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Zombies in the Workplace

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					They drain the energy and spirit out of their co-workers
and the organization, and their ranks are increasing.
That's why enlightened leaders need to recognize and
awaken every zombie they encounter.




                                   Zombies in the
                                      Workplace
                Stephen Hacker



                A     major threat may exist in your
                      workplace...the peril of zombie-
                ism. In organizations around the
                                                           redemption or elimination from the
                                                           work force. Furthermore, it is essential
                                                           for the human resource unit to revamp
                world, zombies have infiltrated all        the hiring process to avoid letting this
                levels of the labor ranks. Carrying        terminal virus into the organization.
                their messages of victimhood and
                pessimism, they infect the whole orga-     How to Recognize Zombies
                nization at an exponential rate. At           Once you know the dangers zom-
                this very moment your organization         bies pose to the organization and their
                could suffer from lifeless humans.         behavior patterns, they are fairly easy to
                Zombies could be undermining the           identify. For too long, hiring and retain-
                mission, vision, and the very future       ing for skills alone caused leaders to
                existence of your organization.            be blinded to the Zombie threat. Skills
                    The good news is that zombie-ism       have their value, but having a living
                has a cure. Many zombies can be brought    work force is indispensable.
                back to life; restored as contributing        You can recognize a zombie by using
                members of the organization. The chal-     two primary methods: conversation and
                lenge is that the cure requires each       observation of behaviors. These meth-
                zombie to recognize the condition,         ods expose the zombie because a lack
                desire restoration to the living, and      of consciousness is the key sign and
                self-administer the therapy. The living    becomes obvious immediately when
                can coach initial consciousness in the     connecting with a zombie.
                lifeless; however, to sustain existence       First, the zombie's lack of awareness
                among the living, each zombie must         is detected through conversation. When
                discover his/her own meaning in life       inquiring about the rationale for per-
                and remain awake to that purpose-          forming daily tasks, the zombie sees no
                especially in challenging times.           connection to the overall mission of the
                    Have no doubt, however; urgent         organization. When asking about the
                action is necessary now. Zombie-ism,       reasons zombies are in the organization,
                left unchecked, will destroy your orga-    they respond, "There's nowhere else to
                nization from the inside out. Leaders at   go," "I have to work here," "My schooling
                every level must be persistent in root-    dictated this job," or "I've never thought
                ing out zombies and demanding their        about that." The zombie doesn't have a


                                                                                  www. asq.org/pub/jqp   25
     life of meaning, so the connection to devoting life      additional intellect was required or wanted. Asking
     energy to an organization doesn't even emerge as         too many questions was a certain way for getting
     a need or way of operating. Instead, they often see      into trouble. Employers wanted hard work but
     themselves as a victim of the organization, acting       little else. Too much initiative was seen as a threat
     out of something akin to bondage.                        to leadership in the power-centric hierarchy of the
         Observing zombies' behavior shows them basi-         past, and some of these Neanderthal organizations
     cally doing what they are told, which is often the       still exist today.
     minimum required to stay on the payroll. Going               The world has undergone radical change in
     through the motions of daily work was once accept-       the past 100 years, however—and at an ever-
     able. Pyramids were built, castles constructed, and      accelerating rate of change. To survive these days,
     the industrial revolution launched when employ-          an organization must call on the human capacities
     ment meant merely physical behavior. As the              of mind and spirit. The total quality revolution of
     spirit of creation and mental problem-solving            the 1980s engaged the entire work force in prob-
     attributes became a prerequisite for organizational      lem-solving and improvement activities. Far from
     success, however, the zombie's coma-like stance          being a fad, the quality tools and methodologies
     was unacceptable.                                        employed have become standard affair, including
         Some observed zombie behaviors include:              lean. Six Sigma, and systems engineering.
      • Minimal connection to daily work, organizational         The next transformation in organizational per-
         purpose, or team mission.                            formance involved leveraging the entire work
      • Blaming the organization for a host of personal       force in a spirit of creation to generate a competi-
         ills.                                                tive advantage. Although creation complements
                                                              problem solving, these two mental capacities and
      • Broken relationships always cited as the respon-
                                                              manifestations are significantly different. Creation
         sibility of the other person.
                                                              relies on bringing into being that which does not
      • Downward spiraling conversations that seek to         exist at the moment. This is not the same as fixing
         engage others in a negative mind-set.                what already exists. Creating a vision, generating
      • Seeing every other organization as a more desir-      dialogue, challenging conventional wisdom, and
         able place.                                          white-sheet innovating are all born out of a cre-
      • Holding conspiracy theories, which target their       ative mind-set, sourced by human spirit. Without
         downfall.                                            spirit, there is no creation.
      • Lack of initiative with prodding by leadership           After millenniums of "dumbing down," the
         providing their primary motivation.                  work force organizational leaders now need to
         In his popular cult book. The Zombie Survival        awaken each individual. This is even worse when
     Guide, Max Brooks points out that zombies prey           you realize that some of these leaders are dead to
     on all living creatures.' Zombies suck the life out of   change themselves, holding on until retirement or
     all living organisms and the organizational climate.     a better job. Their skill sets may lack leadership
     Zombies feed not only on human resources but also        altogether; they may be just managers.
     on any living idea, initiative, creation, or vibrant        To address the zombie problem, organizations
     venture. After all, if the zombie is lifeless, why       must change. Deep-rooted systems with underly-
     wouldn't everything with which it comes In contact       ing principles that are wrong for today's work force
     also share the same fate?                                are entrenched. Policies galore hold the old orga-
                                                              nization in place, but the needed transformation
     How Organizations Foster Zombie-ism                      often is limited to a few wall posters displaying
        A view of labor throughout history helps us           outdated platitudes, Indeed, the challenge is great.
     to understand how organizations have fostered
     zombies. When strong arms, legs, and backs               The Living
     were the main ingredients for high quality labor            Fortunately, there are a growing number of
     or performance; the mind and spirit were seen            people in the work force who are among the living,
     as liabilities. Although it was important to have        people who are living lives of meaning. They are
     some mental faculties, in particular the mental          connected with their life purposes. They see their
     capabilities that addressed the job at hand, no          creative spirit as producing an opportunity to


