2 Things We Need to Look at: Sacred Cows and Political Conventions

The sweet smell of the presidential election season is upon us. It’s convention time.

For those not following every candidate misstep or the latest poll, the political parties hope to grab your attention as you return from summer vacation or get ready for back to school.

The Republican convention is this week in Tampa, followed by the Democratic convention next week in Charlotte. The days of dramatic, real-time decisions have been replaced by tightly scripted media events that resemble infomercials more than selecting a candidate or deciding the party platform.

Needed: a new approach to conventions

In spite of the change from the original purpose, conventions still last four days filled with speeches and votes that have already been determined. To put it in perspective, Abraham Lincoln received the nomination only after three close ballots and the last real convention drama occurred in the 1980?s.

Yet, these conventions continue in much the same format and length and media coverage is now the main event. The new, fresh approach is yet to be implemented because that’s not how it’s done.

Don’t we all have sacred cows? The activities we do year after year while knowing deep down an overhaul is needed. Yet, the history and momentum overtakes us.

Here are a few sacred cows that might make your list:

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  • Recruiting process – Of course, it’s a process, but isn’t the goal to make sure you find the right candidates and that everyone you engage walks away thinking better of your organization than before? If your process was designed just to manage risk and track interviews, it may be missing the point.
  • Orientation – If the goal is to create motivation and engagement for being part of the organization, it will take more than completing benefits paperwork and learning how to access the intranet. Make sure those first few weeks not only share needed information, but accelerates this new hire into being part of the organization with relationships and knowledge to do great work. Note – not having a computer for a week after joining will work against you.
  • Annual Review – How can a business in rapid change depend on once a year feedback in an “annual” conversation that includes everything from your pay, your performance feedback and your career plan too?! And, please let’s cover this all in an hour. This long standing tradition is out of date and no longer fits a fast paced world that we live in.
  • Classroom training – Of course, we can learn by being together with a wise instructor, but the key is what happens after we leave. Real, long lasting learning occurs when we apply classroom learnings on the job. Study after study finds that 70 percent-95 percent of learning in the workplace is informal and experiential, yet classroom training remains the dominant learning investment for most organizations today.

You can make your own list, but we all have our own sacred cows. If we want an engaged and knowledgeable workforce, it will take a fresh look to reconfirm our purpose.

Anyone who watched Sarah Palin’s introduction in 2008 or Barack Obama’s speech in 2004 knows that there are still significant moments at conventions that change the national conversation. But, does it take the same old, tired format for those few minutes of interest? It depends on knowing your purpose.

What are your sacred cows? It’s the season to give them a fresh look.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of newly released "Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life." Patti and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously a Senior Executive at Accenture. Patti is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.


14 Comments on “2 Things We Need to Look at: Sacred Cows and Political Conventions

  1. Great post, Patti. Sometimes we get in a rut, or we just don’t want to do the heavy lifting to challenge those sacred cows and come up with a new way of doing things.

    Sounds like the convention planners might benefit from a well-facilitated Stop/Start/Continue exercise too!

    1. Ha! Thanks, Heather. Looks like an opportunity for you to faciliate! I’m sure there are still benefits or the investment wouldn’t continue – but as a voter, it’s hard to see.

  2. Love your comments about sacred cows Patti- I think we can all relate to things we hold on to way past their expiration date simply out of fear of embracing something new.

  3. Isn’t it ironic that the very word “convention” means a rule or practice established by custom? Time to re-think and re-brand.

  4. Great perspective – pulling yourself away from “how its always been done” is hard work – an effort that many people and organizations should realize is worth the risk 

    1. Thank you for your comments. Yes, ‘how it’s always been done” is a powerful force with our friends the sacred cows.

  5. Yes – it’s hard to let go of old habits but the benefits of taking a good look at WHY it’s been done that way and thinking about whether that still makes sense is worth the time.

  6. As always, your insights and comments are ‘spot on’, Patti. Not to be a cynic, but my gut tells me that even the best candidate, with the best new idea for change (as it relates to our political process, conventions, candidate nomination, etc.) will have a tough time convincing the establishment (this goes for the RNC and DNC) to deviate from what we’ve always done. Unfortunate as it may be.

    Now…can we just move Annual Review to the top of your sacred cow list? : )


    1. Seth, love it. Very true and you aren’t a cynic but a realist! Totally agree on the annual review! 

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