Canadian Underwriter

Hybrid office: What brokers can learn from the parable, Who Moved My Cheese?

July 21, 2021   by David Gambrill

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Ontario brokerage Mitchell & Whale is allowing its staff to return to the office in any way they choose, a hybrid work model inspired by the 1998 best-selling book, Who Moved My Cheese?

Authored by Dr. Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese? is a business parable featuring two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two small humans, Hem and Haw, all of whom are looking for cheese in a maze.

All four find cheese in a corridor called “Cheese Station C.” But one day there is no cheese left at that station. While the mice move on quickly to find cheese in a corridor, “Cheese Station N,” the humans take a longer time coming to terms with the absence of cheese at “Cheese Station C.” Eventually, the humans split off from one another, with one moving on to find cheese elsewhere in the maze, while the other suffers from debilitating fear.

The moral of the story is that change is constant, and that people or businesses need to adapt quickly to change to survive.

Adam Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell & Whale, cited the parable in explaining the strategy behind his brokerage allowing employees to determine their own working environment. As lockdown restrictions are lifted, employees at Mitchell & Whale will be able to work fully remotely if they so choose. Or they can make the trek to the 26,000-square-foot head office in Whitby, Ont., whenever they see fit to do so. The choice is up to them.

“If you read the parable Who Moved My Cheese?, well the cheese has moved,” Mitchell explained to Canadian Underwriter Friday. “The game has changed. We are in a new landscape. [Post-COVID], you can just jam it all back in as if it was still in the same spot, but it isn’t. Or you can get busy trying to figure out this new [reality]. And by the way, the game changed for everybody in every industry. So now we get to — or have to — compete against every other employer in the world.”

The flip side is that P&C brokerages can now hire new qualified talent from anywhere in the world. Recruiting qualified talent has repeatedly been listed among the Top 5 concerns of Canadian P&C brokers in the past three annual National Broker Surveys conducted by Canadian Underwriter.

Recruitment efforts will be more successful, Mitchell suggested, if brokerages are willing to adapt and allow their employees to work remotely.

For Mitchell, data-driven brokerages that know their key performance indicators (KPIs) will be in a good place to offer their employees remote or hybrid workspaces. “You’d better have robust KPIs,” he said. Success of a hybrid model will be measured based on whether or not employees can meet their KPIs and sales targets — and that can be done from anywhere, he said.

“I just had an all-hands meeting with the team yesterday, and on that call, I made a commitment,” Mitchell said. “I said, ‘You will not hear us demand you back [to the office]. I’m sitting here on my back patio with a T-shirt on and enjoying the sun. I’m valuing this, and I understand you do, too.’

“What’s actually important to the business is that we hit our key numbers, and that our key numbers are delivering for our clients. And so, if you can hit your key numbers from your basement, your patio, or Thailand, we genuinely won’t care. And we’re going to keep serving [our clients] and take the pulse [on whether the model is working].”

The global pandemic moved the cheese. Now that many Canadians have worked from home for more than a year in order to contain the spread of COVID-19, workers — whether fully, partially, or not at all vaccinated — are coming back to the workplace with new expectations of their employers.

A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Morning Consult in May 2021 showed that 40% of workers would rather quit their jobs than return to the office full-time, per Bloomberg.

“I think there will be a big struggle in the power dynamic as the deck shuffles,” Mitchell predicts, speaking in the context of recruitment post-COVID. “Maybe [before COVID] we [in the P&C industry] looked like a desirable culture to people, but if you lived in Manitoba, you never would have considered anything. And now you have these giant banners saying, ‘We have remote work full-time.’ Cool.

“We had teammates who moved to the East Coast during this [pandemic]. We have another one looking at buying a nice home in Windsor [Ontario]. It’s neat to have all of the leadership team and all of the teammates on the same page: There’s a full alignment on what actually matters. Are we doing a good job brokering? Are we growing the business and doing well?

“If you are Windsor, or if you are in Moncton, New Brunswick, you could be contributing to the team vision from either location. And now you’ve got some real balance in your life. You picked what was right for you and your family while also being aligned and balanced at work.”

Mitchell said he’s a big believer in the principle that the best talent doesn’t need managing. And now the best talent has options. “We’re giving them options,” he said. “And if you as an employer force them back into the office against their will, you’ll probably lose them.”


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1 Comment » for Hybrid office: What brokers can learn from the parable, Who Moved My Cheese?
  1. Robert Vid Amour says:

    Probably one of the best articles I have read on the return to work process.

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