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Why we still ponder who moved our cheese

Who Moved My Cheese? still sheds light on one of the greatest issues HR faces: inability to manage change

In business there are certain books that still pop up in conversations, particularly when a division or company is struggling with a concept. Among the HR community one book comes up more often than not when we discuss the issues on our collective minds: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

This book is seemingly timeless because it sheds light onto one of the greatest issues HR faces today: our inability to manage change effectively.

I bring this up because we appear to be effectively chasing our tails. HR continually refers to this book because we battle with the same issues over and over again as we repeat the same mistakes. We’re the living embodiment of this book’s major crux: we continually use the same tools, processes, and methodologies for new problems, expecting new results.

This is the definition of insanity in the clinical sense; doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. So it’s time to put the book down and pause for reflection. Are we really taking in what the book is offering? Why do we continually make the same mistakes over and over again? Why do we keep leaning on old methods for new problems?

The answer is simple and irritating and something none of us wants to hear – as much as we push for it outside our ranks and through our organisations we’re afraid of change. I’m not talking about tinkering with the organisational chart. It’s not about where the desks sit; it’s about what the desks are doing and with what new advances they are solving tomorrow’s problems.

Our fear of moving forward has been justified to a small degree. HR is a much-maligned department within many organisations. We fight for every ounce of respect we get. Our C-suite counterparts see us as paper-pushing antiquities that hold the company back because we cannot move forward ourselves.

Some of our procedures are set – the law is the law, compliance is what it is. But outside legal and regulatory constraints the rest is ours to utilise as we see fit. It wouldn’t kill us to explore new ways of propelling the business forward. As Johnson says: “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can find new cheese.” Our appetites are whet; let’s go find some new cheese.

Johnson also speaks about fear. We have a lot of that in HR and don’t like to be reminded of said trepidation. Also ponder another quote: “If you do not change you can become extinct!” This is where we sit. So, while a bit of healthy fear is well-placed in avoiding our extinction, let's not fear the unknown through which we must tread to get there.

We must lead ourselves through change. We must become comfortable with the uncomfortable. We must become the change we wish to see in our companies. After all, Johnson states: “What you are afraid of is never as bad as you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that exists.”

As someone who has led large-scale change initiatives in a number of companies I know that the transformation process can be daunting. But the results are so incredibly necessary. It’s my sincere hope that HR will grab the mantle and lead themselves through this next evolution of change, to stop focusing on who moved our cheese and onto the business of the next generation of HR.

Rita Trehan is business strategist and former CHRO at Honeywell and AES Corporation