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How does a company treat its employees? The question is important because the way people are treated determines the way people behave. In other blogs I have already talked about the so called educational value of systems and processes and of course of the leadership culture within a company.
One could argue that the question is valid but no longer relevant. It’s valid because indeed there is an impact of the context on behaviour. It’s no longer valid because companies have discovered this long ago and have adapted the way they deal with their employees according to new insights in the psychology of employees. Alas, the latter assumption is false. Many companies think of their employees in terms of resources, property, … cattle. I call these companies “cattle companies”.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in how to manage a herd of cows nor can I give you any insights on the art of managing cattle. And I might risk offending people who take pride in their profession when they would realize that the word cattle is a negative epitheton for companies.

Cattle Company

The Cattle company

What are the characteristics of cattle companies?

  1. They treat their employees not as individuals but only as parts of a collective. It’s the herd, not the cow.
  2. They do not differentiate their approach according to differences in ambition, motivation, age, mental and physical capabilities. All cows are equal. The problem might be that some cows are more equal than others.
  3. They think the bull is the most important member of the herd. All members of the herd are equal, but some are more equal than others.
  4. A cow is just a cow. They show no respect for human dignity. If an employee is tired, cannot cope with the stress, they have to leave the group. Corrective measures are seen in terms of the yield.
  5. 500 kilo meat, 1000 l milk. The key element of the treatment is cost efficiency. There is no empathy, no concern for justice, no partnership with employees and certainly no signs of kindness.
  6. A cow is not supposed to think, but to chew. Managers of cattle companies think they need to decide on what and how an employee should think. They talk about ambassadorship but they mean followership. They deny individual rights of chosing an individual path, and they sell it as engagement. There is not much room for individual thought. People are assimilated in the herd. They need to adapt fully. Diversity of ideas and opinions is difficult in a cattle company.

If you recognize this in the way that you are treated, you are working in a cattle company.
To cattle managers I can say this. There is a great advantage to changing this. A cattle company is not sustainable. Where the cow cannot leave the stable, an employee can. Where you expect from a cow just to do what it does (producing milk, calves and meat), you might want or need more variety in behaviour in your company.
The future is brighter for companies that foster creativiy, innovation, initiative. For that you need engaged employees that are able and willing to put their competencies at the service of their company. Why ? Because they feel that it’s their company and that they are recognized and appreciated for what they bring. There is no painful scorch by the branding. Instead of the burnmark engaged people have a watermark, a mental identification with the company in which they can progress and derive self-esteem from their work. An employer who is able to create those conditions will have won.
And you will not have to clean up any manure at the end of the day.
Should you wish to know more about cattle, wikipedia has an excellent entry on the topic :
Also the subject of livestock branding is well documented :

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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