Sacred Cows in an Economic Downturn

by Ed Rigsbee

What better time to grind sacred cows into hamburger than during an economic downturn? The sacred cow protectors in your organization experience lowered resistance when times are not so good. It is much more difficult for them to defend the pet projects, products and services that have reached their sunset when placed under the tight economic microscope.

If You are a Sacred Cow Defender

Upper level decision makers pay especially close attention to questionable activities in an economic downturn, organizational restructuring or during a merger. If you have even a faint indication that you might be a sacred cow protector, this is the time to realize that everyone will be attacking your pet sacred cow. Ask yourself if this cow is worth your career. Might it be time to let go?

To help you work through the process of either defending or letting go, consider the following:

  • Why should this cow continue?
  • Who cares most about this cow? Why do I protect it?
  • Which market or stakeholder segments does the cow still serve? Is this cow still profitable?
  • Is this cow worth the organizational resources necessary to sustain it? Has this cow reached its sunset?

If You are a Cow Grinder

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for – it is time to rid your organization of that outdated, resource-sucking albatross that has, in your opinion, been dragging everyone down. While this is a good time to bring out the meat grinder, you’d better be smart about your actions. This is not the time to pretend you are a bull in a china shop, but rather take a methodical approach to getting that cow into the grinder.

First, you must remain aware of the fact that most sacred cow protectors have their identify and self-worth complexly entwined with the cow that they protect so ferociously, much like a momma bear protecting her cub. And you do not want to get between them!

How do you help an iron-clad mind to open up? Perhaps oil and leverage will do the trick.

The oil relates to the idea of slipperiness verses friction. The iron-clad mind is the friction and you become the oil that helps movement. Your job is to help the protector see that there might be new or better ideas, products and services that might possibly… maybe perhaps serve the market or stakeholders better than the currently protected cow.

Leverage relates to an outside object or force that allows ease of movement for heavy or stuck objects. Needless to say, the stuck or heavy object is the cow protector. The outside force could be higher authority or replacement product/service. Higher authority needs no explanation. Replacement, however, is a formidable subject. Where or what could the cow protector use as an alternate crutch for channeling their passion?

Grinding Cows

We’ve always done it, our customers expect it and so we should continue to do it. This is an area that can be overcome by numbers, metrics or measurements. It is difficult for a person or department to defend something that can be proven to no longer be performing.

The “not invented here” attitude can be a challenge when offering alternatives to the cow you want to grind. Leading the cow protectors to their own discovery of a replacement generally works well. The price that you, the cow grinder, must be willing to pay is to relinquish an ego boost and the credit for being the cow grinder.

For most things there is a season. Even sacred cows that are only approaching their sunset must be examined closely. The challenge is in letting too many old cows run the pasture. If in your organization there are a number of cows that are nearing their end of usefulness, all your organizations resources are being allotted to refreshing and keeping alive old cows rather than allowing innovation and discovery of new and profitable, non-commodity products and services to take their place. You can swim with the sharks in highly competitive regions or head for the open waters of innovation and creativity.

So what’s a reasonable person to do? If you are a cow protector, be certain it is worth protecting. If you are a cow grinder, be sure that cow’s sunset has arrived. Grinding cows simply for pleasure or self-adulation is not an acceptable reason to flick the switch and start the grinder. The magic for your organization is for the leaders to have the wisdom in understanding and recognizing the difference.

As a nationally recognized speaker on partnering, Ed Rigsbee has helped organizations of all sizes to build successful internal and external collaborative relationships. He has authored three books and over 1,500 articles helping organizations to take full advantage of their potential. Contact Rigsbee, find additional (no charge) resources and sign up for his complimentary weekly Effective Executive eLetter at Copyright © 2010 Ed Rigsbee