Organizational Sacred Cows

Status Quo Bias
Knowledge Center


Devayani Vyavaharkar
Student (University), Germany

Organizational Sacred Cows

The future effectiveness of organizations is contingent upon organizational change. Organizations need to bring about and adapt to external and internal change factors now and then or even continuously if they wish to keep their doors open.
There are many factors such as downsizing , new leadership, innovation, productivity concerns or new competitors that can urge organizations to change. According to Kriegel and Brandt (1996), the very first step to organizational change involves the sacred cow hunt.

Organizational Sacred Cow - Introduction

Organizational sacred cows refer to practices or behaviour patterns that have been in organizations for a long time. The term 'sacred' is subjective and different for every organization. A practice or a policy that is "sacred" for one might not be considered sacred for another organization. Sacred cows are used despite being ineffective in the longer run. Their continued use can reduce productivity, creativity and innovation, ultimately becoming costly to individuals and organizations. The term is an organizational metaphor. Sacred cows could be seen as a form of organizational status quo bias.

Transformation requires the organization to challenge everything, consider new facts, data and engage in innovative thinking. If the organization refrains from leaving past behaviour patterns and developing a future orientation, organizational change may become very challenging. It might no longer be necessary for organizations to avoid bumping into those sacred cows in the current times, which was once considered a top priority in the past. Hence, there is a need to engage in a sacred cow hunt as an organization-wide attempt to eliminate those practices that do not serve any useful purpose.

Three Types of Sacred Cows in Organizations

Kriegel and Brandt (1997) focused on 3 types of sacred cows commonly found in organizations:
  1. The Paper Cow refers to those forms and reports that constitute unnecessary paperwork and cost the organizations time, money and effort to prepare and distribute them regularly. To determine what types of paper-work constitute a paper cow, organizations should consider how it increases the productivity and efficiency of their employees. Another practice would be to review all forms and reports that are printed annually and to determine whether they are truly needed and, if yes, then whether they are needed in the paper format. For instance, in 2018, the Bank of America started making efforts to recycle their used papers and tried ways of eliminating paper cows by cutting back on every day in-house paper use, and thus reduced their paper consumption by 32 per cent. see also: Transition to a Paperless Office: Best Practices
  2. The Meeting Cow refers to the length and number of meetings that are held. Often the question arises on whether the extensive hours, energy and money that employees spent on planning, preparing and attending meetings is really necessary. Excessive meetings result in reduced productivity, information overload and increase inefficiency. To eliminate the meeting cow, companies can force individuals planning a meeting to consider the benefits of each meeting against its cost and necessity.
  3. The Speed Cow refers to unnecessary deadlines that employees are often forced to meet. Sometimes, it becomes a priority to complete given assignments within some particular, limited time. However, unnecessary deadlines cause employees to work faster, decrease the quality of their output, keep them from other - perhaps more important - work, and result in increased stress and strains. See also: Time Management
For organizations to implement change effectively, it is necessary to get rid of such organizational sacred cows. This can be accomplished by initiating organization-wide sacred cow hunts to eliminate them to ensure smooth functioning.
Apart from the 3 organizational sacred cows described above, several others hamper organizational progress in different ways.

⇒ Can you think of any other organizational sacred cows that you have come across? Do mention them in the comments below.

Aamodt, M. G. (2016). I/O applications workbook: Industrial/organizational psychology: an applied approach. (pp. 504-505) Cengage Learning
Kriegel R.J. and Brandt D. (1997), "Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers: Developing Change-Driving People and Organizations", Warner Books, Inc.
Challenging Sacred Cows that Inhibit Successful Transformation. Social, Agile, and Transformation. (2016, May 16)
Robbins, S. P. (1983). Organization theory: the structure and design of organizations. Prentice-Hall


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Sacred Cow is a Metaphor

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wicks were
Student (MBA), Kenya

Indispensable Cows

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Sashi Rao
Management Consultant, India

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Timothy Hamooya
Student (MBA), Zambia

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Miguel Fernandes

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Zoltan Zentai
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6. Personal Cows

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Avoid the Term 'Shooting Cows'

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Vasant Pawar
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Helen Strong
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Santhosh Hegde
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Osman Abdel-Rahman
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Srinivas Vedula
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CxO / Board, India

Sacred Cow Form the Culture of the Organization and Need to be Addressed Carefully

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Jan Leys
Senior executive, Belgium

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Javier Elenes
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Business Consultant

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Driscole, Malaysia

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Teacher, India

The Hybrid Organizational Cow

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Helen Strong
Business Consultant, South Africa

11. Origin or Source Cows

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Gibson M. Mwawasi
Business Consultant, Kenya

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Justina Princess Ezeuzoh


@Jaap de Jonge: This metaphor "Sacred Cows" is so pungent as it takes my mind to the Sacred Cows syn... Sign up

Garth Nowland-Foreman
Partner, New Zealand

Put the Cow 'out to Pasture' Instead

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Isaiah Maisiba
Manager, Kenya

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

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