Who moved the cheese?

It really saddened me to hear about the loss of 1700 jobs in Redcar that was announced in September. That’s 1700 families – many of whom have been working in steel for generations – with lives, communities and businesses shattered.

Now I can’t go into the whys and wherefores of the decisions or whether I think it’s right or wrong – but there are real lessons for business owners and employees alike to take from this.  Because with the global downturn in steel, the sliding demand for China after a boom patch – Redcar and other mining and commodities-led businesses are in for a very tough time, possible for a very long time, potentially forever.

The market has changed, the demand is no longer there and the careers and livelihoods are no longer there.

The lesson for business is that you always have to be thinking about tomorrow – not just today. I am only too aware of this because Diamond faced exactly the same thing in 2010 when our Same Day Courier market decreased year on year by 30-40%. If we had not reacted to these market changes – like so many of my competitors didn’t – we simply wouldn’t have had a business any more. We anticipated and changed our business model to adapt to the changing market to stay in business.

There was a long hard period where we had to be honest about what we were facing – and we had to decide whether to stick it out hoping for the boom times to return (which wasn’t going to happen) and watch our business slowly decline – or to change what we were doing. The goal posts of our market had changed so we had to change our response to it.

There’s a great book by Ken Blanchard – it will just take you an hour to read – called ‘Who Moved the Cheese?’ and it talks about a group of mice who were used to going to the same place to feed from a lump of cheese – and they keep going to it until the cheese has gone, and then they go hungry – except for a plucky mouse or two who go in search of new cheese. This can happen in your market so you have to look at this as part of your long term sustainable strategy.

Look at where your market is going – what can you do to not only preserve your business but to build it, and what might shake it up in the future?  You only have to look at massive companies who didn’t do this – household names that after hundreds of years disappeared almost overnight because they didn’t anticipate what was going on in their market. Think Kodak, think Woolworths.  They fed from the cheese until it was gone – and didn’t go and find cheese elsewhere in a timely enough manner. Then that was game over.

Many of us have trades that have changed exponentially since we started in business, and these changes will keep on happening as technology, consumer habits and markets develop and we have to adapt to survive – anticipate market trends and ideally be a step in front of them. In the courier industry year after year we faced the fax machine, ISDN, secure document distribution and now the rise in the overnight network and saw our market decimated. We had to change to survive.  So please – I implore you – look at your market for the future. Because you’d hate to wake up one day and see the cheese has gone, and be hungry.

Go have a think. Have a plan. And implement early – or your business could be the next Kodak.  And we don’t want that now do we?