Sacred cows are areas within organizational processes, products or almost anything that everyone knows are off-limits, and that people can’t get at to create change. What makes them hard to find is that they’re usually only identifiable by people who aren’t in the upper echelons. The reason for this is simple: those in control can’t see them, because they’re often the ones creating or protecting them (or are perceived to be).
Here’s where it gets tricky: The real issue isn’t whether these “cows” can actually be CHANGED, it’s whether people PERCEIVE that they can be CHALLENGED. The term “sacred cow” never comes out until it’s referenced within the context of someone unsuccessfully being able to change something, but are told either directly or through the grapevine that it’s “hands off.” This perception can create stagnancy in these areas of the organization, halting what would otherwise be normal progression. Secondly, over time, if too many of these exist, it will grate on your change leaders and impact engagement.
Here’s a couple of things to walk away with:
– If you want to know whether you have sacred cows, ask people who are known for actively working to make change happen.
– Recognize that in order to engage employees in helping make your organization successful, a culture wherein anything can be constructively challenged is essential.
– When your strategies change or are further refined, things that may have been relevant yesterday, may not all be relevant tomorrow. Use the collective wisdom of your organization to identify these areas by openly asking for it. Open up hunting season for sacred cows.