Mike Baker, president of Quality Mill Supply, says he's serious about business, but he also likes to have fun. And he's a firm believer that a little humor goes a long way toward easing transitions. Some months back, he had a chance to test that theory. When the distributor migrated to a new computer system that would overhaul its operations, changing the way Quality Mill handled everything from purchasing to assigning item IDs, Baker gave each employee a copy of Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, the parable about mice learning to accept change.
To reinforce the book's theme, Baker distributed cheese lapel pins to employees. And whenever someone championed the migration process, he asked the person to don a Styrofoam cheese head. "It just kind of brought everything together and got everyone on the same page," Baker says. "We want to make sure employees have a good time—especially when they're presented with challenges."
As for what prompted the changeover, the distributor's 15-year-old UNIX-based platform had started to show its age. New hires were having difficulty learning how to key around screens. Salespeople wanted easier access to information from the road. And as it worked to hold down stocks of abrasives, hand tools, cleaners and the like, the company realized it needed real-time data about inventory availability. It was clearly time for a change.
Baker decided to shift his operations to Prophet 21's CommerceCenter system, which would allow the distributor to collect and distribute information electronically to everyone it worked with. "These days, distribution is about information as much as it is about product," Baker says. "It's about moving information from your manufacturers to your customers as quickly as possible. It's about collecting as much information as you can about everyone you do business with—and disseminating it to people within your organization."
And the cheese? So far, the program appears to be working. Baker reports that halfway through the implementation, his staff remains energized.