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Gary Winters

It's All About Leadership

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Who Moved My Job?

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I’m delighted to publish the first article on the Leadership Almanac by a guest blogger who will, I hope, become a regular contributor. Jan Arzooman will be writing about leadership from an unusual perspective – that of the “end user,” a person who has worked for many managers over the years and can offer leadership insight from that point of view. I’m delighted to have Jan’s contribution and know you’ll enjoy her style, her wit, and her wisdom.  – Gary Winters

I’m reasonably OK with change, but I’m not so good with it when there seems to be no good reason for the change.

Cheese-is-yellowI had a boss once who insisted I read Who Moved My Cheese, a book that’s supposed to be about accepting change. In reality it seemed a metaphor for, “Brace yourself; something bad is about to happen.” And as it turned out, I was one of the victims of the layoffs that took place less than a year later.*

When my supervisor loaned me the book, I never suspected anything that drastic. But not long after, a consultant was brought in to look at the structure of our organization. My coworkers and I speculated that the end result would be that another boss would lose her job. (There had been some dishonesty and mismanagement of finances.)

Money was tight, though, and there was always the possibility that others would be let go as well.

So we were all nervous.

It is always amazing to be grilled about your position by a stranger, who happens to be making twice as much on this one consulting job as you make in a year.

The boss who had made me read Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, was fairly new to the company and apparently felt she had to shake things up, instill her own flavor into the way things ran.

She was great at changing the way we did things and then changing the process again, either back to the original procedure or on to another procedure.

I always felt I’d hardly gotten used to one new rule before it was eliminated and something else put in its place.

Each of these changes, once announced, was then treated as if it had been a long-standing rule. I once heard her say, “We have always met on Fridays” just a few months after starting the Friday meetings, which used to be Tuesday meetings, then Wednesday meetings.

I remember another place I worked…

We had moved from battered, rodent-infested offices in the Village to a shiny new office on 42nd Street. In the old office, there had been one tiny table in a back storeroom near a sink that served as a lunch area. When we moved, during the tour of the new facility, the large room near the kitchen was presented to us as a combination conference room and lunch room.

This was a big deal to us.

A lot of the staff, myself included, made very little money at that job. Many of us brought our lunches to work, while we watched our bosses frequently heading over for a casual lunch at the Bryant Park Grill—which was out of my reach for a non–special-occasion meal.

The company was sold and some new managers took over. One of the first things they did was place framed motivational posters in the conference room and at strategic places around the office. Motivational posters are never a good sign, in my opinion.

They also started birthday meetings the last Friday of every month—everyone had to leave their desks and go sing happy birthday to whoever had celebrated that month. The birthday girls and boys were embarrassed, the staff was resentful because we were all overworked and we knew this was nonsense.

Of course there was free cake, which was something.

But then they took away our lunch table.

One boss said some people weren’t cleaning up after themselves. (We suspected it was really because we gathered together there to bond and gossip). We pleaded to be able to keep the space—there was nowhere else to eat lunch; we’d be forced to eat at our desk or spend money somewhere, we said. Some of us even offered to form a team who would be responsible for keeping the table clean.

No, the decision was final, the supervisor said. And besides, she added, this was never intended as a lunch room, anyway.

We all looked at each other at that statement and pretty much gave up.

We all knew it was a lie but we had nothing to prove that, and even if we did it wouldn’t matter. Who were we kidding? We had no say in the matter.

Soon after that, the layoffs started.

The survivors—I was one of them this time—were forced to take on double workloads while, of course no one got raises. Our cheese? It was over having lunch in the Bryant Park Grill with the other cheeses.

So, yes. I’m a little leery of change.

And a footnote…

*I wrote this before checking the Barnes & Noble customer reviews for Who Moved My Cheese and it was striking to see how many employees were made to read this book and had similar reactions, including one who wrote: “If your boss comes up to you one day and tells you that you should read this book (or even worse, hands you a copy), start looking for a new job. Because your days of peace of mind and security in the workplace are over …”

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