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What are sacred cows in the workplace?

A sacred cow is those employees with a unique tie or alignment to upper management, if not the business owners. They often will have an attitude if not completely rude to any new employee that arrives. They make it difficult to manage for a manager or director, and they almost always make more money than the other staff performing the same job skills and tasks.

It can deteriorate the staff workplace morale, with the pay differences alone, this is very problematic. I have personal experience with this, working for a substantial multisite plastic surgery company. This company had three owners, two of the owners were brothers and the other (3rd) was a long-time friend of the brothers.

I was hired back in 2000 to help them grow the business and get on top of the waste and abuse of company funds that were draining them dry. I had worked with the brothers when they were residents at the hospital, where I was the COO & CNO. Our relationships were good and healthy, and they very much liked my management style.

The plastic surgery business here in Los Angeles was then very prime business. A total cash cow. They started the company with around $300K each month in plastic sales, but their growth and expenditures had changed the business model to require another $200K when I was hired.

Immediately upon hire, I looked and tried to uncover all the areas driving their expenses over budget, and salaries were one of the areas. I quickly saw where a new grad surgical technologist made $45.00 an hour while their recent grad RNs were at $32.50 an hour. It was not long till I figured out that the surgical tech was a second-level blood relative. To gather my arm around the expenses, I first went after the accessible areas to reduce the costs. The surgical tech was not very happy about reducing her pay by $20.00 an hour. No-fault of her own, and it was not a fair situation. But it was their reality.

This sacred cow, the Surg tech, made my life a living hell from that day forward. The owners were too cowardly to do what needed to be done; let's let her hate the new guy for doing this. Then they get off Scot-free, you see. I worked night and day for them, taking them from one surgery center to a total of eight centers in Southern CA. I hired and acquired an entire staff of board-certified plastic surgeons, bringing their numbers from 3 when I started to 18 the day I resigned. Sales went from $300K to $1M each month. I implemented an advertising program and schedule that generated revenues. I employed a sales team of inbound and outbound phone consult staff to assist in driving the number of potential surgical patients. I

I was in charge of regulatory compliance, operations, legal, risk management, and every department within the surgery center, with materials management to boot. I have never worked any more complicated than I did for those five years. But with every milestone I successfully passed in this journey, there to my right hand was a sacred cow that would fight me tooth and nail. They would undermine my authority, dissolving changes I would implement; it was very stressful and ridiculous.

A sacred cow can never be a good thing for any small business. They will kick and scream if you grow. They want the status quo to be like it was in the day when they first started and make it very difficult to have a cultural change take place in the organization. My advice, stay far away from the sacred cows. Ask about them when you interview for new positions. I wished I knew about their jobs back then.


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