Face it, Your Boss is a Rat Who REALLY moved your cheese and why!
By: John Shepler
If you think something smells rotten in corporate America,
you're right. It's a foul aroma wafting in from the executive
suites, where the rats are jumping for joy at the success of
their latest manifesto, "Who Moved My Cheese?", subtitled...get
this, "An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and
In Your Life."
"We moved it," they squeal with delight, "and
when we want to, we'll move it again." Why? Very simple.
Management has discovered that moving or removing YOUR cheese
can be quite advantageous to them. But they've known that for
a more than a decade. What they've just begun to realize is that
it's possible to sell employees on the idea that this is perfectly
OK. I'll elaborate, but first let me tell you how it all began.
It Takes Only a Minute
Management has a Holy Grail and it is known as "the silver
bullet," also called the quick fix. It's epitomized in a
small, thin book called "The One Minute Manager" by
Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D. (piled higher and deeper) and Spencer
Johnson, M.D. (mostly deeper.) The theme of "The One Minute
Manager" is that business people, especially managers, spend
way too much time mulling over problems, internalizing them,
and debating on what to do next. Much better, proposed Blanchard
and Johnson, to jump in, collect all the facts that are at your
fingertips or can be coaxed out of your subordinates, and make
a snap decision in one minute or less. Actually, the primary
decision is which employees can best be made to take ownership
of the problem, strategically moving the burning acid of responsibility
from your stomach to theirs. If things improve, you allocate
no more than one more minute to tell them how great they are
doing. If the situation deteriorates, you allocate that same
minute to making darn sure that they feel terrible about it and
will work even harder to keep the problem from returning to you.
Think this is funny? It's revolutionary. The enabling power
of one minute management has caused the entire Fortune 500 to
refocus from the concept of stewardship, with a responsibility
to the community that spans generations, to a slavish devotion
to the needs of the institutional investor, primarily an increased
stream of earnings every fiscal quarter. White-collar layoffs,
almost unheard of prior to the 1980s, are now a standard tool
of expense management. With only a minute needed for problem
solving, the span of control for managers has increased as much
as ten fold and the number of people assigned to non-producing
supervisory functions proportionally reduced. Productivity, as
measured by corporate earnings, soared to create the raging bull
market of the 1990s. Johnson and Blanchard are lauded in corporate
circles. But the emphasis on rapid decision making has led to
shortened attention spans. It's already time for something new...
The Big Cheese
The toll of one minute everything is burning out once naive and
eager employees, anxious for their leg up the corporate ladder.
The abuses of ever increasing demands have created calluses of
cynicism that are best portrayed in the characters of Scott Adams'
Dilbert. Now everyone sees themselves as an oppressed Dilbert
or Wally and adopts a passive/aggressive approach to corporate
Re-enter Johnson, sans Blanchard, with a new silver bullet,
this one cleverly disguised as an irresistible morsel of cheese.
And who can resist the power of cheese? It's a story that is
designed once again to get the onus of action into the mind of
the common employee. Without giving too much away, here's how
It seems that there are two mice and two small people living
in a maze. They dine on a seemingly endless supply of cheese
provided by an unseen benevolent caretaker. All are complacent
and happy with this scenario, until one day the cheese is gone.
The mice shrug and take off down the corridors of the maze to
find more cheese, as you'd expect lab mice to do. The two little
guys, however, get in a snit and simply pout in expectation that
the cheese will soon return. Whoever created this situation must
resolve it. Only intense pangs of hunger and a sense of futility
in waiting anymore drive them out in search of replacement cheese.
Finally they got the point...but what point?
No wonder management is doubled over in delight with this
literary masterpiece. First of all, the new rules for business
are clearly being spelled out. Management provides the nutritious
cheese in the form of salaries, benefits and perks, but they
may be changed or removed at any time without explanation. That's
acceptable and to be expected. When changes occur, it is the
employees' job to go scurrying after new cheese, preferably without
hesitation. The employee must sniff out where there might be
opportunity, negotiate an unknowingly complex maze, and persist
until he or she finds enough cheese to be temporarily sated.
