Of Cows and Corporate Cultures

I have just returned from Austria. Land of Nature. Land of Friendly People. And I discovered a weird analogy between the behaviour of cows and employees!

Every summer, we travel there as some sort of cure for both our body and our mind. And every summer, we choose to stay in the same beautiful spot: a family-run hotel that started its business 40 years ago, when a farmer and a hairdresser shared a dream, a great amount of perseverance and a rocklike belief in their vision.

In the course of time, we developed a close relationship with the entire Pirktl family. So, while we were enjoying our stay at their resort earlier this month, Herr Pirktl Senior kindly invited us to join him for a visit to an exceptionally beautiful alpine pasture - all the way up in the mountains - where he lets his herds of cattle graze over the summer months. While we were soaking in the breath-taking beauty of the view up there, Herr Pirktl shared with us a most peculiar fact:

Year after year, more and more cows are starting to show aggressive behaviour towards the people hiking through the alpine highlands. At first sight, there seems to be no obvious or immediate cause for this change in behaviour: the cows are being given everything they could possibly need in terms of food and dietary supplements, as they have been for centuries. The only thing that has changed in the course of the last years, is the farmers' attitude towards their cows: more and more do they treat the animals in view of their production capacity - milking them electronically, without any time or effort put into "sweet little nothings" or attentive caressing like in the old days. Strange as it may sound, the older and wiser generations of local people are convinced that this is the reason behind the peculiar fact that the cows have started to turn against anybody trespassing their meadows. Indeed, for them, the only plausible explanation for the remarkable change in the cows' behaviour is to be found in the fact that the farmers simply have no more love or time to spare for their animals.

While this makes for an entertaining story, there is at the same time an alarming undercurrent here - all the more because I come across the exact same phenomenon in a lot of companies these days!

Management and HR departments are continuously looking for ways in which to further and further increase employees' benefits in terms of wage-optimisation, perks and any trend-chasing initiative you could possibly imagine. Yet, ironically, at the exact same time, more and more employees seem to become more and more stressed and fall ill more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time.

Some would consider this to be a contradiction in terms, but experience has taught me differently: most companies these days make company life far too complex and, as such, miss the obvious! Constructing abstract financial schemes tends to be put at the top of their list of priorities. Yet while doing so, they overlook the fact that what people basically need most in order to flourish and be happy, is some of the management's time, recognition for who they are and appreciation for the work they do. And one can't accomplish fulfilment of these basic needs by relying on even the best of schemes, plans, tables or spread sheets!

Even when it comes to the tradition of end-of-year gifts, many companies nowadays choose to stick to giving an uninspiring voucher, just because this is the most convenient option. Or they simply convert the value of the end-of-year gift into a sum of money, just because this is the fiscally preferred option.

In his book "Leaders eat last", Simon Sinek discusses this prevailing mindset of "destructive abundance", where the fear of losing what has been achieved holds sway over all corporate management decisions. As this mindset continues to prevail, hidden costs are steadily but strongly increasing. And in its wake, the popularity of the self-help industry is reaching an all-time high…

And indeed, it hurts to have to confirm that, in this day and age, our corporate culture has become tainted by indifference - personal involvement is far to be found! What I see all too often reminds me of the song by Gilbert Bécaud, in which he sings "L'indifférence, elle te tue à petits coups".

So how about you? Do you believe this path we are on is what will make people happier and healthier in the long run?

Luckily, once in a while, CEO's with a different mindset cross my path, and I see companies steer a different course - a course where people take the centre stage, where a positive business culture is a conscious choice, where company values truly live in the day-to-day running of the company and where employees are treated as people instead of purely in view of their production capacity... and that observation does me a power of good!

May I invite you to step up too? To show courage and create an inspired "thank you" - moment this year, one your employees will always remember? I can guarantee you this will not only surprise your employees in a positive way, but it will equally reinforce your employer brand!

Nathalie Arteel
Recognition & Motivation Expert
Leading Angel Arteel Group

P.S. Luckily, as you can see on the photo above, there are also still a lot of friendly cows out there, just as there are also still a lot of warm-hearted people! :-)








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HR News: Of Cows and Corporate Cultures
Of Cows and Corporate Cultures
HR News
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