St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Tarpon's big cheese has aides reading

To boost performance, City Manager Ellen Posivach requires department heads to read Who Moved My Cheese?

By KATHERINE GAZELLA

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- Go to Tarpon Springs City Hall, listen closely and it might sound more like a grocery store deli than a center of government.

"I can't find my cheese," some people are saying. "Someone moved my cheese," others complain.

City Manager Ellen Posivach couldn't be happier about all the cheese talk. She is having all the department heads in the city read the bestseller Who Moved My Cheese?, a short parable about dealing with change.

"There was a little grumbling that I would ask anyone to read a book," she said. "But even the most hardened cases are using phrases like, "I can't find my cheese.' "

The city is following the path of many businesses in the country that are passing the book around to managers and employees in hopes of teaching them to adjust better to changes in the workplace. Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy is having his entire staff read the 94-page book.

The book, which is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, focuses on two mice named Sniff and Scurry and two small people, Hem and Haw. They all are in a maze together. One day, they discover their stash of cheese has disappeared.

The mice scamper into the maze to hunt some new cheese. Hem and Haw are paralyzed by fear and paranoia about what the future holds. After a while, Haw tentatively moves through the maze and eventually finds cheese. He even starts to enjoy the journey. Hem, on the other hand, stays put and doesn't get any more cheese.

"Everybody picks up something different from it," Police chief Mark LeCouris said.

"It's a pretty universal message," said Judy Staley, information and research officer for the city. "It's applicable to all kinds of things, not just business."

Posivach also is having department heads read the book Raving Fans, which encourages businesses to improve customer service.

Ultimately, she wants to have an entire lending library of books for city employees to read. She hopes the books will help the city ease into the "high-performance organizations" theory of management, which calls for organizations to raise their performance standards continually and to involve employees in cross-training and professional development.

Posivach wants city employees "to do away with the philosophy of "that's not my job,' " she said.

Some city employees are picking the books up off their supervisors' desks and reading them, even though they aren't required to. Posivach appreciates the interest in the books, but she also wants to make sure all the department heads have a chance to read them.

The city bought only one copy of each book, so it's taking a while for the books to make the rounds through City Hall. When everybody has read the books, Posivach said, they will discuss themat a staff meeting.

Some department heads noted that the content of the books is a little simplistic, but they still feel they learned something. And everyone is pleased with the length of the books, which are short and have big print.

"It's easy," LeCouris said, laughing. "You don't strain your eyes."

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.