There are two things that make a cow one of the greatest animals ever. First, there is an active market where you can turn your bovine into cash. The price you will receive from your beef critter is subject to market forces, but you can still turn it into cash. In recent years, with the historically low numbers in the US cattle herd, prices have been good.
The second factor is greater than the first in my mind, since it creates the reason for the market. Your cow can be turned into wonderful cuts of meat: hamburger, ribs, and steak. This meat can be turned into edible wonderfulness via the addition of heat in the form of baking, frying, or my favorites, smoking and grilling. The thought of 10 hour slow smoked brisket over hickory and cherry woods makes my mouth water.
Now, in each of our organizations, we all have sacred cows. These are things that we would never dare give up and are held in higher esteem than cattle are to some Hindus. Some of these items may be the standard Monday morning meeting, the Tuesday sales report, or the Friday wrap-up. Other sacred cows could be a process, spreadsheet, form, or workflow that is followed to a “T” every time. These are things that are never abandoned, for if they were, we would be afraid the company would collapse.
Now you may be thinking, “But there are certain tasks that have to be done a specific way. I have found out the most effective way to execute this job.” In some cases, this is not a sacred cow, this is an ox. An ox is a strong critter you can use alone or in teams to really do tough work like plowing a field or moving heavy objects. Oxen love to work and can really accomplish great things. One ox that I tend to do when I analyze a credit is to first focus on the cash flow of the company. I want to understand how cash moves and how I will be repaid. I don’t have to always do this first, but I have found it tends to weed out more problem deals if I start there. You have to first ask if the item under scrutiny is an ox or a sacred cow. If it is an ox, realize that even that can become more efficient.
Sacred cows, on the other hand, are there to just eat and look pretty. Sacred cows consume a lot of energy and resources and don’t give you any results other than something to look at. But we don’t realize that the best thing about the sacred cow is also the best characteristic about real cattle, they can be turned into steak!
This requires critical thinking that is often done best by someone who is not ingrained into the corporate culture. Is the Monday meeting valuable or is this just a waste of time? Could the same thing be accomplished by an email or an internal wiki? The old spreadsheet you are using to accomplish a task-is is really necessary and is it efficient? Does it need to be upgraded to include formulas and shared with those who will input the data? Is the process the most efficient way to work?
Never discount the ideas from the new person. Lots of times they may be able to find ways to improve your company since they are not steeped in the culture and the “way we do things”. If someone was important enough to hire, they should be important enough to listen to their ideas. A good leader will learn to stop what he is doing and listen whenever a team member starts out with, “You may think I am crazy, but I had this idea….”
Slaughtering the sacred cows will not only provide great enjoyment from the entire team as they consume the steak, but it will also make you more money by increasing the efficiency of the organization and saving time for tasks that are important to generating income and increasing the service provided by your company.