Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Second Advisor

Janet Ledesma

Third Advisor

Subir Dass

Abstract

Problem. Organizational mergers are difficult and often chaotic at best, fraught with unknowns that can derail the best of plans. In this study, two cultures, fire suppression and emergency medical services, were brought together in order to create a stronger fire department by consolidating resources and knowledge and to appease an ever-tightening municipal budget. How to save the best practices from each side and create a new culture was the conundrum the leadership team faced.

The purpose of this study was to understand how Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People influenced the change dynamics experienced during the merger of fire suppression and emergency medical services (EMS) in one American Midwestern fire department from 2007-2013.

Method. This case study relied on interviews and the lived experiences of the members of two organizations, along with artifacts and the Standard Operating Guidelines that are the operational policy and procedure documents found in any fire department. The assessment rating by the Insurance Standards Office provided an overall independent, external validation source of their performance. Interviewees self-selected into the research process based on an open-invitation letter to all members of the department.

Of the 106 members receiving the interview invitation, 23 members of varying rank in the department responded; the past and present mayors of River City also accepted. Open-ended questions were asked allowing participants to freely respond based on their vantage points during the merger process. Together, their stories and lived experiences chronicle the 10-year merger process while providing a unique look into the emotional and cultural atmosphere leadership faced when creating their merger strategy, a dilemma which significantly delayed the change process and impacted job performance.

Interviewees were assigned an identity-protective pseudonym which provided a much needed sense of"safeness" in order to speak without fear of reprisal. Compilation of the information gleaned during the interviews began with transcribing the interviews, which were processed using the Dedoose qualitative software program. Documents and artifacts indigenous to the River City Fire Department were utilized to strengthen the foundation of the research.

Results. Analysis revealed information and behaviors which corresponded to the research question: How did The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People influence the organizational change process during the merger of fire suppression and emergency medical response in one Midwestern fire department during the years of 2007-2013? Four specific areas of growth and improvement were clearly identified: (a) the prevailing passive-aggressive divisive spirit was replaced with a sense of department renewal and unification, (b) attitudes, language, and behavior changed, improving communication, (c) the overall structure was solidified to provide better services and, (d) Standard Operating Guidelines were updated to reflect the newly established practices.

Conclusions. This fire department experienced many of the pitfalls and successes organizational theorists predict in such situations. However, while those theorists provide a change framework to model, many of them do not consider the emotional elements that will surface when human beings are involved.

The emotions behind the passive-aggressive behavior in this study, which at times held this merger hostage, could have been assuaged had leadership anticipated problem areas of the merger and then sought the necessary support and training to work with the individuals involved. The result was a significant loss of time while everyone tried to figure out how to move forward together. Persistence and a pragmatic change process template found within the teachings of Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People eventually set this organization on a less troublesome path to success. Organizational language and leadership practices changed to mirror their new collaborative paradigm. Additionally, a leadership mentoring program was developed so that future leaders would be trained to carry the new baton of leadership forward.

Subject Area

Emergency medical services--Mergers, Fire departments--Mergers, Consolidation and merger of corporations, Organizational change

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