Identifying Sacred Cows Part 3 of 3

The Downsizing Cow

Restructuring a business is not a one and done effect. There is a continual review and adjustment process involved with restructuring. Making cuts in an effort to downsize may only be beneficial in the short term it seems. The mass lay off of workers will reduce costs immediately but companies are finding that there are voids in their productivity and must hire back some employees. Or worse, they don’t hire back to fill the void and those employees who remain grow overworked and weary.

The suggestion from Kriegel and Brandt is rather than look for “just the core-group” to function everyday  but look for ways to better organize their contributions for success. When looking to make a cut somewhere it may actually be better to call employees together and remain transparent. Discuss the financial situation and what the hope for improvements are. Employees who are concerned that their jobs are on the chopping block are less likely to be innovative or dedicated to their work. Some creative employees may jump ship before you have the chance to let them go. An example of this practice was when a CEO of a national auto-parts chain was losing money they gave a proposition, 10% cut across the board or 10% pay cut to every employee. The employees chose the pay cut but negotiated that if they were able to deliver a profit to the corporate office they would receive their 10% plus a bonus. The corporate offices supported this deal and much to their dismay the management teams organized themselves across the nation and the company experienced record profits. What does that tell you?

The change driving thinking for downsizing should follow these two basic principals: “Cut the fat (cows) before you cut the muscle (people) and downsizing costs: morale, motivation, innovation” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 107).

The Techno Cow

Just the name of this cow makes me think back to that time I found myself in a techno club….that’s a story for another day. The Techno Cow believes that the quick fix for everything not working or wrong in business is to introduce a new technology. Although, having the latest software or gadgets may help with productivity it can be a double edged sword. The time and money needed to invest in the introduction of new technology and to train employees to utilize the new technology to it’s fullest potential may not be effective in the end. You have to decide what is it we are looking to fix with this new addition.

Something businesses have experienced as a result of increase technology dependence has been the decrease in the actual real estate space that businesses must maintain. There has been an increase in the desire for employees to work in the “satellite” sense from home or on the road. Managers are reporting large increases in productivity by their employees being able to work a portion of their time from home. But as Kreigal and Brandt said, don’t start converting the kitchen table just yet (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011). A new problem is arising. Isolation. Technology can cause vast canyons to form in communication. Long gone are the days you walked across the office to hold a conversation about data. Now, an email is sent from one analyst to another and yet, they are 30 feet from each other. To say that things can get lost in communication is an understand. Technology is just not the best platform for brainstorming, developing new strategies, or diving into the meat and bones of a new idea.  Somethings are just better handled face-to-face and technology is only as strong as those utilizing it.

The change driving thinking for examining the techno cow is simple: “high-tech needs high-touch” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 116).

The Team Cow

There is a time and place for everything even teams. Thinking from personal experience nearly every professional position I have held whether it be in the recreation or education field there has always been teams in the workplace. These teams were either picked for you or you volunteered. Some teams flourish and produce while others wither and limp along through the year just praying someone will give up or asked to be reassigned to a different team. Here are some typical issues teams face: They’re overused; the wrong kinds of teams are created; not everyone is suited for team play; individual initiative can be stifled; poor support; unclear on the concept; operating in a vacuum; personality problems; different tongues (lingo) (Kreigal, Brandt, 201).

There are 5 phases of team development. If a team can progress through the 5 stages efficiently, innovation and production is sure to follow. The first phase is Orientation, where the members of the group are simply getting to know each other and set the ground rules and expectations. The second phase is Conflict. During this phase there are power struggles and frustration about what is expected of each member of the team. The third phase is Harmony. During the harmony phase natural leaders emerge and the chaos subsides. Facilitation occurs here and ideas develop through the planning stages. The fourth phase is Maturity. Maturity means that the team is dedicated to their endeavor and look to see it to fruition. The last phase is Dotage. This is the phasing out of the team. The team is now a sacred cow itself. This doesn’t mean the team should be disbanded, but with the right management this team can be recycled and used with a new mission in mind.

The change driving thinking for the team cow is: “throwing a group of people into a room doesn’t make them a team, don’t use teams for jobs that individuals could do better and build bridges between teams”(Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p.127).

The Work Till You Drop Cow

This long held notion that burning the “midnight oil” will allow you to accomplish great tasks is a fallacy. When you are tired you are more likely to make mistakes and cut corners. Studies show that if you pack it up early and don’t exhaust yourself you are more likely to come back the next day rested and far more productive. As a recreational graduate student first and foremost I have studied how important recreation is to society. If you break down the word recreate you discover the words re-create. Having an opportunity to step away from the desk and bustle of the workplace to re-create yourself through spending time outdoors, with family or on your couch in your pajamas is important to maintaining innovation in every work place.

When I was an undergraduate in Wilmington, NC, I worked in a seed and feed store. This was as much an internship in business as part-time college work for me. I sat down with my manager one afternoon and made the daily schedule for the next week. She explained that she never worked anyone at the store more than 25-30 hours. This was mostly to ensure that employees didn’t become lazy. What she meant by that was, if they worked too many hours things would get put off or slip through the cracks. Feed expiration wouldn’t be watched as closely, the warehouse employees would suffer from fatigue and be more likely to become injured and cashiers would become bored and off task. Productivity would actually go down if everyone worked 35-40 hours a week. 
The work till you drop cow has a simple change driving thinking; “overwork doesn’t work” (Kreigal, Brandt, 2011, p. 135).

This concludes the 3 part series of identifying the sacred cows often found in the work place. How many of these sacred cows do you have roaming the halls of your office?

Check back for more posts on the topic of motivating change and restructuring businesses to become more innovative and dynamic in today’s competitive economy!

2 thoughts on “Identifying Sacred Cows Part 3 of 3

  1. Your post is definitely thought provoking. I really like the idea of being transparent with your people and explaining exactly what is going on when downsizing. I think that would help morale in that situation. I also thought the work till you drop cow is interesting. That is what everyone expects of you and often you are looked down upon if you leave work at the right time and don’t stay late. I’m expected to check emails and respond to them at night and over the weekend, so we place this work till you drop mindset on people. It makes sense though that getting a full evening of rest and not thinking about it would make you more productive the next day. This would be a huge societal shift for us!


  2. Heather,
    I loved the story about the employees willing to take a pay cut and negotiating the cut coming back and a raise. Sometimes it’s not about cutting jobs but motivating your employees to yield more profit. It is never a guarantee that motivating employees will exceed profit margins but I say it’s worth a try. Additionally, being honest with employees gives them a sense that employees’ well-being means something to the company and not just the bottom line. A lot of companies “preach” about how they are dedicated to their customers and you rarely hear the same about its employees. This example shows that if you are loyal to someone they typically will be loyal to you.

    Additionally, I agree with the premise of the “Techno Cow.” Working in HR, I have first-hand knowledge that it costs a lot more money to train new technology and that new technology comes with its own set of challenges. You can have new tech experts on site or webinars to train, but that means that is additional time employees are away from tasks. Technology is great, and it can be beneficial, but I don’t agree with letting it be the go to when things go wrong. The company may want to look into auditing job assignments to see where there is redundancy or excess in products and services that are not being used.


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