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Adapting to Change and Upskilling Teams

Dec 2, 2020 | 12m

Gain Actionable Insights To:

  • Performing skill-gap analysis to show your team the way forward
  • How change agents can amplify your messaging and influence peer groups
  • Why personalization is key

Who Moved My Cheese?

A popular allegory in the business world describes four mice who live in a maze and look for cheese. Moving in pairs, the two groups happen upon a room full of cheese and settle into a comfortable routine of consumption. However, with the cheese in the room dwindling over time, the first group has anticipated the need to find a new supply of cheese and ventures out to find it. 

However, the second group has incorrectly assumed that the cheese in the room will stay plentiful, and one of them angrily remarks, “Who moved my cheese?” Locked into their routine and unwilling to change, the second group distresses over their situation. Faced with starvation, one of them makes the brave choice to break the cycle of complacency and begins a journey to find new cheese – this character succeeds in doing so and reflects upon the success and growth experienced from leaving the comfort zone. 

Just as the characters in Spencer Johnson’s _Who Moved My Cheese _learnt to adjust to inevitable change, finding greater rewards through their constant search for more cheese, your business teams can also upgrade and upskill themselves to stay relevant and fight fit in an era of change and disruption.

Grappling With Change

When the winds of change are blowing, the captain must be absolutely clear on where the ship is headed. To drive your change strategy as a team leader, you need to understand where you’re taking your team and possess the skills to succeed in doing so. How do you decide on what direction to take? The key lies in analysing the gap that exists between where your team currently stands and where you need them to be. With this, you can understand where the shortfalls are and develop a plan to bridge the gap.

For most people, change is difficult to embrace, and once you’ve established where your team needs to be, you need to follow that up by getting your team excited about the need for change. Each team member should arrive at a self-realisation on the importance of change. 

I highly recommend getting your team acquainted with Who Moved My Cheese, as well as the lessons that it illustrates, to get your team in the “change or die” mindset. You want them to see the importance of not simply maintaining the status quo, and that they will eventually fade away if they reject change. However, putting up a stale PowerPoint slideshow for your team to sit through is a poor way to bring the content to them. If you can convince them to read the original book, that would help greatly, but there are also YouTube videos where they’ve turned the story into little cartoons – this option actually works much better for people who do not have English as their first language. 

Once you and your team have reached a shared understanding regarding the need for change, you can run workshops to kick-start their journey towards it. While workshops operate against the backdrop of needing change and achieving the goals originally set for your team, Who Moved My Cheese works well as a catalyst to get them familiar with the mindset. 

As you introduce the lessons of the book, you can get people to identify themselves with the characters while you gain insights into their resistance and why they feel that way. You need to build towards it from the ground up, especially for a team that’s been together for a long time and operating the same way for just as long – it’s going to be difficult to steer them away or move them along from what they’ve done their whole life. 

If you’re trying to establish a team of world-beaters, can you invest enough time to make it happen, or would you have to guide them out of the system and rehire people with the right skills? I strongly feel that the answers don’t lie with the second option. It’s best if you give everybody the opportunity to change and make the move, and from a leadership position, establish a level of legacy on how you move things. 

While it’s true that these people have been doing the same thing for a long time, there’s a lot of knowledge and wisdom that they’ve cultivated over the years. You should leverage on their expertise to bring about change more effectively, rather than replacing them with fresh faces. The workshops are a key asset in beginning the change process, but they are not a cure-all – the process is a journey for both you and your team, and journeys take time.

The Power of One

As the leader, you also need to understand the need for change, otherwise you will not be able to communicate it effectively. Gaining this understanding means that you need to know where you stand now, where you eventually need to be. You can then outline the steps to get you there. Part of this journey will focus on identifying your strengths and weaknesses, as well as that of your team. 

At the leadership level, you have access to strategic knowledge to chart the journey for the long term, coupled with the responsibility of managing your employees and their needs. With these in mind, you then need to lay out the groundwork emphasising the importance of change and create a pathway to communicate it effectively. This pathway needs to contain more than directives from the top, but also a credible message to spur people to believe in change and embrace it. 

Without this, you’re going to see varied levels of acceptance in your team regarding the need for change. As illustrated in Who Moved My Cheese, some may express reluctance to change, while others may act as change agents who are prepared and enthusiastic to adapt to changes accordingly. 

You can make use of organisational change management skills to guide your people along the planned direction of change. Monitor and encourage their progress with workshops and skill assessments. The programmes that you put in place also need not be sequential, as you can run them at the same time. Within your team, there may be a group of people looking forward to the change – they make great candidates for skill assessments as they are likely to be more objective and respond positively to your plans for change.

Your change agents are highly likely to be people that others look up to. If you get them invested and actively involved in your strategy, you can have them relay your feedback on their peer groups’ attitudes toward change. Even if just one person embraces change, the attitude can gradually spread to an entire crowd. 

If you search “dancing man on hill” on YouTube, you’ll find a video of people sitting down on a hillside and chilling out at a music festival. Everyone’s being sedentary except for one lone figure dancing to the music in a weird fashion, but he’s not alone for long – he is joined by another person dancing like him, then two, three and several more. Eventually the entire crowd on the hillside can be seen shaking and moving around as if they have been possessed. The dancing man embodies the power of one to effect impactful change.

If you can identify the change agents in your team and get them on board with you, they can amplify your voice and convey your intentions to those who may not have the opportunity to hear you out. As leading figures in peer groups, the change agents can be earmarked to help champion your agenda and promote more open-minded attitudes to change.  

Conversely, while some people desire change, they will end up resisting either due to a lack of confidence or in reaction to being pushed too far out of their comfort zone. At that point, you might find yourself needing to make hard decisions. Even if some in your team have worked with you for a long time, you may begin to feel that you have overinvested in trying to make them embrace change. 

Their reluctance to modernise will then quickly become your problem. You might find yourself under pressure from above if you don’t cut the cord early enough and stop the issues from snowballing. It’s critical that you make a decision and understand early on what your options are. Then, reflect on which team members can make the journey towards change and which will need help to move on and achieve success elsewhere. 

In your position as a leader and a mentor, you owe it to yourself to ensure that even team members who are unable to adapt to change will continue to be successful. At the same time, you also need to realise that you can no longer offer them success in the current situation, and their failure will become yours if left unchecked. If you continue to allow them to fail, you will likely end up having to fire them, which impacts all parties negatively. 

Instead, help in their transition by letting them know that the current arrangement just isn’t going to work out, then give them some time to find new work opportunities elsewhere. Trigger-happy firing is not good leadership, it simply shows laziness and lack of concern on the leader’s part. When people are abruptly let go, it reflects badly on management or leadership, as they have failed to manage the situation with respect and dignity for the terminated staff. 

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Johnny Ladouce

Executive Partner




Change Management