Companies intent on improving should take a hard look at changing some of their most closely held beliefs

In my role as a business “efficiency” expert I am looked upon to provide creative solutions to improve productivity and help fix what’s broken. What I see in almost every business, regardless of industry, is not some great new technology innovation to be implemented but it’s old beliefs and out dated protocols, rules & polices referred to as “Sacred Cows” that are disrupting throughput and opportunity.

I asked my freshly minted college grad daughter if she was familiar with the term Sacred Cow and her eyes glossed over….so for the millennial’s in the audience maybe I should back up before I continue with my thought provocative ideas and awesome insights (lol)  

Defined by Wikipedia – Sacred cow is an idiom; an idiom based on the popular understanding of the elevated place of cows in Hinduism. A literal sacred cow or sacred bull is an actual cow or bull that is treated with sincere respect. A figurative sacred cow is a figure of speech for something considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so. In this article I’m referring to the later, a figure of speech. And specifically in the context of how sacred cows relate to business and what they suggest about a company’s leadership and culture.

So what does your company say about your culture? 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 time warn rules, the ones they were taught when times were much different.

In the sign industry, the sacred cows are the untouchable protocols & polices that companies cherish most. Whether self-inflicted or imposed by someone else, they have been part of the company for so long no one knows their true origins. And because they are sometimes perceived as the heart and soul of the company or system, they are never challenged.

Sacred cows are easy to identify: simply challenge the status quo. If you hear it vehemently defended by someone insisting “We’ve always done it this way!” “This is the essence of our company!” or “We can’t change this, the boss came up with it.” And 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 the hard to change, yield the most profit when they are topped.

 Sacred cows everywhere!

When I started thinking about writing this article I wasn’t sure if the subject was worthy but as I thought about how it affected my clients so deeply I knew I was on the right track…all I had to do was look around to see there were herds of cows running 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 approve estimates”
  •  “Orders cannot be released without a client signature”
  •  “Projects start when all documents are received”
  •   “Our systems work fine”
  •  “We’re too busy”
  •  “Consultants cost too much!

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.”

For example, decades ago, automotive giant Henry Ford revolutionized the world with the assembly line concept. But that Idea didn’t come from the auto industry.  He got it by touring a Chicago slaughterhouse. Even when he was one of the world’s richest and most powerful men, he was always looking outside his industry for new Idea’s, 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. The results are things never change. They become a sacred cows and an obstacles to growth and profits. In some ways a sacred cow is really EGO playing a role in suppressing innovation and keeping people from success.

Sacred cows do exist, it’s a fact! The best way to identify these corporate fixtures is to bring in outsiders such as business consultants and advisers because they offer new insights that people with-in can’t. With a fresh set of eyes they can see the situation from a totally different perspective. As Bill Gates puts it “Everyone need a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player.” 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.”

Author: John Hackley of Oculus Business Coaching. John brings over 35 years of experience of manufacturing experience. Oculus Business Coaching provides consultation and coaching programs designed to help manufacturers implement systemic solutions enabling them to sell more, build better and profit for life!

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