A “sacred cow,” by definition is an individual, organization, or institution considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning. By trade, a sacred cow is an individual who is often critiqued and questioned behind closed doors by those who must attempt to manage them. Sacred cows are ubiquitous in the private club industry. Over the last several years of attending private club and chef’s conferences, I have found that the topic of the sacred cow issue has become an easy ice-breaker and conversation piece while networking.
We all have them at our clubs. And as managers, we all have our issues with them. Sacred cows are the ones who have been in (most likely) the same position they started in at least 15-20 years ago. Sacred cows are usually older in age. Sacred cows are the ones who perform mediocre at best (from a productivity perspective), but somehow continue to maintain their role and continually earn the 3-4% annual increase as it becomes easier for management to continue their employment on the fundamentals of their knowledge of the operations and of not having to hire and/or train someone else. Many of us have inherited sacred cows over the years and thus, have inherited the perpetual cycle of enabling mediocrity in these individuals.
Sacred cows are the reasons why we are forced to have one-on-one discussions with talented and driven, young, up-and-coming professionals wondering why (insert Sacred Cow’s name) isn’t held accountable for (insert infraction). Meanwhile, HR is all over our asses about treating and managing everyone on our staff equally, but “be careful what you say to (insert Sacred Cow’s name) because you could be treading on thin ice there.” (Seriously, I’ve actually had this conversation.)
Sacred cows come in to work, do the exact same routine that they have done for years. When new service protocols and standards are implemented, they’re the last ones to get on board and only after several reminders and slight reprimands do they finally start to change their ways. It took me months to get my sacred cow to start using fresh house made stock in his chili recipe in lieu of the nasty tub of base he had become so accustomed to because “this was how it has been done for the last (insert number) years.”
As a manager, it is easy for me to say that everyone is expendable in the work place, myself included. As a manager, it is easy for me to say that if (insert name) isn’t doing their job, then let’s move on and find the right individual who will want to excel at doing their job. I’ve had my fair share of disagreements with sacred cows at my club over the years.
However, when it comes to sacred cows, I have had a rude awakening. This past week, we lost a member of the Glenmoor family in a tragic head-on car collision. This individual had been with us at Glenmoor since 1996; he was a busser in our a la carte restaurant. Every morning over the last 18 years I started my day by greeting him and making jokes about actually working for once and then almost immediately getting into a discussion with him about why Greeks are the way they are, or why he shouldn’t scoop butter that way, or what my cooks are instigating with him, or why he can’t clean the espresso machine after making Mr. Smith his hazelnut latte, or why he hasn’t stocked the service station yet.
Over the course of this week, as the news began to sink in and information was sent out to the membership about our tragic loss, I became enlightened. Emails continue to pour in from the membership to share their own memories of this individual and how he elevated their club experience. One email said simply, “I will warmly remember his welcoming smile, his eagerness to please and his genuine ethic to make our experience at the Club just a little better.”
In the private club setting, sacred cows exist because of one thing – the membership. The individuals that make up the memberships are quite uninformed when it comes to the ins and outs of operations. They see things from their own perspective, aka their club experience. One of the most important contributing factors to the member’s overall club experience comes from the staff. The advantage a sacred cow has is a fundamental knowledge base of individual member preference that has been granted through tenure. Because sacred cows have learned to recognize and accommodate member’s needs, they earn their eternal “get out of jail free” card when it comes to their employment status with the club.
As it turns out, sacred cows perform well above mediocrity in providing a level of service that not even us as managers can fathom. We’re often times too busy with our noses buried in financials and strategic planning meetings to even worry about what Mr. Smith likes in his latte this week or just how high to fill the iced tea before topping it off with lemonade for Mrs. Jones.
In private club settings, sacred cows are the individuals who have lived their every day with the most elementary rule of the employee-member relationship: Treat the member with respect and gratitude. Yet, it was the outpouring of support from the membership that blurred the lines of the employee-member relationship. I was overwhelmed to see many of our members in attendance during the funeral service to pay their last respects and gratitude to Gus. I find myself thinking twice now when it comes to the topic of the sacred cow. I understand now that the level of service and overall joy that Gus provided to our membership is beyond any realm that not even my most talented cook could ever understand. Of course my team cares about the member experience, but fundamentally my cooks want to “burn,” create and pump out food to feed their adrenaline. Gus’ valuation and effortless priority of member accommodation were his basic tenets as a sacred cow. And his was a skill set that should be honed by all outlets in a private club facility.