Identifying Sacred Cows Part 1

The next three blog posts will be a series of that will be identifying the sacred cows most often found in businesses that are looking to reengineer themselves. As covered in the first blog a sacred cow is “an outmoded belief, assumption, practice, policy, system, or strategy, generally invisible, that inhibits change and prevents responsiveness to new opportunities” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 1). Part 1 will look at 5 of the 14 cows covered in the book, Sacred Cows make the best burgers. Let us begin by reflecting on a quote from John C. Maxwell, an American author, speaker and pastor who has written many books, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine”.  

The Paper Cow

If you were to go to your email inbox right now, how many emails would you have? Specifically, how many emails are unread? What about reports or proposals sitting on your desk? For most, the answer would be numerous. This is because businesses today suffer from, the paper cow.

What is the problem with having the paper cow? It wastes time. It wastes it by constructing the reports or emails, especially when no one is reading them. It is, like wise, a waste of time if you are reading lengthy reports and proposals that are generated without warrant. The resources of time and money are valuable. These are two resources that should be devoted to consumers and products.

An example of a process generated by a paper cow would be approval forms for expenses and leave. The time that would go into the employee drafting the forms and committees reviewing, deliberating, and approving or denying requisitions is taking away from the real meat and bones of what businesses should be focusing time on.

Does this mean that all emails are categorized as a paper cow? Certainly not. The take away for Change-Drivability Thinking is: If it doesn’t add value to the customer, increase productivity, improve morale, it moos!” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p.18)

The Meeting Cow

Many people in business live on the quote, “time is money”. Board meetings, staff meetings, learning communities these are some of the names we hear thrown around to glorify what is really happening. Time away from the important things. Meetings are a waste of time, end of story. Meetings can become stagnant and often employees mentally “check out”. When employees check out during meetings the opportunity to get them on board with forward thinking and plans to revolutionize products and processes goes with them.

Often meetings are set to be something reoccurring, for example, staff meetings held every Wednesday, just for the sake of meeting. What happens when someone with a bright idea holds back because they don’t want to be the one to hold a meeting any longer than necessary? By setting shorter meeting times and frequencies productivity will improve. The Change-Drivability thinking to take away from this chapter is, “halve your meeting time and double your productivity” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 25).

The Speed Cow

Think about the word deadline for a moment. Phrases like, under the gun, and behind the eight ball come to mind bringing with them all the negative connotations to boot. Unfortunately, deadlines and due dates are something that are here to stay. Deadlines precipitate stress. When stress is up the quality of relationships and work goes down. Often times when deadlines are looming people produce products and deliverables that are under par.

As mentioned before, deadlines are necessary but it is possible to manage the stress that comes along with them. Taking a few moments from the day to relax, clear your head, and just breathe can be the difference between quality work and bad work. An example of this would be when a sports team calls a time out in order to get their thoughts together and regroup. The Change-Drivability for the speed cow is, “speed kills quality, service, communication, innovation… and you. A passionate 90 percent is more productive than a panicked 110 percent” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 37).

 The Expert Cow

It happened to Xerox and IBM…the expert cow. In every business there sits a veteran employee who believes that history repeats itself. The expert is often resistant to change and bases their practices on antiquated knowledge and systems (Kreigal, Brandt, 1996). Although gleaning knowledge from those with experience is crucial, it is also important to sometimes look at things from a new perspective.

A rookie’s approach can be what it takes to reengineer a company. Reengineering takes the blank slate approach. The preconceived notions of a veteran can stand in the way of a successful and meaningful change. A couple of statements for Change-Drivability are, “think like a beginner, not an expert; and be smart: ask stupid questions” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 45).

The Cash Cow

Riding the old gift horse gets you left behind…Things in today’s economy are moving quickly that relying on today’s hot ticket item is not necessarily going to provide big dividends in the future. A good example of a company who is “breaking it before it’s broke” is Apple (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 49). Before you have even learned all the new features on your IPhone 6 the IPhone 7 is about to drop.

Riding the cash cow and focusing all of your resources on one successful product will run you aground. Complacency leads to failure and niches are ruts (Kreigal, Brandt, 1996). The take away for Change-Drivability here is: “keep milking your cash cow and they’ll run dry. Broaden your niche before it turns into a rut. Break it before it’s broke” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 55).

Later this week we will take a look a a few more of the sacred cows and how to work through resolving the hurdles of change.

Kriegel, R. J., & Brandt, D. (2011). Sacred cows make the best burgers: paradigm-busting strategies for developing change-ready people and organizations. New York: Warner Books.

3 thoughts on “Identifying Sacred Cows Part 1 of 3

  1. I can appreciate the “speed cow” problem. Not too long ago I took a couple of semesters of a foreign language, and the pace of the first level was right on…the “productive 90% passionate” that you alluded to. However, in the second level, the pace of the course was just a little too fast for me to feel like I was properly absorbing the material. I’ve read some studies say that this approach is a good thing, but my scores were indeed lower for the second than the first. Going at 110% might get you across the finish line faster, but afterward you kind of feel like your handle on the material is shaky….like you’ve built your house on sand!


  2. I am liking the cow concept and how they apply to business organizational structure and cultural. These first five cows can negatively impact the business or an idea if not implemented correctly.


  3. I’m excited to read more from your blog. This discussion of re-engineering oneself through the eyes of cow personalities will be interesting to say the least. Identifying the cow has to be the hardest part I bet. I guess the name of the book says a lot, “Sacred Cows make the best burgers”. I look forward to learning more about this cow concept and disruption of oneself for the sake of regrowth. It is important to explore any outmoded beliefs – so I can see why this topic is being explored. Reinvention, or re-creation of oneself should be a constant journey. When companies (or those running them) become stagnant and stuck in old methodologies and beliefs, the end is inevitable. I agree the “paper cow” is quite the challenge! With everyone being so metric locus, reporting, fear, and measures run the schedule into overtime. It’s not a good thing to measure and report so much that we lose connection as a direct result. People unplug in scenarios like this. They can’t keep up or engage in everything, all the time, at the same level, so they back away. Not a good thing. Thanks for the post – look forward to following the progression.


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