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The Lazy Cowboys View of Management

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2005 by RDFollendoreIII


June 19, 2005

Once there was a farmer who enjoyed breeding and raising cattle. He was very good at it and his beef were renowned to be the largest and best breeders in the state.  Late one spring the cattle farmer decided that it was time to send his herd to market.  The farmer's problem was that the beef market was in the northern part of Texas where all the railroads were while the cattle farm was deep in the south near a cool river with green grass.  To get his cattle to market, the farmer decided to hire the best cowboys available. After asking around he was introduced to a trail boss with and executive MBA. After negotiating the wages, the deal was struck. To assure that there would be no wasted time, the farmer was assured that the herd would get to town as quickly and efficiently as possible. Since the summer was coming on and it took about three months to get a herd to market the schedule seemed important.  The farmer knew the conservative common sense reputation of the MBA trail boss so he had no misapprehensions about the prospect of giving a bonus for getting the herd to market earlier than expected.

As the herd was being driven northward over the horizon of the flat plains, the farmer made arrangements to take the steamboat up river and then a stagecoach and train to get to the market town first. In that way the farmer could sell the best of his herd in advance for breeding stock, all the calves could get the best price from other cattlemen, and the rest could be shipped east.

Along the way the trail boss with the executive MBA decided that the slowest of the cattle were holding them up from making their money sooner. Cowboys who get their herd to market sooner could obviously spend it faster and get back to push another heard North to markets. After considering the idea for a while the trail boss decided that it should be obvious to all of the cowboys that all of the cattle were individually marching in the same condition; and so each of them should be considered to be on a level playing field. After all, anyone who has ever been a cowboy knows that cattle, having the herding instincts, do not like to be left behind, most also do not like to leave others of its kind behind. So to the trail boss, who happened to be a conservative management type of cowboy it was obviously the performance of a few individual cows that was the problem. Because he took their duties as cattle manager as so important, the trail boss decided upon a tough plan of action. Troublemakers who were non performers should be eliminated. The cows would be reviewed on a periodic basis for how well they performed with respect to the movement of the herd. The cows moving in the rear were noted and those who persisted to be in the rear of the herd were shot.

Now this of course turned out to be a very effective executive measure for encouraging the cattle along because the instant that a cow went down, the rest of the herd instantly sped up. Distances that were once covered in an hour were covered in minutes. Over the following weeks on the trail, the procedure for culling out the low performers was perfected and carried out several times. The cattle seemed to be far more responsive and motivated to move forward each day.  The trail boss decided that he had come upon a sound approach to motivating the cattle. 

During the next week it became obvious that while the cattle seemed motivated, they did not seem to be as controllable as they could be.  In guiding the cattle it seemed to be taking the cowboys far more time than was necessary to get the herd to turn left or right around obstacles. To the trail boss it seemed like common sense that the culling at the end of the herd might also be effective with the cattle that seemed to be consistently disorienting the lead. Because of their previous experience a practical plan was also put into effect to cull the cattle on the left and right.  Soon this methodology was implemented with those cattle who were not accepting the directions of the cowboys and they were eliminated also.  This was accomplished by simply noting those who seemed to always be on the obstinate side and shooting them as well.  This plan seemed to work just as well.  Once the disobedient steers were culled the herd became easier and easier to manage, though just as with the trailing cattle, an example had to be made every once in a while to keep things working.    

The herd got to market in record time. Instead of the normal three months required to get the beef to market, it only took a month and a half.  In the early evening all of the cattle were easily corralled into the stockade as the cowboys went to celebrate in town. As usual, the town’s people gave them credit until the next day when the cattle were to be sold so that they could buy their food and drinks. Everyone was looking forward to pay day.

Early the next morning the owner of the cattle came to sell his cattle and get paid and what he found was shocking. The cattle appeared to be afraid and constantly agitated. These beasts did not seem to be the same creatures that he had gentled and raised.  Only half of the original herd was left! There were no calves, and there were no milk producing heifers. There were no prized cattle in the corral  for breeding and because all of the farmer's cattle were thin, none were fit to go to market. All of the toil, investment and deals that the cattle farmer made were ruined.

When the town’s people heard about this and saw the state of the herd they too were appalled.  People in the town appreciated the qualities of the animals from which they earned their living and knew how good the farmer cows had always been in the past. The town's mayor immediately ordered the sheriff to arrest the cowboys and the cowboys immediately told the Sheriff how their trail boss made the whole trip so efficient. Well justice was known to be quick and sure in the west during those times. When the trial began later that afternoon the cowboys were found guilty of mistreating the animals and being just being plain stupid for following the orders of the trail boss.  What did they find the trail boss guilty of? The remaining cattle were released on an open range to mix with the wild stock. The farmer was left with nothing to show for all of his work.  They hung the trail boss that evening on the limb of the big oak tree at the edge of town.

The moral of "The Lazy Cowboys View of Management" is that those with the authority are responsible for not only their direction but also their stewardship. Managers are the modern equivalent of a shepherd who must not only make the organization become productive, they must also support, protect and defend their flock.  It is the wealth of the herd from which value productivity flows, not organizational directives of the manager. Each member of an organization possesses individual values for the overall organization and therefore there is no such thing as a 'level playing field.' Those who are most valuable may not seem to take direction as readily as others less valuable.  Performance can not be based on the idea of leaders in the front of productivity and losers following in the rear. While a bad member can sometimes exist, it is far more probable that the costs of replacing organizational members of the herd is far more than the cost of nurturing them. If you are a manager who is firing the weak or those who can not trust your judgments then you might just want to consider yourself a Lazy Cowboy.       






Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved