Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Zombie Engagement or Motivating the Undead

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It seems like you can’t turn on the TV or look at the movie section in the newspaper these days without seeing some reference to zombies. Zombies used to be the stuff of late night horror or the once a year Halloween movie marathon. But it seems pretty clear that zombies have gone mainstream, appearing not only in horror flicks but in television series and even kid shows.

On the university campus, one professor of political science, Niall Michelsen, has incorporated the topic into his classroom instruction and has co-authored a paper titled “Teaching World Politics with Zombies”. Daniel Drezner has written Theories of International Politics and Zombies. In both cases the authors/professors are exploring how the world might react to an actual invasion of zombies. One theory they explore is whether capitalists would be able to exploit the cheap labor that zombies, the undead might provide. Another explores whether stronger countries would sit and watch while zombies ate their way through the weaker ones or if some central organizing effort to control zombies would emerge.

With the growing popularity of zombies and hence the growing population of zombies in society, it was only a matter of time until inevitable personnel issues surrounding zombies, such as motivating or engaging zombies needed to be addressed along with a whole host of others issues. I thought I would get the research ball moving with some thoughts on the topic.

Some of the immediate issues personnel departments are struggling with concerning the rights of the undead include:

  • Do zombies have collective bargaining rights? They seem to be very good at organizing gatherings and may have an edge in negotiations. I mean how many of us really want to sit across the table from a zombie and look them in the eye, even if it is still in its socket?
  • If you are a union member in the living state and then become a zombie do you retain your membership? Can you be legislated into a second class status when you are undead? Are you still responsible for dues? If not, as suggested by the professors, organizations might forgo the living and hire the undead as cheap labor or union busters.
  • Does last in, first out apply during zombie layoffs?
  • Do zombies get severance? An arm or a leg?
  • If you turn into a zombie do you lose your citizenship?
  • If so, can you then get a green card?
  • If your kid turns into a zombie before you do, is your kid an anchor zombie, able to sponsor you for inclusion into zombiehood?
  • Can the undead be elected to political office, be appointed as a CEO, or do they simply need to eat their way to the top?
  • Given how easy it appears to be to kill or injure a zombie, (all you apparently have to do is bash them with a baseball bat), what are the regulations surrounding health care coverage for zombies? Is being a zombie considered a pre-existing condition?
  • And critically, how do you motivate or engage the undead to increase their value as an integral part of the workforce?

There has been much speculation that zombies are somehow different, that they don’t want what you or I want from the work environment or that somehow their relationship with their supervisors are “strained”. Some say that zombies are impatient, unwilling to pay their dues in order to succeed in the organization. Others imply that zombies are not as concerned about job security or being developed for future opportunity, wanting only to unlive in the here and now. Other spurious and suspicious claims have arisen against zombies including that they have strong body odor, that they have socialist, communist or perhaps fascist tendencies, others claim that they are not from “here” and that they are so unlike “us” that they even pray to a different god. Some say that zombies are lazy, willing to move along only at a slow shuffle, or that they are solely concerned about money, presumably because they resist being paid with scraps. Speculation has been rampant that zombies need a strong leader to exist in an orderly fashion and that they are not ready for a democratic oriented society. Meanwhile the reported cases of harassment against zombies have skyrocketed. These are grave issues.

Cutting through all this noise, fear, and paranoia will not be easy for researchers intent on furthering the science behind how to motivate and engage zombies, but with good experimental design much can be achieved and some deeply buried findings may emerge.

Let me suggest a simple framework for carrying out this work. The fundamental underlying notion that I propose is that zombies are people too, being driven by the same desires that any other person has regarding the world or work. I am not talking about what zombies like to do in their off-hours, or what their social norms and eating habits might be, I am talking about what zombies want from their labors and how they expect to be treated in the world-of-work and that by-and-large it is the same thing that anyone of any generation, gender, ethnicity, religion, geographic location or sexual orientation wants, because it is what people want. If we want to spend our time searching for the minutest differences (such as whether you are dead or alive) they can be found, but our similarities greatly outweigh our differences.

When unrest occurs among zombies it is often driven by a deep-seated sense of lack of respectful or dignified treatment (just look at the clothes they are often made to wear) and that the playing field between the living and undead is not even. Beyond this, it is clear that the undead want to go through their existence with a sense of equitable treatment, that given their efforts they are being fairly rewarded and with a sense of achievement, an innate sense of accomplishment arising from their labors.

