Consolidation: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

There’s a lot of talk about “consolidation” going on in the public safety arena these days, as well as some action. For example, municipalities such as Naples, FL are beginning to combine adjacent fire districts; others such as Long Beach, CA are consolidating their police and fire dispatch centers; and still others, such as Sunnyvale, CA and Rockford, MI have gone so far as to merge their police, fire, and EMS functions or departments. In each case, leaders were up front in acknowledging that the consolidation is/was budget-driven. Clearly decision-makers are hoping that the results will help stabilize the community’s financial woes. But have they found a panacea or opened a Pandora’s box?

In my experience, organizations that consolidate, merge, acquire, or otherwise combine like or unlike entities often fail to think through carefully the implications of their actions. Unintended negative consequences often result. To avoid that unfortunate outcome, here are some questions that leaders whose decisions affect the level of public safety in their communities might want to consider before they go down the consolidation path:

  • What or who is driving the consolidation effort?
  • What will be the impact of the consolidation on the level of public safety?
  • Are the estimated cost savings net of all direct and indirect costs? That is, do they include expenses such as those for re-training employees, for replacement workers while staff are undergoing training, for purchasing new equipment and systems, for combining disparate systems and equipment, for running redundant systems during testing periods, and for negotiating changes to union and vendor contracts?
  • Have you considered and addressed clearly infrastructure and system issues related to combining functions or organizations – e.g., the effects on pay and benefits of employees of the surviving entity, particularly when there are disparities between the groups; work rules; schedules; seniority lists; performance management systems; labor-management relations and issues; management hierarchy; and displaced employees?
  • What processes have you put in place to communicate effectively with employees and stakeholders, including the community, before, during, and after the consolidation?
  • Do employees and stakeholders view the consolidation as being procedurally fair? That is, were the decision processes free of bias and discrimination, and transparent, and did they provide opportunities for meaningful input by stakeholders?
  • How will you address the human side of consolidation so that employees remain engaged and productive before, during, and after the transition? For example, how will you address employee fears such those related to job loss, change of function or job, loss of organizational traditions and culture, the need to adapt to new methods and processes, the loss of one’s identity, and generally, fear of the unknown?
  • How will you successfully merge the cultures of the combining organizations?
  • What is the vision for the surviving entity? Who created it? Who is responsible for implementing it?
  • How will stakeholders know the consolidation is making progress, and when it has been successful? How is “success” defined?
  • Are your expectations for implementation and degree of success reasonable in terms of time, cost, outcomes, and solving the original problem?
  • Have you explored and considered carefully other options? What were your criteria for selecting the consolidation option?

In short, it pays for those who make decisions that affect the level of public safety in their community to engage in a systematic process of due diligence and to involve their stakeholders in the discussions prior to heading down the consolidation path.

(Note: The graphic is an engraving by F.S. Church and is in the public domain.)

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Be Sociable, Share!
Enjoy this post but no time to check back regulary for new entries? No problem. This blog can notify you by email when we post something new. Just enter your email below to start receiving new posts by email.

Enter your email address:

We respect your privacy. We will never share, sell, trade, or otherwise distribute your contact information.

Speak Your Mind