DR. CUMMINGS: The five emotions of change

April 6, 2014 

Consolidation means merging two separate and distinct cultures into a brand new one. The Bibb County sheriff’s deputies had their own traditions and values which were not the same as the Macon police officers, and now they’re merged into one culture that is neither county nor city. It’s a distinctly different entity. Will it work?

Some mergers work, some don’t. Most mergers make mayhem, and only great leaders can make music out of mayhem. I think Sheriff David Davis is one of those musical leaders.

Bank of America, remember, tried to merge with Merrill Lynch during our great financial crisis. The bank had a culture based on its client base of middle Americans, whereas Merrill Lynch’s culture was tied to wealthier clients. The two companies failed to address these issues ahead of time, and the merger collapsed. Miller Brewing Co., on the other hand, was able to pull off the “perfect marriage” with Coors because both companies spent valuable time discovering the differences and anticipating the culture clashes.

Sheriff Davis is doing the same thing. He spent a year before the merger was signed, dividing up the county into four districts and appointing his colonels, majors and captains from both the city and county. These leaders, in their turn, picked their own teams. The organization part of the merger is complete. Now begins the creation of the new culture, and this means “forced change.”

Every forced change produces five emotions. It makes no difference if the change is big or small: change of job, change of boss, death, divorce, demotion and of course, a major merger such as city and county. If we are forced to change in any way, we’re going to register, either openly or subconsciously, these five emotions:

• Shock. No matter how many years it was discussed and even voted on -- when the day finally came and consolidation was the law -- it hit many people like a two-by-four to the head.

• Denial. “They won’t be able to pull this off.” How many city and county employees spoke openly about the impossibility of consolidation’s implementation?

• Frustration. A deep-seated sense of futility and emptiness took over as the two organizations pushed forward, and the employees realized their lives were about to change and never be the same again.

• Fear. After 30 years of working for the same boss and having the same shift and enjoying the same benefits, a terrible fear took over. “How can I live with this?”

• Anger. Those who made it through the first four emotions still had to get past anger. “How dare they do this to me?” For some, it was door-slamming time, and for others it was internal fuming. But all human beings get angry in some way before they can finally accept a forced change.

Some people run through all five emotions very quickly and latch onto their new life with gusto. Others continue to run up and down these emotions again and again, and it takes them much longer to find peace. Leaders who understand this, like Sheriff Davis, are successful in merging two cultures into one, because they use the time and patience and charisma it requires.

Click on Dr. C. video on Change: http://youtu.be/eSheCePDpY8.

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