Dead Horse Culture

I enjoyed this one arriving in my inbox a few days back, and found myself thinking of examples where I’d seen each of these behaviours over the years.

Not necessarily productive, but a lot of fun 🙂

Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in business we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following:
  1. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses. 
  2. Buying a stronger whip. 
  3. Changing riders. 
  4. Say things like, “This is the way we have always ridden this horse.” 
  5. Appointing a committee to study the horse. 
  6. Increasing the standards to ride dead horses. 
  7. Appointing a tiger team to revive the dead horse. 
  8. Creating a training session to increase our riding ability. 
  9. Comparing the state of dead horses in today’s environment. 
  10. Change the requirements declaring that “This horse is not dead.” 
  11. Hire contractors to ride the dead horse. 
  12. Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed. 
  13. Declaring that “No horse is too dead to beat.” 
  14. Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance. 
  15. Do a Cost Analysis study to see if contractors can ride it cheaper. 
  16. Purchase a product to make dead horses run faster. 
  17. Declare the horse is “better, faster and cheaper” dead. 
  18. Form a quality circle to find uses for dead horses. 
  19. Revisit the performance requirements for horses. 
  20. Say this horse was procured with cost as an independent variable. 
  21. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position 


I’ve heard the ‘flogging a dead horse analogy’ a lot in recent years, in many companies the act of changing a culture can often feel that way.


An executive with the best of intentions sets out to build some camaraderie amongst a team or an organisation, and decides that some new values on the wall will help. At this point the horse is dead.

Dysfunctional teams can be helped by culture transformation, but it’s using a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut.

If you’re thinking of changing your culture make sure you have a clear diagnostic of the current state, a clear idea of the outcome you’re trying to achieve and most importantly a passion and conviction for the journey ahead.

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