No Fucking Zombies

One of the biggest insults that I think you can give anybody is that they have “no blood.” I have heard this said from time to time about people who have no passion, no heart. To me, this is the worst thing you could possibly be in business or in life: passionless, heartless, bloodless, lifeless.

As I’ve gone on with my own career, I realize that, as much as creativity, as much as efficiency, “blood” is one of the things that I look for the most in my partners and in my employees. I want to be surrounded by people who are willing to tear their heart out of their chest and leave it on the table for the mission. That’s the level of passion that’s required these days to distinguish yourself.

Over the years, I started to think of people who don’t have any heart or blood as “zombies.”

Zombies in the workplace are brutal. They have such a corrosive effect on everybody. Going through the motions, not committing, having no real interest in the mission or the cause. They are only there to collect a paycheck and go on with their lives and they do so at the expense of everybody else’s well-being and, ultimately, the operation’s chances of success.

But zombies at work exist. So this piece is a how-to guide for dealing with them.

How do you identify a zombie?

One of the real challenges with zombies is that they often look very much like real people. It’s the same in the workplace. A zombie can often go around in disguise all day long, not really letting anybody know that they are not committed or useful, and just sort of draining on the company and resources all day long.

But there are ways to tell. One of the best ways to tell is to give people opportunities. The non-zombies would jump it. Additional challenges are up at our projects, long-term responsibilities, learning opportunities. Zombies don’t want anything to do with these types of activities, but this sort of employees, non-zombies, are the type that you want to have at your company. Those would jump at the chance to get involved. It’s a great way of determining who’s who really quickly.

What do you do if you find a zombie?

Once a zombie is identified, you have sort of a few options.  The first first option is that you try and convert that person back into a regular, forward-looking employee. If it’s not too late, sometimes this is possible. Sometimes, somebody heads down the zombie path because there’s no option to do anything else. That’s the culture, or the people around them are zombies, and then they assimilate. A lot of employees are young and therefore quite impressionable, and they often take on the mentality of those around them. So the first step is to always try and save somebody.

The second step is to isolate them. I know it seems weird for somebody who focuses so much on inclusion to ever talk about isolating somebody at work, and I’m certainly not saying that they should have to eat lunch alone. What I am saying is that if you give them chances to prove themselves or improve their performance, you do so in a fashion that does not have them taking on responsibility for other people. If the person had a chance to improve their performance and hasn’t, and they’re getting down to their last strike, the final opportunity should be things that they can pretty much do themselves. You do not want to have a situation where other people are being forced to wear the jacket or where other people’s advancement or growth is going to be affected by somebody who threw one of their last chances anyway.

When all the chances are gone, you have to get rid of them. Zombies beget zombies, and they have such a corrosive effect on your environment, that you just can’t have it. It’s better to have people who are passionate but a little bit crazy than have a bunch of zombies walking around. Your company will die a slow, parable, terrible death in that circumstance.

How do you stop zombies from coming to your company?

This is a tough one. We know that zombies attract other zombies, and so the quickest way to ensure that your company isn’t quickly overrun with zombies is not place zombies in positions of leadership, and more importantly not to put zombies in positions where they make hiring decisions. This is truly crucial. In hiring, you need to have people who are exciting and vibrant; they will attract exciting and vibrant people in return. And you need to be painfully aware of the fact that choosing somebody who is “steady,” “normal,” “reasonable,{ and all these things that people say that seem like they should be compliments, but are really code for “boring,” “passionless,” “zombie-like.”

Places can turn into a zombie factory overnight by putting the wrong people in charge.


How do you tell if if you are a zombie yourself?

Do zombies even know that they’re zombies? There’s a lot of debate on this, but I would contend that, no, in many cases zombies don’t really actually fully understand that they’re zombies. And this is part of the problem. It’s very difficult for folks to understand if they have passion or fire for what they’re doing at work.

Here’s some clues, though. Is everybody else around you a zombie? Because if that’s the case, the chances are you might be one, too. Do you find yourself being generally uninterested in what you’re doing, unwilling to expend extra effort? When was the last time you took work home because you were so excited about getting it done?

The key indicator, though, is being 100% totally able to let things go? If something bad happens at work and it doesn’t bother you at all, you are a zombie.


What do you do if your boss is a zombie?

Leave.

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So that’s it, that’s the story. Passion is everything. Build your company with passionate people and surround yourself with heart, and the future will turn out just fine.

Tom Alexander