Do you know the original story of sacred cows? In ancient India, oxen and bulls were sacrificed to the gods and their meat was eaten. But even then the slaughter of milk-producing cows was prohibited. Verses of the Rigveda refer to the cow as Devi (goddess), identified with Aditi (mother of the gods) herself.
In a business context, a sacred cow is an unexamined assumption about the business: its fundamental business philosophies, the strategies it pursues, or perhaps the values it holds. Sacred cows are often worshipped as conventional wisdom. Sacred cows are believed in by top management and followed blindly by employees, without analysis, argument or overt dissent. With a few sacred cows running loose, a business can be in peril with leadership in danger of groupthink and losing grip on what creates success and enables an organization to flourish.It seems like many teams or organizations have sacred cows, which simply need to be slaughtered. Here are five ideas that can dramatically enhance and elevate the strategic value of your intracompany relationships:
1. Eliminate Babysitting – One of my former clients actually had a “sign-in, sign-out” board in their lobby. Employees had to sign in & out whenever they left the office! I was beside myself – in 2012, are we babysitting or trying to hire, intelligent, engaging people and push them to think, plan, and execute beyond their own perceived limits?!? When I asked the CEO, she told me that people would disappear for hours on end and she needed a way to keep track of their whereabouts! Come ‘on – really? It’s time to evolve the organization from “Command & Control,” to “Trust & Track!” Hire intelligence (difficult to train!), be clear and succinct in what’s expected of them, arm them with the resources to execute, trust that they’ll show up and be accountable for their actions, and track their progress, supporting their course correction as necessary.
2. Give Them Unlimited Vacation / Sick Days – Encourage people to take time off and you’ll be amazed how less likely they are to abuse it! As long as they make sure that their work is covered, why all the questions, paperwork, approvals, signatures, systems and processes for people to get away? Treat employees like adults. If they’re incapable of handling unlimited vacation days, they’re probably incapable of handling other responsibilities. Eliminating all of the processes around this will reduce costs and give you a strong, positive, recruiting and retention tool.
3. Encourage Them to Build Internal & External Networks – “We block access to social media, because we don’t want people to be recruited,” told me one executive! Another out of body experience – really? Have you ever considered the positive attributes of activating an entire army of internal and external resources, which could help them, learn, grow, and uncover new sources of insights? Connections, relationships, interactions that could help them think differently, solve problems more efficiently, utilize resources more effectively, get buy-in, gain support, explore new options, and most importantly STOP reinventing the wheel in different pockets of the organization?
4. Amplify Their Development – Here is an actual email from a VP of Sales Excellence (an oxymoron in many organizations): “please send over a series of proof points including the specific ROI in terms of pipeline mix/diversity, share of wallet impact or trusted partner index increase your learning solution has helped us drive – those are the specific KPIs that grab my attention.” What a moron; typical input-oriented. Forget old school training; one size does not fit all. Topgrade your people, help them devise a personal strategy (future vision) for their personal and professional growth and a path to get them there – very different than planning, which is an extrapolation of the present forward. “Move up or move out” should the only acceptable norm, but give them the freedom to take whatever content, wherever they can, on however medium most impactful to them. Not about the input – output, outcome, of the individual is the only thing that matters!
5. Encourage & Empower Them to Build Exceptional Brands – In spending some time with Darryl Cobbin, former EVP of Marketing at Twentieth Century Fox, now President & Chief Brand Positioning Officer at Brand Positioning Doctors, I’ve thought a lot about his “10 Commandments of Great Brands.” They include ideas such as having a focused promise, delivering against that promise, earn compelling word-of-mouth and forging deep emotional connections, to name a few. You know what all great brands have in common? Any guesses on the most impactful attribute of delivering on these commandments? Exceptional people who understand the quantifiable value of brand equity and are encouraged and empowered to live those commandments on a daily basis. Call it Lifetime Value (LTV) of a Customer, Exceptional Experiences, or just plain smart business – when every employee is trained, and knows when and how to immediately solve front line, relationship-centric issues – regardless of how small they may seem – before they become big issues, you’ll ingrain pride, confidence, and a sense of purpose in those individual employees.
Bonus – help them understand and articulate the Why! Think about it – most employees are taught what organizations do and how they do it, but seldom the why! What’s the organization’s why? More importantly, what’s the employee’s why? Why are they there, why do they do what they do, why do they care, why do they try to make a difference. If you can capture the why, it becomes a hell of a compelling story to share with your broad base of relationships – current and future customers, employees, senior leaders, board members, investors, media and the general public at large.
Think any of this is too hard, unrealistic, or not achievable? Consider the alternative for a second – when they leave, it’s too little too late and the first sign that a company is in trouble is that they lose great people they should be able to retain.