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Who Moved My Cheese Analysis

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Who Moved Our Cheese?

Embracing Change and Moving Ahead

By Paul McMurray and Kristin Remmers

An adaptation of this article appeared in the November/December 2001 issue of NTCA's Rural Telecommunciations.

As the best-selling book - 31 months on the BusinessWeek charts, as of the Sept. 3 issue - Who Moved My Cheese? continues to make its mark in boardrooms and breakrooms across America, we are reminded of the message it conveys. A simple story told by four characters meandering in a maze, Who Moved My Cheese?, written by motivational guru Dr. Spencer Johnson, addresses a very important fact we sooner or later all face: Either adapt to changing times or risk being cast aside in the march of progress. As telecommunications providers, we seem to be coming face-to-face with that reality sooner rather than later.

Telecommunications providers have been used to living and operating in an industry that for years didn't change - the monopoly environment. What we must come to terms with now is the fact that our industry is changing drastically. We are in the midst of both an Evolution and a Revolution - new rules, new players, new technologies all shaping the way we continue to do what we,ve done so well in the past. Who Moved My Cheese? serves as a catalyst for helping companies assess their current situation, set new plans into action, and learn to deal with, conquer, and even welcome change. In short, what the book brings to light, is this: We need to move forward with change - to adapt, to survive - or run the certain risk of being left behind.

In theory we can relate to the simple concepts of change, adaptation, and moving forward. While these "concepts," however, seem simple enough, the self-examination that ensues may not be. To broach the subject, let's start with the most basic of questions: Is your company experiencing change? Certainly, that answer would be, quite emphatically, "yes." Although it may be difficult, now let's ask a more pointed question. Is your company having a hard time adapting to the regulations and business issues that affect how you provide service, how you strengthen revenue streams, how you retain customers? These questions may not be easy for us to answer, but they're necessary, if we're to come to terms with where we stand in today's shifting industry.

Who Moved My Cheese? does more than introduce us to the "idea" of change. Its purpose is not to give readers an A-B-C, step-by-step guide of exactly how to change in every specific situation. Rather, it prompts us to engage in self-evaluation. Instead of treating the notion of change as something to be discussed, and then put on the back burner, Dr. Johnson sends the message that there is a real need to adapt. Never has this been more true than in our industry right now. Today's changing environment dictates that we broaden our scope of service offerings, become more aggressive in garnering market share, and conduct in-depth organizational assessments to facilitate long-term strategic planning and action. As JSI has observed in the course of conducting "Cheese" training, itÐ"Ñžs those companies that are aggressively seeking new ways to serve customers and reiterating their commitment to the communities they've served that are benefiting from the open marketplace.

Furthermore, the purpose of Who Moved My Cheese? is to help us learn that change doesn't have to be stifling. Deregulation, access reform, public policy, and competition are changing how we offer new services to customers and how we gain additional revenues. These issues, combined with the current industry volatility and consolidation, are forcing us to examine how we can best ensure our future success. Thus, how we combat change - and how we grow and prosper - may likely be a direct result of how we feel about or react to change. Altering our attitudes or behavior is a more positive alternative to resisting change, or remaining "stuck" trying to ignore the inevitable revolution - and the wild ride on which telecom is taking us all.

In a nutshell, competition has shaken that old, familiar monopoly environment. Competition has "moved the cheese." Most of us have probably been forced to examine our situation as a result of competition - and if we haven't, then we certainly should! We may be forced to think about things that previously were never an issue. This will no doubt require close scrutiny of our management practices, company structure, service offerings, cash flow analysis, marketing and public relations initiatives, and customer service, to name a few.

Our task is to make the public aware of what we have known all along: that independent companies and cooperatives play a more important role today than they ever have before in serving their communities. With services such as long distance, Internet, DSL and high-speed access, video, and other advanced services, independent telecommunications providers are transitioning from traditional local service to much, much more. The key in this equation is for us to position ourselves to benefit from the innovation and technological advancement that this new era in telecommunications has provided us.

In order to make this transition, however, we are required to wear many hats. Let's examine this situation further by looking at two brief scenarios. Customer service representatives of old may have been confined to taking or processing orders. Now, however, CSRs are key players, required to sell new features, to inform existing and potential customers of new services - to do more than simply provide a hook-up for basic dial-tone. In addition, plant personnel and service technicians now serve as company ambassadors. With so many choices now at customers' disposal, technicians are much more likely to be questioned about products, services, and even prices.It is critical that they understand the company, its products and services, and its mission, and that they accurately represent the company when these questions arise. Their ability to relate to customers on a more personal level, and to educate and provide guidance, will be a key element in retaining



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