Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers

The definition of a “Sacred Cow” as it relates to business is: An outmoded belief, assumption, practice, policy, system, or strategy, generally invisible that inhibits change and prevents responsiveness to new opportunities.

Herds of sacred cows graze on profits and can choke off productivity. They trample creative, innovative thinking. They inhibit quick response to change and cost money and time. Yet many organizations continue to worship the sacred cattle. They’re afraid to abandon what once made them successful plus the thought of change, whatever form the sacred cow takes, evokes an attitude of resistance and fear within the organization for a multitude of reasons.

In his book Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers, David Brandt addresses such topics as: How to recognize a Sacred Cow, The negative impact sacred cows can have on an organization, reasons why a reported seven out of ten organizations fail in accomplishing change successfully, and suggestions on how to help organizations become more receptive to change.

The purpose of this newsletter is not meant to be viewed as a book review but rather as food for thought as we begin a new year. It seemed to be a very appropriate time for management to engage in a “cow hunting expedition” within their organizations in an attempt to put these sacred cows out to pasture during 2010. The author listed 14 different sacred cows but for the sake of brevity I selected 6 that I thought were the most common and that all levels of management could relate to within their organizations.


Computer technology was suppose to provide us with a paperless office. I have yet to walk into an executive’s office that his/her desk is not covered with memos, reports, proposals, resumes, financial reports, etc. etc.. In actuality, computer technology has given us more information than we need or think we need. One survey found that as much as 50% of a company’s paperwork could be eliminated without any disruption in business. The manager might consider asking three simple questions:
Does the paper provide value in terms of improving quality or service?\
Does the paper improve productivity or cut costs?
Does anybody read the stupid thing and, more importantly, does anyone act on it?
If you don’t get a yes to any of these questions, you probably got a paper cow in your herd.


One of the reasons that meetings often take so long is that decisions are made by consensus. These days decisions must be made quickly and decisively. Trying to get everyone to agree is time consuming and a luxury most businesses can’t afford. Plus, in order to get out of long butt numbing discussions, staff members may compromise their best ideas in order to reach an agreement so they can return to their desks which they consider top priority. Meetings are a lot like hot air they produce: They will expand or contract to fill the time available. Managers may want to consider holding meetings without chairs that would serve to drastically reduce the time the meeting takes and the number of meetings.


In organizations where failure is punished, employees play not to lose. They are constantly looking over their shoulders to protect their backsides. Managers run the risk of becoming cops, making certain everyone follows the rules and punishing those employees who screw up. Tom Watson, former IBM chairman, stated, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” Bill Gates goes out of his way to hire people who make mistakes. His philosophy is, “It shows they take risks and the way people deal with situations that go wrong is an indication of how they deal with change.” The biggest mistake is not learning from mistakes.