What's more, these new rules are perfectly allowable. The happy
employees of the future are the ones who enjoy the thrill of
the cheese chase and ask nothing but the opportunity to be allowed
to run the maze each day with the assumption that somewhere there
just might actually be cheese. No guarantees.
We Should Have Known All Along
Another reason that management is in stitches is in the irony
of the symbolism chosen by Johnson. How many times have you heard
"it's a rat race and the rats are winning." Yeah, they
are. But the rats aren't the little people scurrying about in
the office. They're the ones who own the maze and decide how
much cheese is put in and when. Everyone else is reduced into
becoming meek mice, scurrying through the maze of cubicles, hopefully
sniffing the air for a whiff of the benevolently provided cheese.
Oh, you don't work in a maze? Climb up on your chair sometime
and get an aerial view of your office space. It's no accident
that modern office layout has evolved to emulate the rat maze.
It perfectly supports the new paradigm. Now run, mouse, run.
The ultimate irony is that all good mice must eventually come
to an end. Even in the laboratory, cooperative white mice are
removed from the maze when the experimental results are achieved.
What becomes of them? Well, when there are more mice than are
needed, there is no reason to indefinitely keep feeding them.
They must be disposed of. Some become pets and keep honorary
positions. The more fearful forms of corporate disposal include
firings, layoffs, demotions, forced early retirements, and scaring
the meek into bolting on their own for other opportunities. Now
I ask you, was Scott Adams prophetic when he assigned the job
of Human Resources Director to a cat, Catbert?
The Light at the End of the Maze is Outside
"Who Moved My Cheese?" is a long running best seller.
It's obviously supported by legions of upper management who find
the employee re-education benefits so valuable that they order
copies by the carton and distribute them to the workforce. But
this book is also being gobbled up by anxious employees, wanting
desperately to know what the new rules of the game are and how
they can best comply.
"Who Moved My Cheese?" should be taken as a warning.
Just like "Animal Farm" alerted a generation to the
dangers of totalitarianism, this story is a cautionary tale for
today's workforce. Do you really want to spend the rest of your
life hoping that someone will drop some cheese into your cube?
The real ways to win this game are to own the cheese factory,
hoard some cheese for times of need, and don't get so addicted
to chasing the "big cheese" that you live for nothing
else than running the maze. But those are other stories.
Books of Interest:
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change
in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson & Kenneth
H. Blanchard. This is it. The holiest of the holy cheese (Swiss?)
grail. If you haven't memorized key passages to enhance your
management presentations, then you are going nowhere in the corporate
world. You should read this even if you find the stench of management's
cheese repulsive. It is better to know ;-)
Who Cut the Cheese? A Cutting-Edge Way of Surviving
Change by Shifting the Blame by Mason Brown. In case you haven't
guessed, it's a parody of the Johnson and Blanchard masterpiece.
A little crude, but funny.
Who Cut the Cheese? A-Mazing Parody about Change and
How We Can Get Our Hands on Yours by Stilton Jarlsberg &
Kenneth Bleucheese. Yes, a separate but equal parody. Apparently,
the "cut the cheese" angle is just too much to resist.
The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard &
Spencer Johnson. This is where it started going horribly, horribly
wrong. The astounding adoption of this diminutive work as management
dogma surpassed that of even Chairman Mao's little red book.
It would no doubt come as a shock to Paul Revere to discover
how the term "Minute Man" has been corrupted in today's
Animal Farm A Fairy Story by George Orwell, C. M. Woodhouse
& Russell Baker. The original cautionary tale that we boomers
read in high school. It was meant to save us from being duped
by communism and corporate totalitarianism. Well, 50% ain't bad,
Aftershock: Helping People through Corporate Change
by Harry Woodward and Steve Buchholz. This is a serious book
on the process of change in business and the expected human reaction.
An excellent resource for managers who must deal with the execution
and aftermath of downsizing and major company disruptions. It
is also a good read for employees who want to know what the bosses
know, and maybe a lot more.