or mission of the organization, its philosophy and broad purposes the reason for being. This provides a general direction to the department.
- Action goals: Defined earlier. These should be brief statements, one or two sentences, which are easily understood by all units and personnel. Additionally, personnel should feel they are worthwhile and that they can be achieved within the time span established.
- Management by objectives: This is a total organizational process in which all personnel that work as a unit determine what they want to accomplish, establish milestones and criteria for that accomplishment, and schedule the efforts that will be required. Some steps in the process are:
- Objectives: These are specific, measurable statements of attainable outcomes within the boundaries of the action goals and specify a target date for accomplishment. The objectives should:
- Be realistic with resources available,
- Be measurable and verifiable,
- Relate directly to those accountable or affected,
- Represent a significant challenge, and
- Have a target date for their accomplishment.
- Evaluation and contracting: This step involves an evaluation of the objectives with the various operating units, including administrative and supervisory personnel and subordinates. A contract, either written or verbal, is reached regarding the objectives and their accomplishment. This affords a means of integrating the objectives of the various units into a total organizational effort and provides a means of coordination, as well as maximizing resource use to achieve the objectives and goals.
- Organizational activities: This is the action phase. It includes the work to be done and who is to do it. Targets (six months or fiscal year) are set for completing these activities.
Activity planning budget system: This is the overall process of budgeting based on a reasonable planning of programs. It includes:
- Development and review of budgets: This step involves the methodical design for utilizing money, manpower, facilities, and other resources to achieve the goals and objectives.
- Implementation: Simply put it to work.
- Activity evaluation and accountability: This involves an examination and critical evaluation of actual performance relative to achievement of the set unit objectives. This includes all personnel and is necessary to enhance the performance of the personnel in the organization.
It may be advisable in some situations during this phase of planning to adopt a zero budget policy. This basically calls for going back and explaining the needs and tends to keep the budget trimmed. It calls for asking the question, “Why do we need these things?”
Constant review urged
Briefly, this is how the planning process can be put into use. However, it is not enough to set down or implement such a process and say that’s it. There is a need for constant review and evaluation of the progress being made by the organizational units, including all personnel involved, in relation to the achievement of the goals and objectives. This is a vitally important phase, since it is during this period that a number of things may be found, such as target dates that may have to be changed, responsibilities shifted and so forth.
It should be pointed out here that the planning process must allow for changes. That is, it must be flexible enough to meet the need for change if necessary. Finally, to be effective, review and evaluation should be simple in the sense that it does not overwhelm the personnel involved or cause excessive paperwork. It must be simple, yet meaningful to all concerned.
In reviewing this process, one might comment by saying, “So what’s new?” Really, this is a refinement of the planning process that most fire safety organizations may already be using.
Prevents random decisions
However, the fact remains that effective planning prevents random decisions and ones which narrow the choices for the future. It provides an organization with a structural framework of goals and objectives which they can use as a basis for present and future decision-making.
Additionally, effective planning lets everyone in the organization know what the organizational directions are. This in turn leads to support, facilitates teamwork among the various units, enhances channels of communications and fosters vitality within the organization.
One cannot overstress the value of effective planning. It can make a public fire safety organization innovative in designing its future rather than just reactive to the multiplicity of pressures that the present rate of change may impose upon it.
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