What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Sacred Cow Disease aka Bad Bovine Blight


Let’s have a roundup and herd some cattle together.

I know you’ve run across Sacred Cows (“SCs”)…we all have in our business careers or personal life.

Dictionary.com defines a Sacred Cow to be: “an individual,organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning”

There are good Sacred Cows, like Fenway Park, or long established brands or business practices that should not be changed.

There are Sacred Cows that are not good…these bad bovines are the people, rules, business processes, habits and/or policies that hurt company performance.

This is my first post about the ‘bad’ SCs, the ones that:

  • are difficult to change
  • are hard to get rid of
  • can’t be spoken about

The hush hush aspect of these SCs is like when Lord Voldemort (“You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”) is mentioned in the Harry Potter books – they can’t be openly discussed for fear of what might happen.

You might be thinking: “What’s the big deal – SCs will always exist so move on.”

I say ignore them at your peril. You need to break the status quo, get rid of stale thinking and stop letting fear of change dominate your thinking.  Bad SCs are things that need to be and should be questioned with management or ownership because they can wreak havoc on planning, direction and performance.

I’ll be writing and posting more in the future about specific SC situations (I’ve got lots of examples).  But to start, here are seven general types of SCs that are serious impediments to a company’s growth:

One: unqualified family members with significant roles

(Ditch and Slow Lane): My son John is going to be head of sales (…even though his personality is abrasive); my daughter Sally will be the next CFO (…because she couldn’t handle the VP of Operations job).  Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, in laws, cousins, and more often rise to the top just because of family connections. One senior manager in a family company said to me (not so jokingly) “I’ve hit the promotion wall – guess I should have married the CEO’s daughter.” Weak, unqualified family members in senior roles can create a negative climate for the really good, capable family members or non-family employees that should and could take on more and more responsibility.  In one tense situation the owner made the decision it was less harmful to the company to pay his daughter NOT to work in the business than to keep her employed at the company.  

Two: senior managers’ pet employees

(Slow Lane): Sometimes senior managers can’t or don’t want to make a change with certain underperforming employees for whatever reason.  The reasons for not wanting to move them along could be loyalty, ‘personal’ relationships, fear of losing the employee’s historical knowledge, age, gender, etc. The impact of these pets: low morale, poor teamwork, good people leaving the company.

Three: favorite vendors who have become friends of the CEO

(Rough): Golf anyone?  There are vendors who provide services (i.e. accounting, legal, marketing, etc.) and there are vendors who provide ‘stuff’ ( raw materials, utilities, facilities, supplies, etc.). Usually the SCs are lurking in the services categories.  The most glaring examples I’ve seen are where the service provider has gotten stale or ‘lost their fastball’ but still have a meaningful financial relationship with the management team. Move on, bring in replacements.

Four: stubbornness to exit a line of business

(Moment, Another World, Fog): ‘Product Line A was the original part of the company.” “It’s our cash cow.” Good, but it’s a loser now. Sell it or shut it down.

Five: refusal to close an underperforming facility

(Rough): “This is where our grandfather started the company and this is the same office my Dad used.” The space just happens to resemble a rabbit warren and the ineffecient manufcturing flow hurts morale, lowers quality and blocks the implementation of lean practices.  Close it.

Six: nostalgia dominates decision making

(Another World): A company’s heritage is important, but staying in or longing for the past does not help run the business today.  The industry, market and customers may have evolved and changed drastically from years ago; SCs that remain for historical reasons only keep you Stuck in Another World.

Seven: tired, ineffective business processes, business practices, rules, habits

(Rough): These can be ‘written in stone’ or not written down at all.  In either case, activities that exist only because “…that’s the way we have always done it…” make employees unproductive. In addition, klugy, clumsy processes might cause customers to go away.

What Sacred Cows have you had to deal with?  Have you successfully changed or eliminated some?

Your assignment: Become a Sacred Cow Finder, not stay a Sacred Cow Minder. Make a list of your company’s SCs; put the list in the comment section below or email it to me.  I will be compiling these into a master resource page on the blog.  Then we can figure out together how to get of them.

Contact Jim or add a comment below