Public Safety Insights Newsletter: June 25, 2014

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June 25, 2014 VOLUME 2, ISSUE 12
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Merger Tips from a Business-oriented Fire Chief
Public Safety Insight: Public safety leaders can effect successful mergers and consolidations by applying lessons learned in business.  

Fire Chief David Sparling of the North Huron Fire Department brings a unique perspective to his job. As a long-time owner of a company that has been recognized twice as one of the 50 best small and medium employers to work for in Canada, he has applied his business acumen successfully to enhance his department’s effectiveness in serving the community.

One of Chief Sparling’s areas of expertise is increasing the efficiency of organizations that have been joined through amalgamation. As an executive, he frequently acquired other businesses and merged them with his own. Over the years, his company grew to become one of the largest propane retailers in Canada, and one of the 25 largest in North America.

This business expertise came in handy when Chief Sparling was named fire chief of a newly amalgamated fire department following the unexpected death of his predecessor. The North Huron Fire Department was the result of the merger of two departments that, between them, had been owned by seven different municipalities. As operations became unwieldy and inefficient, amalgamation was the logical yet controversial solution. Despite serious resistance from both community members and firefighters, the department weathered the transition successfully.

Chief Sparling relied heavily on his business experience to build on the foundation laid by his predecessor and effect a successful amalgamation process. He offers eight time-tested suggestions for those facing consolidation situations:  

  1. Take care of your people. If they trust that you have their best interests at heart, they will appreciate what you are doing even if they don’t fully agree with it.
  2. Paint a clear picture for the short-, medium-, and long-term. Once the picture is painted, it’s okay to go back and add some color.
  3. Create a clear "play to win" message – i.e., this change is for real, we’re not playing around. Use a variety of media to communicate that message widely and consistently.
  4. Tell it like it is – i.e., be honest and open about what you can and cannot do. Do not avoid or sugarcoat information that people may not want to hear.
  5. Listen carefully to your stakeholders. While you need not agree with or do everything they ask, look for the "gems" of information. If everyone is saying something is a bad idea, take another look at it.
  6. Pick good employees. Use a neutral, bona fide selection process. If the leadership team has poor skills, the organization cannot succeed.
  7. Don’t be afraid to terminate those who are weak. They can undermine the entire organization.
  8. Do not promise savings in the first year of an amalgamation. Generally you must spend more initially to make changes, get people on the same page, and generate some short-term wins. Stakeholders must understand that savings begin 2.5-3 years into the process.

As with any change effort, consolidation takes time: it is a process, not an event. By treating your merger or consolidation as a process that includes best practices such as those above, you can enhance the safety, healthy, and economic viability of your community.


To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.PublicSafetyInsights.net.


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©2014 Pat Lynch | Public Safety Insights

 
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