Contended Cows

Bill Catlette authored the book “Contented Cows give better milk” and in 2007 a new book: “Contented Cows MOOved faster.” What would you expect from a guy with such a name? Bill did not have to stretch his imagination to find a metaphor to support his stories and teachings to his audience on the very touchy subject of maintaining the work force and reduce employee’s turnovers in this era of employability. I almost fell out of my chair when I read the author’s name of the summary of his first book.

The 12 point ideas you can turn into action that I have retained from the “Contented cows”could be very helpful if you want better milk from your contended cows:

  1. You will be surprised to figure out the cost of employee turnover? All told the cost of a replacement could be worth 150% of a person’s annual salary.

2. Identify an exemplary competitor. It makes sense that employers in your industry face challenges similar to yours. Filter for things like compensation and frilly-fad perks, and focus on leadership and other workplace practices that withstand the test of time.

3. The next time an employee attends any kind of training, ask them ahead of time to be prepared to tell you three new concepts or skills they learned from it, and one thing they will begin doing differently as a result. Don’t approach it like a grilling, but emphasize the need to transform learning into performance, and your desire to support them in their development.

4. Identify a major business challenge or opportunity in your company (declining sales, changing customer demands, new government regulation, emerging markets, or hey, even employee turnover), and invite people to form a task force to help you tackle the issue. Make sure the task force takes ownership for finding solutions. Then reward them (with real money) for results that make it to the bottom line.

5. Go do someone else’s job for a day. On a recent Southwest Airlines flight, I noticed a “flight attendant”, slightly older than the rest, and out of uniform. Turns out he was a pilot. That day, from coast to coast, he cheerfully went up and down the aisle dispensing peanuts, smiles, and a great attitude about the lessons learned from those he called “the people who really keep this plane in the air“.

6. Sit on the footlocker. Major General Melvin Zais, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Viet Nam, circa 1968, once said in a speech to future officers, “If you’ll get out of your warm house and go down to the barracks…and just sit on the footlocker…you don’t have to tell ’em they’re doing a great job. Just sit on the footlocker and talk to one or two soldiers and leave. They’ll know that you know that they’re working hard to make you look good.

7. Conduct a survey. Go out there right now and find out how you’re doing in the morale department. If you’ve waited for the appearance of a dark cloud over your place of business, or if your fears of defections leave you feeling like the chair of the Republican party, you’re too late. Regularly (and formally) assess employee attitudes, morale, and perceptions of the work environment through the use of a survey. Feed the results back to everyone (as in, everyone) within one month.

8. On the premise that great places to work start with great people (kinda like baking a cake, isn’t it?), start measuring, managing, and rewarding each manager’s hiring performance over time. This IS part of your business metrics isn’t it? (If all you’ve got to say is “we measure employee turnover,” then, to borrow an expression from a currently popular game show, “You’re the weakest link. Good bye.”) Ditto if that portion of a manager’s bonus potential tied to quality of hiring is less than 25% of the aggregate.

9. Identify one person on your team who seems to be bored – underchallenged in their work. Ask them to develop an idea for a meaningful project they would like to work on. Involve them in as much of the detail as possible. Ask them to develop a budget, identify resources, timelines, and expected outcomes, and then get out of their way.

10. Show peoples the fruits of their labor. Find a meaningful way to show people how the product they make, service they support, or work they do is actually used, and enjoyed, by your customers. One company we work with meets this challenge with field trips. Yes, field trips. Like when you were in school. They make highly technical medical supplies. You know, tubes, valves, that kind of thing. The work is tedious, painstaking, and, well, boring.

The first step in combating complacency was to build some task variety into the job. Then, the plant manager started arranging tours of a nearby hospital, where the assembly workers could see their products at work, saving lives, and delivering drugs and pain relief to patients.

The assembly workers came back so excited that the office staff wanted to be a part of it too, so they chartered a bus for themselves. Now, everyone in the plant makes a couple of trips a year, to keep reinforcing the message, “What we do here is important.”

11. Engage a promising employee in a well-structured career development plan. Learn about their career aspirations and aptitudes, then explore available directions and opportunities. Involve them in a plan to begin taking concrete steps toward achieving that goal.

12. You undoubtedly spend tons of money on internal corporate communications. Here’s a little pop quiz you can use to see if it’s working. Ask the next 10 employees you happen to bump into to write down the company’ s top 3 business priorities. If the answers are all exactly the same, give us a call; we’d love to congratulate you (for real.) If they aren’t, you had better get busy, because as former NFL head coach Jimmy Johnson once put it, “confused players aren’t very aggressive.

All right. We’ll make it a baker’s dozen.

The next time one of your employees does something they didn’t have to do, purely out of a sense of commitment to the team or the organization, write ’em a note. Yes, get a note card, and a pen, and write it out by hand, even if your handwriting is lousy. Put the note in the envelope with their next paycheck. Make this a habit.


#1 Bill Catlette on 08.04.07 at 5:25 am

Hi Joseph.

Thanks for the kind words. We appreciate it.

BTW, if you liked Contented Cows Give Better Milk, you’ll love our brand new work, Contented Cows MOOve Faster. Check it out at


#2 joseph on 08.04.07 at 1:22 pm

Will definitely have to go at your new book.

#3 fpsgib on 04.11.08 at 10:06 am

Awesome! Ahahaha! Stop it, you’re killing me! Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this is great.

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