- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Employee Engagement week ( and debunking) continues. (3/7): The Happy Cows model

This is model 2 in the pack of 6 t [1]hat I have described. There is a book, or two, and it’s associated speeches /workshops/web sites, all under the title ‘Contended Cows still give better milk’. It’s a revised version of the previous book that did not contain the word ‘still’. OK. It’s a book about Employee Engagement. The book has also a place on some lists of books on Leadership Development. I don’t imagine it’s about the development of cows, but who knows?

Leaving the amusing concept and the marketing mind of the authors aside, (even leaving the book aside), conceptually, this model is alive and well although many people would prefer to avoid the bovine analogy. Beyond the cows, this is an input and output model. If we feed the cows (sorry) well enough, they will be happy (the reviews emphasise the differences between happy and contended, just in case you wanted to add some philosophical depth) and will deliver better milk. Simple.  Find out what makes the cows happy and off we go. Flexible time, good pay and incentives, table tennis, good cafeteria (cows will deliver seriously worse milk if you keep those vending machines), working from home, dress-down Fridays, company barbeques, maternity leave and points to buy goods online. There are about 1000 other things. You won’t be short of food for ‘happiness’.

This model is that of a machine. Use good oil and you’ll see how well it works. We can make as much fun as we like (certainly I am very grateful to the authors for their imagination, and for many conversations in the corridor with clients when I mention this and they say: ‘Are you kidding?’ and a wonderful conversation starts. Thanks guys) but there is a whole Employee Engagement sub-industry that, while it may not use the bovine analogy, it uses the same principles. Words such as ‘employee satisfaction’, ‘happiness’ etc, belong here. The whole narrative of ‘going the extra mile’ (when more gas has been added) and ‘discretionary effort’, so intrinsic to traditional HR/Employee Engagement models, belongs here.

Pros. Well, the title is funny and you’ll remember the model.

Cons. Err, small detail, people are not machines, but, hey, we have been using machinery language for a long time.

So what? What is wrong with flexible time, good pay and incentives, table tennis, a good cafeteria, working from home etc? Absolutely nothing. The difference depends on how you treat these. Are they good on their own merit, contributing to the favourable environment, or are they cynical tools to feed the cows? If you knew that your cows (here we go again) are already happy, would you bother to add all these ‘benefits’?

Are you providing flexible time for young mothers because you think that young mothers need flexible time or because you have many young mothers (and fathers) employed and the increase of flexible time correlates with 2 points up in the Employee Engagement Survey?

PS. This model of Employee Engagement was first described as ‘Panem et Circenses’ in 100 A.D by Juvenal. Its translation is ‘Bread and Circuses’ and described how Roman Emperors kept the masses happy (sorry, contented) with entertainment and food. And the Roman masses could go the extra mile and provide discretionary effort. Well, at least until the Visigoths decided to visit.

Next is model 3, or ‘Cause’. And the key issue here is, are we talking about employee engagement with the company or within the company?