“It’s a good letter,” Lincoln remarked. Then he rose, walked to a nearby stove and opened the hatch.
“Now throw it in the fire,” he told his amazed aide. “You had a good time writing it, and you feel better. Now burn it and write another. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry.”
This tale might be one for the people of Battle Creek to take to heart.
That the Cereal City is angered by the Kellogg Company’s recent plan to move some of its support functions to the Grand Rapids area is understandable. Not only is the cereal giant the third largest employer in Battle Creek, its history is interwoven with the community’s. Indeed, a great deal of government activity and investment has occurred for the benefit—and at times at the behest—of Kellogg.
The reality is, decisions like this are complex, difficult and rarely clear-cut. No one likes making them, and never is the outcome good for all. That's why they spark anger.
But while anger is reasonable, tirades are a different matter. Yet that’s what is percolating in some corners. The Battle Creek Enquirer has quoted furious community leaders and published a lengthy column by a former economic development leader who blasted Kellogg CEO John Bryant for “trampl[ing] the legacy of W.K. Kellogg under corporate jackboots.”
One wonders how those two men will greet each other next time they’re both at Starbuck’s.
During my career at a Fortune 100 company, I was a spokesperson for 26 site closures or significant site reductions. Yes, I said 26—and that’s not counting smaller downsizings. Trust me, I’ve seen (and been on the receiving end of) every reaction you can imagine.
What I learned from those painful experiences is that the communities that fared best were the ones that channeled their anger and hurt into a determination to succeed collectively.
Debating Kellogg's decision is a waste of time. It is what it is. No one has to like it. No one has to feel warm and fuzzy about how it was made or who made it.
But what does need to happen is for the community to come together and, as the military puts it, embrace the suck. The wisest leaders must gather and ask themselves, “How can we build a better future together in spite of this decision?”
It can be done; Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo are recent examples. And Battle Creek still has Kellogg’s world headquarters located in the heart of the city. The opportunity for frank, meaningful dialogue—rather than rants—is there.
Let’s hope the best of those in Battle Creek and within Kellogg can get past the emotions and get started on that dialogue soon.