About a year ago I wrote this catchy headline for an article in CIO Magazine. Sure enough it generated one of my highest rated blog posts.
The article centered on behaviors that can undermine work teams. The principles I explained then still apply today with perhaps even more vigor.
Here’s a recap:
For quite some time, I have advocated and observed that among most work teams with any size, there will be a distribution of talent that looks something like this:
- The top 20 percent – the folks you can always count on, and the ones you tend to turn to most often. These are your top performers.
The bottom 20 percent – employees who have developed behavior patterns that are repeated regularly and for whom there is some form of disciplinary action pending or being written as we speak. If they are just short of disciplinary action, at least you know their performance will be the same most of the time. It’s low performance, but nonetheless the same.
- The middle 60 percent – these people can be scary. This is where the zombies first appear. Performance within this group is generally stable. However, one day Joe or Jill is just fine, then tomorrow they come to work with serious attitude problems or something that looks like a “quit and stay” mindset.
From my experience this last group, and arguably your middle tier, is the toughest to manage. If we apply a bell curve to just this 60 percent of your team, you will have high-end and low-end performers there too. The trouble though is knowing who will fall where on that curve on any given day. Oh yes, many dedicated souls in this group hit a “stride” and produce well enough day after day, but the trouble is the ones who seem fine one day then just show up way off the chart the next.
Once someone in this group adopts the bad behaviors, they become the zombies in your organization.
Letting these zombies stroll through your work area day after day can disrupt otherwise good team chemistry. Colleagues who one day seemed to be working well together start arguing over trivial matters like who failed to fill the copy paper last or who cooked fish in the microwave (both true stories).
The zombie walk has its physical evidence too. Slow, lethargic behavior starts to emerge. Energy seems zapped. This condition is very contagious. Strong dedicated workers like those in group one do not easily influence the zombie. Rather, the zombie makes the good person think of the questions, “Why me? Why should I keep busting my you-know-what while Z-Man gets by with everything, doing nothing?”
Managing the zombie population can consume brain power (yes, pun intended). Managers get distracted dealing with problems this crew can create. Making adjustments, settling arguments, and exploring ‘what happened’ are all indicators you are dealing with zombies.
The reason I suggest things may still be slipping is that the ever-increasing reliance upon technology limits the otherwise human interaction in the workplace. Why text me if I am right next door to you?
Or, show up for a meeting a few minutes early and bury your heads in a smart phone when you could be having meaningful discussion with a co-worker, your boss, or someone you supervise; something like “Hi Ted. I heard your Mom was sick. How’s she doing?”
Technology can make us all act like zombies. Don’t agree? Just look at the hundreds of videos of smart people walking into objects outside their buildings. You may need to look in the mirror and be sure YOU haven’t turned into a workplace zombie.