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The Four Kinds of Cows In An Organization

The Four Kinds of Cows In An Organization

There are four kinds of cows that totally determine the course of an organization

Sacred Cows

This is the one everyone already knows about. It’s the C-suite’s pet project or the legacy system nobody can seem to dethrone. The demands of that one high-level or high-capacity donor who is given virtual fiat power. Oddly, most within an organization seem to know what the sacred cows are, but few seem to be able to do anything about it.

Cash Cows

Do you know the fastest way to derail a non-profit? Give them unrelated project that makes tons of money. If a project is making money, nobody will kill it. It doesn’t matter how much it may cost in terms of internal resourcing and mission alignment; if the ledger reads black, no argument against it will be persuasive. This may be the greatest difference between for-profit and non-profit companies. A for-profit company exists to make money. A non-profit exists to accomplish a mission. Sadly, far too many non-profits behave like for-profits explaining that their cash flow, “Helps our mission” –which would be true if their cash flow project wasn’t distracting from their mission.

Having a Cow

I am consistently amazed at how loud people get their way over and over and over again. If you have a cow, throw a fit, make people’s lives unpleasant, you’ll get your way. I was recently in a meeting where an entire room of contributors were completely pushed around by a lone, loud voice. The cow-having voice didn’t have a better argument (they had a demonstrably weaker argument) but it didn’t matter. Brute force won the day. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and the person having a cow gets their way.


What each of these Cows have in common is they’re all given power by cowards. Fear has been the term I’ve learned and am suddenly seeing it everywhere. It seems like everyone I talk to, no matter their place in the org chart is just flat afraid. Afraid of politics, afraid of repercussions, afraid of being the cause of a stir. So what do they do? They gossip. They complain. They get half way though a sentence and then just smile and shake their head at their colleague and share a knowing laugh. I see no bravery. Talented team members offer their agency as sacrifice to sacred cows, cash cows and cow-havers in hopes that it will bring peace and stability. It does more often than it doesn’t. So the Cowards, these cow worshipers, continue their devotion, not knowing there’s a better God just up the mountain.