Sacred Cow Driven Change

At multiple points in a transformation, the program / company will plateau. Consider looking to the corporate sacred cows to invigorate the transformation and breakthrough the plateau. In leading transformations, you need to rely on your instincts and know when to be provocative, and when to live to fight another day. In the teams that I lead, we refer to these moments as "The Gambler", named after the Kenny Rogers song and the memorable lyric "you gotta know when to hold'em and know when to fold'em." Change Leaders must maintain a connection with the program stakeholders and the business environment to recognize "The Gambler" and take the most fitting actions.

One technique when its time to hold'em is to address a sacred cow in the company. This could be a sacred cow from any of the domains of transformation (outlined in a previous post here). Perhaps, the program has a leadership challenge, or perhaps the business model is not as compelling as suggested by industry perspectives, or maybe the "not invented here" syndrome is pervasive. Some people refer to these issues as "the emperor has no clothes". If you see your transformation stalled, idle, or in a plateau, a sacred cow can be an effective "sacrificial lamb" to get the program out of paralysis.

A change leader's ability to apply this technique is also heavily reliant upon the relationships they have built throughout their environment. Imagine a new change leader with no relationship, or even bad relationships trying to challenge a sacred cow. It is not hard to speculate how that dialog may play out. You may have experienced this in your transformation experiences. When change leaders approach a sacred cow without the requisite trust in their relationships, they undermine their leadership and influence. Comments like "why should we listen to johnny-new-guy? We have been successful for years without their ideas" can be heard by the water cooler. Frequently, the discussion turns to the lack of confidence in the leader or the fear of change", resistance to the change rises, and the sacred cow becomes further entrenched.

Contrast this with a discussion of sacred cows amongst two or three leaders with a strong relationship as reflected by a high degree of trust and respect for each other. Defenses are down, and the sacred cow can be discussed in hypothetical terms, frequently resulting in "mind-expanding discussion" and a potential breakthrough for the program.

If your transformation is stalled. If you are facing "the Gambler" and find yourself folding your cards over and over again, look to your trusted relationships and consider if they are strong enough to withstand a sacred cow discussion. If they are, engage the leadership opportunity, create a non-threatening environment, disarm the potential negative emotional reactions of a sacred cow discussion and make your wager. Lead the change, breakthrough the plateau and invigorate the transformation to a new level.