In my role as a business “efficiency” expert, what I see in almost every business, regardless of industry, is not some great new technology innovation to be implemented; instead it’s old beliefs and outdated protocols, rules, and polices referred to as “sacred cows.”
And it is these sacred cows that are disrupting throughput and opportunity.
Defined by Wikipedia, a sacred cow is an idiom based on the popular understanding of the elevated place of cows in Hinduism. A figurative sacred cow is a figure of speech for something considered immune from question or criticism (especially unreasonably so), and for this article, I’m focusing on how these figurative sacred cows relate to business and what they suggest about a company’s leadership and culture.
So does your company behave in a manner that supports your beliefs and values? Really? Are you sure?
Whatever it is, your rules, policies, and procedures tell the real story. How’s it working for you now?
Maybe it’s time for a shift. Changing even one closely held belief could pave the way to exciting new avenues of profit and opportunity.
Unfortunately getting ownership to change is extremely difficult. Old rules die hard, and most people will want to continue using those timeworn rules they were taught when times were much different.
In the sign industry, the sacred cows are the untouchable protocols and polices that companies cherish most. Whether self-inflicted or imposed by someone else, they’ve been part of the company for so long that no one knows their true origins. And because they’re sometimes perceived as the “heart and soul” of the company or system, they’re never challenged.
Sacred cows are easy to identify: simply challenge the status quo. You’ll hear it vehemently defended by someone insisting, “We’ve always done it this way!” or “This is the essence of our company!” or my personal favorite—“We don’t change very fast around here.”
If they said, “It can’t be done!” you’ve found a smoking gun that will lead you to a sacred cow. And sacred cows, although they are hard to change, yield the most profit when they are topped.
Sacred Cows Everywhere
Herds of sacred cows are running around everywhere! Here are just a few that I’ve witnessed in the signage industry.
“We only sell what we can make in our facility.”
“Only the owner can write and
“Orders cannot be released without a client signature.”
“Projects start when all documents are received.”
“We’re too busy.”
There is so much room for eliminating unnecessary “old ways” in business. Just think how much better things could be if the burden of these handcuffs and inefficient processes were removed and improved. As Einstein said, “The best design is the simplest one that works.”
It’s amazing where new profitable approaches will come from—if you’re open to them. Looking outside the industry is a great way to get inspired.
Automotive giant Henry Ford revolutionized the world with the assembly line concept—an idea he got by touring a Chicago slaughterhouse. Even when he was one of the world’s richest and most powerful men, Ford was always looking outside his industry for new ideas, and so should you.
Going outside the company for information and benchmarking against other companies can be extremely unpopular, especially with middle managers. It disrupts the status quo and threatens change and, in-turn, their so-called security.
Although most people are afraid of change, it can work wonders if they can push through the comfort zone.
Why You Can’t See Them
Blind spots are a common phenomenon that helps perpetuate sacred cows.
In physiology, they are places in the field of vision where the brain overrules the eyes. There must be plenty of them within the signage community since the inability to see things clearly are certainly evident among some of the shop owners I know. (Sorry, guys, it’s true.)
I’ve seen owners with beliefs so strong that their brains actually fail to register what their eyes are seeing. When their preconceived notions are challenged by new evidence, they just can’t see it.
In some ways, a sacred cow is really ego playing a role in suppressing innovation and keeping people from success. The results are that things never change.
Outsiders such as business consultants and advisors offer new insights that people within can’t. With a fresh set of eyes, they can see the situation from a totally different perspective.
The good news is that once these sacred cows are identified, they offer the greatest opportunities for improvement. This is where big rewards are—turning sacred cows into cash cows.
By John Hackley, who leads strategic growth, guides partnership development, and serves as CEO of Oculus Business Coaching, a company that provides consultation and coaching programs designed to help manufacturers implement systemic solutions. For more information, call (510) 760-6959 or visit oculuscoaching.net.