>“Sacred Cows” and Enterprise Architecture


Enterprise architecture develops the organization’s baseline and target architecture and transition plan. EA is an endeavor of change and transformation from current state to future state. To achieve organizational change successfully, the “sacred cows” must be made change-ready.

In the book, Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers, by Kriegel and Brandt, the authors explain that the greatest inhibitor to organizational change is people’s resistance—people are the gatekeepers of change and people are the enterprise’s most stubborn of sacred cows!

“Sacred Cow—An outmoded belief, assumption, practice, policy, system, or strategy generally invisible, that inhibits change and prevents responsiveness to new opportunities.”

What’s with this analogy to cows?

“Cows trample creative, innovative thinking. They inhibit quick response to change, and cost money and time. They roam everywhere…yet many organizations continue to worship their sacred cattle. They’re afraid to abandon what once made them successful, and they extract a heavy fine from those cow hunters who would ‘pasteur-ize’ them.”

What’s the imperative for change now?

“It’s hurricane season for American business. Winds of change are barreling in from all directions. Competition is tougher than ever and coming from places you least expected. The customer is more sophisticated and demanding. Technological change is incessant. Government regulations are tougher. And everyone is restructuring, reorganizing, reinventing, downsizing, outsourcing—all at ultrasonic pace.”

What are we doing about it?

“New programs, processes, and strategies have been introduced to help you keep ahead of these changes and eliminate sacred cows. In fact, they’re emerging almost as fast as the changes themselves…reengineering, total quality, virtual teams, ‘horizontal’ corporate structures…”

What are the results of these change efforts?

  • “Though it’s predicted that U.S corporations will spend $34 billion on reengineering, most efforts will flop.”
  • “Some statistics say seven out of ten reengineering initiatives fail.”
  • A McKinsey study found that “a majority of companies researched achieved less than a 5 percent change due to reengineering.”
  • Two-thirds of American managers think TQM has failed in their companies.”
  • “The number of applicants vying for the Malcolm Baldridge Award…has fallen since its peak year in 1991.”

In short, “The ’Q’ [quality] word has become cheap currency.”

Why do these change efforts fail?

  • “People’s resistance to change is ‘the most perplexing, annoying, distressing, and confusing part’ of reengineering.”
  • People resist change because “change is uncomfortable, unpredictable, and often seems unsafe. It’s fraught with uncertainty and always looks harder than it is….change brings us face-to-face with the unknown, and that evokes our worst imagined fears: We’ll be fired, humiliated, criticized. So we dig in our heels.”
  • “We’ve seen workers fight change for months and years because they didn’t understand it, were afraid of it, or didn’t see it being in their self interest. It’s naïve to assume that the bulk of the workforce will come around. Even when resistance seems to disappear, most often it’s just gone underground, and will resurface when you least expect it.”
  • “Management consultants who deal with companies in transition know that the ‘people’ part of change is critical. And that it is most often overlooked and undervalued.

The reason that three fourths of reengineering efforts fail…is that the focus of change is on work processes, new technology…and decentralized services rather than on the people who must implement change.”

From a User-centric EA perspective, this last point is critical. Enterprise architecture efforts, by definition, are focused on business, technology, and the alignment of the two. EA looks at business process improvement and reengineering and the introduction of new technologies to enable mission success. Traditionally, EA did not look at the human element—the people factor. The necessity of measuring people’s change readiness and assisting people in transitioning to new ways of doing things is one of the most important elements of any change initiative. As I’ve written previously, Human Capital is the missing performance reference model in the Federal Enterprise Architecture. All this points to the importance of transitioning from traditional EA to User-centric EA, where the end-users and stakeholders (i.e. people) are the most important element of the enterprise architecture. How would my kids phrase this, “in the end it’s not the business process or the technology, but the people, stupid!”

What happens if we don’t recognize the centrality of people to the change process?

Plain and simple, change efforts will continue to fail. Money and time will be wasted. Our competition will continue to gain on us and overtake us. Our organizations will be made obsolete by our own inattention to our most important asset—our people!