26   THE JOURWAL FOR QUALITY & PARTICIPATION   January 2010
contribute to a collective mission; working with        sudden awakening can be disturbing. Anger may
other living beings to generate value in the world.     be the first response. These zombies have par-
   Observed behaviors of these individuals include:     ticipated at an acceptable, although low, level of
 • Seeing causality in their actions {and lack of       performance in the past. With low organizational
   action) in creating the existing workplace.          expectations and little performance feedback, they
 • Possessing a strong sense of personal purpose.       were left to their infection and allowed to infect
                                                        others. So start awakening in measured steps but
 • Applying their effort and determination toward       without ever retreating.
   projects and initiatives aligned with their
                                                            Call the zombie to consciousness by asking
   purposes.
                                                        questions, such as:
 • Using upward spiraling talk that engages others
                                                         • Why did you choose to work here?
   in seeing the potential in every situation.
                                                         • Why have you remained at this job?
 • Having an abundance-based mental stance.
                                                         • What purpose does your participation in this
 • Being conscious of the conneaion between ail
                                                            organization serve?
   sentient beings,
                                                         • What is your life's purpose?
 • Displaying tenacity and perseverance in the face
   of barriers.                                             With each question, allow time for consider-
                                                        ation. Plant the seeds of consciousness and allow
How Best to Address Zombies                             them to germinate. Know that we were not born to
    We have worked with organizations around            be zombies. Many people will leave the zombie state
the world providing direct leadership, and in later     when they reconsider the price of unconsciousness.
years, consulting with leaders on transformational          Along with using these questions to awaken
approaches. We have seen incredible spirit not only     zombies, the benchmark must be set higher on
in the eyes and accomplishments of others, but          performance. Reconsider the relationship among
also in those who are comatose and anesthetized.        the performance standards, the quality of the
    Look around your workplace. What do you             output, and the excellence you expect. Lose your
see? Are you perplexed? Do you wonder why the           tolerance for poor work, for inadequate office
zombies become zombies? You need to understand          relationships, and for feeble excuses. Inferior per-
that they chose to become lifeless. There doesn't       formance is just that, deficient and unacceptable.
seem to be any five-year-old zombies, so something      Once you make a stand, the ball begins to roll.
clearly happened on the way to their present condi-         Your enlivened spirit will have a positive effect,
tion. Did the excitement of life become routine?        Linderstand that your spirit may create initial
We believe that when life's purpose and meaning         anxiety, like a flaming torch to a zombie, but your
aren't clear, people are at risk of zombie ism. Some    spirit also has a power of its own. Do not hide
become the walking dead during high school, others      your spirit under a basket to comfort the zombie.
with the help of mind-numbing substances (includ-       Let your spirit's power shine.
ing television), and some after years on the job.
    Regardless of how they became infected, these       Awakening the Organization
people chose to fall under the spell of zombie-ism,        Awakening individual zombies is the critical
becoming unconscious. This is an important men-         action the living can take. There is an opportunity
tal position to understand. If you think society, the   to help the walking dead become alive to their
schools, family, or organizations have put them         own spirit, awakening to their own being, and the
to sleep; you are mistaken and possibly infected        organization can help. Key steps to awakening the
yourself. Whether an organization has a great or        organization are listed below:
poor spirit, each person always chooses his/her          • Review policy and procedures from the point of
response. If this were not the case, the many stories      their original expectations. Are they written to
of the living emerging from dead situations would          allow or foster zombies?
not exist. We are creatures of choice, creatures that    • Stop zombies at the door. Hire for spirit as well
create our world.                                          as skills. Change the interview approach to assess
    Awaking a zombie can be dangerous. After               spirit and spirited performance in the whole life
years of existing as one of the walking dead, a            of the applicant.


