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Sacred Cows May Be Killing Your Business

If your business is not improving – increasing profit, decreasing remakes and callbacks, improving on time delivery, reducing stress and chaos – then, quite possibly, your business may be in the process of failing.


In working with many fabricators and other business owners to improve their businesses, it is very common to make good progress only to have things stall out.  While there can be several reasons for this, the most common reason is the improvement process has run up against a Sacred Cow in the business.


Hindus believe the cow represents the divine.  Therefore, you should protect it and certainly not harm it or kill it.  The American version of a Sacred Cow is a business practice, business policy, person, or idea that is cannot be questioned and certainly not killed.  Frequently, it is these Sacred Cows that limit the growth and success of a business.


Do you have:

  • A ‘special’ customer that always gets their templates or installs prioritized above other customers? This might be a large customer or a long-time customer or even be a friend of the owner.
  • A policy that employees are not allowed to question?
    • ‘We never install vertical surfaces’
    • ‘We have to give the customer an install date even though we don’t have all the information to make the top’
  • Beliefs that employees are not allowed to question?
    • ‘I should only hire employees who already have fabrication experience’
    • ‘There is no way we can force customers to make all of the decisions needed before we schedule their template’
    • ‘The lowest price always wins’
  • An employee who is held to a different standard than everyone else – seems to get away with poor performance or coming in late?
    • This might be your longest-term employee – the guy who helped you start the business back when all you had was a pickup truck, a hand router, and a grinder.
    • Frequently this is a relative – someone whose position is secured by blood rather than by performance.
    • An employee who comes in late or leaves early frequently and gets by with it because he is the only one that can coax that old should-have-replaced-it-years-ago CNC to product a decent edge profile.


If these examples don’t hit home and you are thinking you don’t have a Sacred Cow in your business, then you may need to dig a little deeper.  Hopefully you have an employee or relative (spouse) or business associate who you know will be honest with you.  Share this article with them and then ask them what your sacred cow is.  This might be an uncomfortable conversation because they are going to challenge something that is near and dear to you.  If you find yourself justifying whatever they have identified or if you hear yourself saying ‘you just don’t understand this business’, then it is highly likely you have found a Sacred Cow. 


Once you have found your Sacred Cow,

how do you address it? 

The first thing to do is to understand the negative impact of that Sacred Cow:

  • How is the business being held back because you are limping along with an ineffective production manager – one who has good technical skills but struggles to keep his emotions in check and can’t motivate his people to higher levels of performance? How much of your labor and machine capacity is being wasted because of this?
  • How many times do you have to scramble the schedule at the last minute because your customer wasn’t ready for that install date they insisted you commit to 2 months ago?
  • What is the impact on morale and employee performance because you let a long-term employee or family member skate on frequently coming in late, leaving early, or doing a poor job?


The next thing to do is to answer this question: If this Sacred Cow didn’t exist, how would your business improve?

  • What if you really could find a good production manager from outside this industry – someone with strong management and leadership skills – and train them on the technical aspects of this business? How much better would the shop run?  How many fewer headaches would you have every day?
  • How would day to day performance of the business improve if you didn’t commit to an install date that you know the customer isn’t going to be ready for?
  • How well would the shop run if you had more than one person who knew how to run the old CNC? How much more could you produce every day?
  • How would the other employees react if you finally addressed the performance issues of that long-term employee or family member? How much would performance improve?


How you deal with the Sacred Cow depends on several factors.

  • If it is a policy or belief or yours:
    • Try to determine why you developed that policy or hold that belief.
    • Talk to people who can help you challenge your assumptions about why that belief is true and can help you look at it differently.
    • If you are a member of one of the great industry groups (Slab Fabbers, RockHeads, Artisan, etc.), talk to fellow fabricators to see how they deal with those issues.
    • Once you decide to change your position on the issue, take the time to communicate with your team:
      • Why you held that position initially
      • How you came to look at it differently
      • The negative impacts from holding that position
      • The benefits of making a change
      • How the change will be implemented
  • If it is a person – either the one guy who is the only one who knows how to run that one critical machine or it’s a family member
    • Put together a plan
      • How are you going to communicate new performance/attendance expectations for him/her?
      • What is the worst-case outcome from that (he/she leaves)?
      • What is your plan for getting that job done without him/her?
      • What is a more likely outcome and how will you support that?
    • Execute the plan


Let’s face it, you probably already knew what/who the Sacred Cow was and you already knew it was a problem.  You just may not have realized how much it was hurting the business until now.  You haven’t dealt with it because it was too uncomfortable or maybe you weren’t sure what the best solution would be.  Understanding just how much better your business – and your life – would be by addressing the Sacred Cow should give you the motivation to deal with the issue.

It is important to realize that your business is a vehicle to help you get where you want to go in life whether it’s cashing out for retirement, paying for the kids/grandkids education, or providing a solid vehicle for your heirs to run.  A Sacred Cow can be the biggest barrier to achieving those goals.

Once you have successfully conquered that critical issue in your business you are on the way to successfully realizing your goals.  Now it’s time to fire up the grill because Sacred Cows make the best hamburger.

As a fab shop owner, you deserve to have a business that makes you money and also allows you the time to enjoy it.  To find out more about how to make more money and get your life back, email  me at