Don’t move my cheese – Lessons in Change Management

By Camden Harrison

The book Who Move My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson was released 19 years ago, but remains extremely relevant today. The book is an allegory telling the story of its four main characters, 2 mice, Scurry and Sniff, and 2 small humans, Hem and Haw. The four live in a maze and each morning they would wake up and run about the maze looking for cheese. However, they had a different perspective on what the cheese meant to them. Scurry and Sniff saw cheese as simply a thing to provide sustenance, whereas Hem and Haw saw the cheese as something greater that just simple food, but rather a symbol of good health and security, thus forming an emotional attachment.

The teams also had different perspectives when it came time to finding the cheese as well. Scurry and Sniff worked from instinct, but Hem and Haw had more complex thoughts. They would spend time mapping out the maze as they went making sure as to not get lost or go the same route. When the groups finally found their cheese, Scurry and Sniff needed to wake early and run the route again to find it, but Hem and Haw, now comfortable with knowing the cheese was there, walked slowly, knowing exactly where to go.

Over time, Hem and Haw grew increasingly comfortable. Their perspective was that this safety of the cheese would last forever. Scurry and Sniff, needing to still run, did not share the same comfort and began noticing the cheese supply was beginning to run out. Eventually the cheese was gone, and as Scurry and Sniff found this out they simply kept running, letting instinct adapt to the new environment and not taking time to analyze why this was the case.

When Hem and Haw strolled in to find the cheese was gone, they exclaimed “who moved my cheese?” and “what will happen if the cheese isn’t here tomorrow?” They didn’t know how to cope with this change as the cheese was the center to everything they had been doing. They were afraid to start over knowing how much work it took them to get there initially. Haw finally noticed that Scurry and Sniff weren’t there and asked Hem if he knew where they were.

Dismissively, Hem stated that they mice can’t be doing anything smart as they are just mice. Reflecting on that point, Haw wanted to go find the mice to see what was going on. Hem wanted to stay put, and get to the bottom of the change to get things back to the way they were. Haw, swayed by Hem, stayed put as well deciding to focus on what he was losing, not the chance to gain new cheese. Day by day, the two walked to the place where the old cheese pile once was, trying to deny the change around them. Meanwhile, Scurry and Sniff had ran deeper into the maze and found the biggest pile of cheese they had ever seen.

Haw, finally realizing the hilarity of the situation broke into laughter and pointed out to Hem that it was insane how much work they were doing trying to expect change, when all they needed to do is make the change. Pleading with Hem, Haw said that they kept working for yesterday’s cheese, which will never come back and the pair needed to go find new cheese. Hem, afraid that they weren’t going to find any more cheese in the maze stayed put, but this time Haw, afraid that they would become extinct if they stayed ventured into the maze alone.

Haw, running alone, noted that shedding his fears made him happier even though he hadn’t found cheese. After a few unexpected turns, and falling into a pit or two, Haw found the area where Scurry and Sniff had found cheese earlier. However, during his time trying to decide if he should go, the mice ate the cheese and left only crumbs. Reflecting on his situation, Haw thought “if I had left earlier there might have been cheese for me too.” Reinvigorated by his crumbs, Haw ran back to find Hem to share with him his finding and convince Hem to join him in his search. Upon returning, Haw offered Hem some crumbs and told him of his finding. Hem refused saying he didn’t want new cheese, but rather his cheese. Haw realized that it was this negative thinking that trapped Hem and left again, knowing that he would be happier running the maze alone than with this fear of change. While on his run, Haw stopped and wrote on the wall
“When you change what you believe, you change what you do.”

Finally, Haw found a new pile of cheese, bigger than he had ever imagined. The mice were already there but most of the cheese was not eaten. Reflecting on his journey, Haw wrote down all he had learned. Fearing that it would be easy with this sudden find to go back to his comfort zone, Haw forced himself to run every morning with the mice, inspect the cheese for changes, and occasionally go out to search the maze for extra cheese.
Why This Matters?

In the story you will have likely identified yourself as one of the characters, or maybe assigned a character to someone you know. Cheese, at a high level is that status quo, happiness, or security we all strive for in our day to day life. Business owners will need to know what this means not just for themselves or their organization, but for each employee within the context of their job. Knowing this information will allow leaders to better manage changes as business evolves and help navigate issues before they prevent changes from happening. Additionally, it’s important to know which character the members of your team are.

If you have a team of Scurry and Sniff type people, you may leave Hem and Haw behind. These personalities are the drivers of your change and innovation, but just like with any change, this can cause disruption in the negative sense as well. Conversely, a team made up of Hem will never get the project started and may demotivate or derail the plans of Scurry and Sniff if left to their own devices. These personality types are usually defined as Challengers, Champions, Saboteurs, and Prisoners. While enacting a change, be it an office lunch policy, or undergoing a larger ERP or CRM implementation, it is good to know who is who in your organization and how to work within their needs.

Champions in your organization will be the people who wake up early, excited, and run the maze every day. They will be your usual project sponsors and their energy should be used to better motivate the Challengers and Prisoners. To do this they will need to be able to articulate the reason for the change within the context of what cheese is for these people. However, Champions will also need to keep their energy in check and can exhaust other team members as they are likely to want to work longer and harder than most.

Challengers are closest to a Champion in regards to alignment and understanding, though still a bit negative. They will go along with a change, but usually voice some concern or trepidation about doing so. They will need to be convinced with hard facts, or more sound reasoning. If left unchecked these people may be swayed more negative and can slip into Prisoner personality type.

Prisoners are well aligned with the organization, but usually not motivated to do much and thus very passive in their involvement. This is person who will need a champion to simply get them excited. This is a person who likely does not feel that the cheese is within their grasp or feels others are keeping it away from them. Knowing they may feel this way will help execute changes quicker and will likely help with longer term job satisfaction.

Lastly, the Saboteur. This is a person who is actively oppositional of the change. They may or may not speak out during meetings, but will be voicing their opinions in some form. This person is likely unsatisfied in their role or responsibility and feels rewards are not satisfactory. This person will need to be identified early on as they are most likely to erode your culture or stop your change. Speaking with them early on and making sure they feel empowered will help, but occasionally they may need to be removed from a project entirely as negativity spreads faster than positivity most often.

At Kraft, we have not only the ability to help with your change or implementation from a technical or business perspective, but can help in navigating these personality types. We aim not to simply install our software on a machine, but understand that we’re installing this to your people and your culture as well. This partnership is what makes us unique, because change, like all things, is contextual to the perspective of those who are impacted by it.