I often use what I call the MPF© model during organizational transformations and I am convinced that it would work as well during undead transformations. “M” stands for message, “P” stands for Performance and “F” stands for future.

“M” – first off zombies will want a clear understanding of the purpose of the organization, what does it stand for and importantly how they fit in. What will they be doing in their day-to-day job that will help the organization achieve its goals? If the line from the zombie’s job to the organization’s goals cannot be directly drawn, the organization needs to go back and keep drawing it until the message is crystal clear. Zombies want to know how they fit in and how that fit contributes to what the organization is trying to accomplish.

Second is “P” for performance. Examine the message you have delivered to your zombies and then ask yourself if you enabling them or hindering them in delivering on that message. If the message given out by leadership is that the organization will be customer centric, are your processes and procedures, those things that the zombie must live with supportive of that notion or do they fly in the face of it? Many times zombies are frustrated and act out aggressively, because they are asked to do inhuman or impossible tasks given the resources available to them. They are told one thing and then not given the tools needed to deliver on it. Make sure you are enable performance in-line with your messaging.

Third is “F” or Future. Zombies have their eye (figuratively if not literally) on the future, just like the rest of us. They want to know that if they deliver on the goals they now share with the organization that good things will happen. Things like job security, opportunity for development and to get ahead, the ability to provide for their family etc. The evidence on zombie engagement is absolutely clear, people can work through current hardships and difficulties if they have a sense of a purposeful and meaningful future for themselves – not a smoke and mirrors future of continuing unfulfilled promises, but a real one.

People will get on primitive sailing ships and travel to new unknown lands, they will stand alone, unblinking, in front of a tank, they will challenge despotic rulers who won’t hesitate to cut them down, they will give up and then give up some more, allowing themselves to be treated horrifically and suffering deprivation, all for the sake of creating a better life down the road for themselves, their children, and to create a Future that they can believe in and can see. And with my last breath let me say that you should make sure that the zombies who work for you can see that future and then you need to deliver on it. Come by again sometime soon, I’ll keep an eye out for you.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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3 Responses

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  1. Your post is very timely….Until recently open discussions of Zombies at work have been protected by HIPPA rules, but that has recently been overturned (due to a hard slap in the back of the head, I think). George Romero’s initial doctoral research, “Reanimation of disengaged employees: a psychological study of zombies at the frontline” supports several of the points in your post. George documented physiological transformation of employees into Zombies such as (1) mindless goals set by pointed headed bosses that lead first to employee burnout, then to a situational condition know as becoming brain dead the moment one enters the workplace, (2) hearing is also impaired – Zombie employees, when they do speak, have been known to say repeatedly, “I’ve heard it all before”, (3) sight is impacted in two ways, the first being an uncanny ability that allows these employees to look through people talking to them while maintaining a seemingly calm posture, with the second impact being a tendency to hallucinate, imagining anyplace but the workplace. In addition, George discovered that that story about eating their bosses was just an urban myth: employees however were known to make statements such as, “You know why a cannibal wouldn’t eat my boss? He is too full of $#@!!”

    George gave up an academic career to pursue film making and anthropological studies of Zombies in a small Pennsylvania town…and the rest is history…or make believe.

  2. Personally I don’t believe that Zombies exist. It’s hard enough to get out of bed when you’re alive; imagine having to do that when you’re dead.

    In any event, assuming they did exist in the workplace, we employee opinion survey types would be forced to choose how to get them to self-identify. It’s a quandry — Do we ask “Are you a zombie? (Yes/No), or “I am a zombie” (Strongly Agree-Strongly disagree), or “To what extent are you a Zombie”? (To a great extent – Not at all), or do we simply list “Zombie” in a list of self-identification items, along with “GLBT” (do we split that out, and why are we asking it anyway) and “Single parent”? And finally, do we refer to them as “Undead Employees”, “Undead Personnel”, “Undead Workers”, “Undead Talent”, “undead Cast Members” (ala Disney), or my favorite — “Undead Human Capital”? (Good name for a horror movie).

    In any event, it’s a good thing Zombies aren’t that common, since competition for jobs is already stiff enough.

    Thanks for listening — I’m going out now to dig up a few friends.

    Daniel Baitch

    April 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm

  3. Reblogged this on Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog and commented:

    Just in time for Halloween – How to motivate zombies in your workforce. Jeff

    Jeffrey M. Saltzman

    October 20, 2012 at 7:32 am

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