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Move Your Own Cheese
The REAL message from management

By: John Shepler

Has someone at work, perhaps your boss, slipped you a "free" copy of the best selling book, "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson & Kenneth H. Blanchard? It's self-billed as "An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life." If you're nodding in agreement, be afraid...be very afraid. You're not really being treated to a shared intellectual experience with upper management. This little book is actually a training manual intended to help in the reprogramming of the corporate crab bucket.

What the "Cheese" Book is About
If you've been left out of the loop, or should we say maze, here's a brief synopsis of the Cheese manual. Two people and two mice inhabit a maze that bears an eerie resemblance to the "cube farms" that have been installed in most offices. They all live on cheese that has been traditionally provided by a benevolent outside party. If you suspect management, you're starting to get the picture. A crisis ensues one day when they all wake up to find...horror of horrors...no cheese! The mice simply shrug and take off through the maze until they find where the cheese has been moved. The humans, however, do what management has trained them for decades to do in a crisis. Absolutely nothing. The rule has been: don't do anything until you have been told the right thing to do. Now, here comes the retraining. The new rule is: If we stop giving you what you've come to expect, deal with what you can get now.

Management's Warning Signals
The notion that one's cheese can be moved is an ominous warning that those unwritten commitments that have governed workplace expectations, and maybe even some written ones, have been given the old heave-ho. Now you can't be sure what you are going to get when you come in each day. Tomorrow might be the same as yesterday. Or you might arrive to find a cold one page memo personalized with a sticker that has your name and employee ID number. It will say something like "no raises this year" or "you will be paying half your medical insurance next year." This is official notification of a cheese movement. Unofficial notification might include buzz about people being shifted to other departments or educational seminars being denied. If you are a union member, the cheese will move from contract to contract. It might even disappear if there is to be a plant closing.

The Real Message From Above
The corporate crab bucket, characterized by too many individuals climbing all over each other for too few juicy promotions and perks, remains a crab bucket. What's changing is management's flexibility to giveth and taketh away without notice or justification. They're not asking if that's ok with you. They're telling you, in the form of a parable that's intentionally silly to avoid an ugly confrontation, that whatever equity you thought you had in the form of daily routine, relationships, job title, pay, benefits, perks, position in the totem pole, protection from layoffs, etc. is now up for grabs. They rearrange the cheese at will. You run after it. You crabs can still pull each other down, but there may be less food to fight over.

What Can YOU DO?
There are only two ways to respond to this challenge. Sign up to play management's new cheese game, or take over control of your own cheese. You might do better with another company, but you may also find that EVERY company you look at has now read and implemented the new cheese paradigm. To control your cheese, you need to be able to define your future, not just respond to whatever other people impose on you. I'm not saying quit your job and go hide under the wharf. In fact, if you find the cheese chase exhilarating and seem to be winning most of the time, by all means play on.

But, if your mild dissatisfaction with your job or lot in life is erupting into a major resentment, YOU need to start making changes for your own future. Ask yourself what you would do if everything you have right now was taken away and you had to start all over. Would you scramble right back into the same crab bucket or would you be glad to be set free for another chance in life? If you choose the latter, you now know that you must make and implement your own plans for the future if you expect to be happy...and not just bitter and winded from running after somebody else's cheese.
 

 

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