Employees learn what to do when their 'cheese' gets moved
May 31, 2011
For a story about two mice and two "little people" trapped in a maze looking for cheese, the story in Dr. Spencer Johnson’s novel “Who Moved My Cheese” holds a lot of relevance to those about to be displaced by the closures of Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem.
May 24, members of the Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem community got to discuss the themes found in the book in an Army Community Service (ACS) sponsored program. Kisha Jennings, program manager for the ACS relocation readiness program, lead the hour-long discussion, held in the ACS building (Bldg. 62) classroom.
"The book is such a hit because it pertains to so much in life; it excludes no one," Jennings said. The book focuses on two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two little people, Hem and Haw. All four live in a maze near cheese station C, where they receive all the cheese they need.
However, one day the cheese disappears, and it is the reaction to this disappearance that drives the rest of the book. "The cheese is a metaphor for what makes you happy. It can be anything," Jennings said. "The maze represents where you spend your time looking for what you want."
Like people confronting change, the four characters all react differently. Sniff and Scurry, who noticed the cheese dwindling, were prepared for the disappearance and head off into the maze to look for new cheese. Hem and Haw stay behind, however, complaining and feeling victimized. Eventually, Haw realize he must move on to search for more cheese, leaving Hem, who refuses to leave, behind.
Still, Haw leaves his thoughts in messages chiseled into walls hoping Hem eventually follows suit and learns from the messages. The book never says if Hem follows, but people at Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem can learn from Haw’s lessons, something Jennings tried to bring out. Some of these lessons include: change happens, anticipate change, monitor change, adapt to change quickly, change, enjoy change and be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again.
Robert Carter, a mission support manager with Lockheed Martin, said seeing these important points broken down on a slide was helpful. Carter said he read and discussed the book before, but Jennings’ presentation helped bring out the points and helped him relate it to BRAC moving his cheese.
"It was a good refresher and gave me new insights as it relates to BRAC," he said. "It reminds me to always be ready for change." Being ready for change though doesn’t mean the process will always be smooth. Jennings said it is normal to experience the reactions of all the characters.
The good thing though is people aren’t locked into one of these character types, and, like Haw, can grow if they want to, Jennings said. "Everyone goes through change, but not everyone grows through change. The stretch is not always bad and can make you better," she said. Using the analogy of a stream, Jennings said a moving stream is always fresh, while still water gets stagnant and attracts bugs and filth.
"It comes down to a comfort zone. You need to be willing to move out of our comfort zone. We always see why things won’t work, when we should focus on why things may work." Even when one finally does move out of their comfort zone and finds another, like Sniff and Scurry, that person shouldn’t get complacent and think change is over.
For example, although some people may think the worst is over once BRAC occurs or they find their new cheese, be it a new job, home or retirement , Jennings said it is important to realize change never stops. "Your cheese will keep moving, so be ready for it to move," she said. "Always have your résumé ready, keep getting get training and keep the initiative. When we prepare we’re less likely to fail when change does happen."
Additionally, being prepared can help someone notice the small changes, much like Sniff and Scurry noticed the cheese in station C slowly dwindling away. Noticing small things early is important because it allows people to adapt better to big things later, Jennings said.