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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
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