Fresh Milk from Contented Cows

 December 2011
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Richard Hadden

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Bill Catlette

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Contented Cow Partners, LLC Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk - a New Book coming from Bill and Richard! And YOU can help!
We're bursting with excitement to be able to announce that we've just signed a contract with John Wiley & Sons, Inc., one of the world's leading global publishers of business (and other) books, to write a new book, tentatively titled Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk. This will be a brand new re-write of our original, and still most popular work, Contented Cows Give Better Milk. The 2012 edition will feature new companies, new stories, and new illustrations, showing once again, clear linkage between organizations' people practices and profit performance.

How you can help: We're actively seeking stories of exemplary employers, in all sectors, from around the world, to illustrate the case for creating a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce. We want to hear from you, and soon! (We're on a tight deadline.) To submit a contribution to be considered for the new book, please click here, or scan the QR code below, and provide us with some preliminary information. If what you submit fits what we need, we'll get in touch to learn more. We can't promise we'll use everything we receive, but we WILL respond, and look forward to hearing your stories of great workplaces that prove the maxim that Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk.

Meanwhile, all of our books are available from

Contented Cow Partners, LLC

Featured Article: Playing Favorites 

By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette   


Contented Cow Partners, LLC


Managing employees is, in some ways, like parenting children. Every parent with more than one offspring has probably been fairly accused of playing favorites at one time or another. At home and at work, inadvertent or not, favoritism creates problems, and it's something managers (and parents) would do well to be aware of, and guard against. Since this is a management and leadership site, and not a parenting one we'll just talk about favoritism at work.


Bound in part by human nature (but not powerless against it), it's relatively easy for a manager to step into the favoritism trap. Most of us, perhaps in response to the tough business climate, are running pretty lean, with little room for error. As a result, we rely heavily, maybe too heavily, on our stars. We give them the most important assignments. The most hours. The best schedules. More training. Cooler opportunities. And because they're going above and beyond, maybe we grant them some privileges not afforded to all. We cut them a little more slack, and overlook the odd transgression that would surely be pointed out with lesser performers.


The average and poorer performers see this and cry favoritism, while the workhorse wonders, "Why am I the one carrying all the water?" Come to think of it, this is sounding more like parenting all the time.


If we're really honest, we might admit that we just like some people better than we do others, for reasons not remotely related to job performance, and that we let that preference bleed through, even though we know that's a lousy way to lead a group. Once we've gained control over that tendency, we're left with the problem of favoring some over others for what we'd like to think are legitimate, performance-based reasons.


So what's the difference, you might ask, between favoritism and performance management? Isn't it only fair to reward based on results? And, doesn't it make sense to use your best players for the toughest plays?


Well, yes, but there are better ways to reward the strong performers on your team, and strengthen the others, than playing the favorites game.


Favoritism almost always produces unwanted results. It rarely motivates the lackluster towards stardom, and can breed a sense of entitlement in the favored. And you can bet that, in a doomed attempt to prevent it, some bureaucrat or lawyer will devise a scheme of rules, the imposition of which will serve only to tie your hands, kill creativity, and squash good tries by the best on your team.


It forms the basis for too many labor grievances, and a protracted pattern of favoritism helps cultivate an interested audience for union organizers. In short, it's a practice we want to avoid with the same fervor and determination as we do those difficult conversations about declining performance, hygeine, and the questionable wisdom of dating a direct report.


Here are some better alternatives to playing favorites.


If someone's not performing up to snuff, show some leadership, actively manage their performance, and don't take the passive-aggressive route of ignoring them, mistreating them, and hoping they'll get the hint and take a hike. Poorer performers deserve to be coached, and given the opportunity to improve, not left out in the cold, to figure it out themselves (amid shouts of favoritism).


Establish clear standards for performance, and then be unambiguous in communicating those standards. Leave no doubt as to what behavior leads to which results. Clearly articulate the steps that lead to where they'd like to go. You wanna make more money? Work a better schedule? Do more of the fun stuff? Here's what it takes. How can I help you?


Build a culture of excellence, by making a clear connection between performance and rewards of all types. Above all, be consistent in providing a platform for visibility, and the opportunity to excel, but distinguish those who do their best work from those who are mailing it in. That's anything but favoritism.


Just as it can be difficult to see the spinach stuck to our front teeth without a mirror or a caring observer, favoritism is usually hard to self-recognize. Ask about it on your employee survey. (You are doing surveys, aren't you? If not, we can help.) Or, give your peers permission to tell you when they see it. When you become aware that there's a perception of favoritism on your part, seek to understand why. If you're convinced it's not really favoritism, make the case. Otherwise, make a change. In you.


There's a big difference between rewarding the best, and playing favorites. Build a culture of excellence, and soon you'll be leading a whole field full of stars, and that will be the favorite part of your job.



As we wrap up 2011, our holiday wish for you is that you, and those you love, will enjoy the full celebration of whatever holidays you observe this time of year, that you'll be able to take some meaningful time away from work, and that your batteries will be recharged for the year to come.


We look forward to the opportunities of 2012, and hope that in some way, large or small, we'll be able to partner with you to create a better, more profitable place to work.  


Our "People First" Survey provides a clear, actionable picture of your workforce's view of what it's like to work in your organization. That's a strong indicator of how well you're doing in getting maximum productivity and engagement from the people on your payroll. Our proprietary Employee Engagement survey has been tried, tested, and proven through more than 20 years of development and use with our clients. It tells you what's working, what's not, and how you're doing when benchmarked against more than 100,000 responses we've collected over the years. Get in touch, and let us develop a survey proposal designed especially for you.


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Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
Contented Cow Partners, LLC