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Company Officer Leadership: Get SMART about Data Collection and Analysis

Decreasing budgets have forced the fire and emergency service to defend its expenditures and prove its value like never before. The need to find alternative funding sources such as grants has made it urgent that we include strategic planning and needs assessments and to document outcomes in our business model, based on careful and accurate data collection and analysis.

Fire departments have been recording response times and fire loss for many years. Some organizations have expanded their performance metrics beyond the operational side of business, but many haven’t yet done this. We must develop a macro approach to measuring the effectiveness of our organizations if we expect to successfully defend our funding levels.

Performance metrics should incorporate best practices and be designed to enhance organizational effectiveness, efficiency and internal controls. Some key elements are customer satisfaction, workforce excellence and meeting local, state and national standards.

The first step in developing performance metrics is to identify what your organization is and is not doing well. This discussion may begin internally, but it should ultimately extend to the general public. After all, they’re the ones we serve.

Focus groups composed of key people in the community can identify which services are perceived as valuable and which aren’t. The groups also provide the opportunity to open a dialogue with the community while demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.

When developing objectives and goals, be sure they are specific and measurable. The SMART test is frequently referenced when designing performance metrics:

S = Specific: Be clear and focused on what it is you want to improve.
M = Measurable: Be able to quantify change, positive or negative.
A = Attainable: Make sure your goals are can be achieved under normal conditions.
R = Realistic: Determine if the organization can afford to meet and maintain the new goals.
T = Time: Determine if you can you accomplish the goals in the time allowed.

I like to add “ER” to the SMART process; the “ER” adds the steps of evaluating and revising the improvement plan. Like the fireground, organizational improvement is fluid; it’s important to continually evaluate your progress and make the changes needed to reach your goals.

Don’t just give lip service to performance metrics; you must support the whole process. It’s important to keep accurate records and acknowledge the results, regardless of what they may be. It’s equally important to implement change based on those outcomes.

Having the data to support your funding requests will improve the dialogue at budget meetings and reduce the stress within the organization.

Alan Rufer has an MBA in organizational development and is a Captain for the City of Monroe Fire Department, Monroe Wisconsin. Alan is responsible for the departments training and supervises twelve certified instructors.

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