« BI or Analytics? | Main | WIFM »

Cow Tipping

Have you seen the movie Cars? It is very entertaining and better than I expected, as I found myself in need to pass some time on a transcontinental flight recently. Without question my favorite part of the animated movie is the tractor tipping scene. Don’t worry – I won’t spoil it for you, but it does remind me of an important topic that I often equate to cow tipping.

So, before anyone gets out of joint, I need to go on record as stating, 1) I have not performed the cow tipping act; 2) I do not condone cow tipping. Also, I understand that no cows or tractors were injured filming the movie Cars. With that disclaimer out of the way, let me explain.

There is a problem for many managers with regard to their attitude toward managing the natural dynamic we commonly know as “resistance to change”. A change is to be introduced into the organization, such as new technology, a new work process, or a new work schedule and everyone knows that it will be met with resistance. A common approach to dealing with the resistance is to keep the change quiet, introduce it quickly and without any choice, and then expect people to comply once it is announced, with no potential for discussion or modification. This is the cow tipping approach to managing organizational change.

So, you have heard of cow tipping, but are not quite sure what it is. It goes something like this. Some teenagers are out driving the back roads of rural somewhere after dark, possibly with a six pack, and they pass a field with cows standing, motionless, asleep. Somebody in the car suggests a cow tipping excursion, and they stop on the side of the road, jump the fence, and run as fast as they can toward the cow. Upon impact, they push with all their might against the side of the cow, which is taken by surprise and topples over.

This is the same as making a change without employee involvement (they are metaphorically asleep) because if you do this while the cow is awake, by the way, the cow has an amazing ability of leaning toward the oncoming push. Think about the physics – 2000 pound cow leaning against two 160 pound teenagers. Cows don’t tip over when they are awake. And employees also often push back when they are given the option of taking on an organizational change when they are awake – and they too collectively weigh more than management.

A more effective change management approach is more like getting the cow to agree to recline – don’t ask me how because I’m not a farmer or rancher – but I know its possible and the metaphor does not have to work perfectly – give me some license here. When you tip over a 2000 pound cow it often gets hurt in the process and dairy cows might not produce milk normally as a result. The same things happen to poorly introduced organizational changes. Employees have bad reactions and productivity gets impacted negatively.

When it comes to introducing significant organizational change, I always opt for some form of involvement to reduce the inevitable resistance. Don’t tip over the cow in the middle of the night and take what appears to be the easy approach. Rather, find a means to get it into the desired position in a way that causes fewer problems.

Now, go check out that tractor tipping scene. I guarantee you will laugh.


Nice story, but I think you should check out http://www.slate.com/id/2140552/ for it to hang together

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)