                                                                                           www.asq. org/pub/jqp   27
      • Set a meaningful mission and course for the             manifest a smile or an unauthentic welcome, only
        organization. Raise the community vision to             to draw close to the new employee, drawing the
        make breakthrough, transformative products              new employee into this web of death.
        and/or services.                                            Additionally, organizations experiencing low
      • Involve everyone in both the daily work and in          competition or the absence of obvious threats often
        creating the organization of tomorrow. Once             overlook their zombies. The "fat" in their systems
        they get energy from creating as a community,           hides the danger of zombies, lulling leaders into
        their eyes will stay open.                              avoiding addressing apparent personnel problems.
                                                                Whether they are public, for-profits, or NGOs, all
      • Demand that your extended organizational sys-           organizations can fail. If not addressed, zombie-ism
        tem has life. No longer accept zombie suppliers         will infect, spread, and cause organizations to
        and subcontractors.                                     fail, especially when organizations are under the
      • Speak to your customers as if they are alive.           inevitable stress the transforming world delivers.
        Your target should not be zombies (just sample              There is hope, however. Labeling zombies rec-
        the advertising today). The living are always a         ognizes the threat. Moving to awaken zombies
        better customer market.                                 has the immediate payoff of employing the skills
        The conscious leader has a special role to play.        initially promised in the hiring process and post-
     First, establish the expectation that zombie-ism           employment training. The turnaround can be
     is no longer acceptable. Given a deeper under-             dramatic. From lifeless to life filled, the converted
     standing by the leader of what the organization            zombie can serve as a great influence on others
     requires, performance attention focuses on the             and pave the way to organizational success.
     zomhies. It is your right to expect people to think
     and be creative. Zombie leaders often point to             Reference
     organizational barriers and past practices, which          Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide, Three Rivers
     discourage them from setting higher expectations           Press, 2003.
     and holding people accountable. That is exactly
     why the leader is there —to move the system
     forward. Of course, every organization has issues
     and barriers. What is needed to rid the system
     of Zombies is for leadership to make a stand.
     Otherwise, upper leadership should review the
     infected brains of the leaders themselves.                                            Stephen Hacker
     Final Warnings and Words of Hope                             Stephen Hacker is a founding partner and CEO of
         Left unchecked, zombies will enroll others to             Transformatian Systems Internationai    He served as a
     join the legions of the dead at work. In addition            member of ASQ's board of directors. He has consulted
     to being counter-productive in the workplace                 diverse organizations throughout the world in more than
     (and getting paid for this destruction), they are            40 countries and has authored Work Miracles, Trust
     not neutral in their impact on the work force.               Imperative, Transformational Leadership: Creating
     Zombies welcome co-workers to join them in                   Organizations of Meaning; the Transformation Field
     listless existence and victim mind-set. You may               Book and the transformation Desk Top. After completing
     see them attacking the new employee group, pick-             his career as a senior executive for Proctor and Gamble,
     ing off the weak ones. During extended breaks                Hacker was executive director of the performance center,
     and water cooler conversations, zombies enlist               a multi-university, action-research organization, for eight
     these new seekers of the corporate culture into              years. For more information, you can reach Hacker at
     the hopelessness of inaction. Zombies may even                hackers@perf ormancecenter.org.




28                O
     THE JOURNAL F R QUALITY & PARTICIPATION   January   2010
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