by Shawn Rhodes

We’ve all seen them. The lethargic movement, the slow shuffle, the absence of passion: These are characteristics of the walking dead.

Sadly, they aren’t only in zombie movies; they’re the walking dead at work.

And they may be lurking near you.

My most recent and horrifying experience with these living dead was at a fast-food stop. My wife sent me out for a frozen dessert, and 20 minutes after I had placed my order, I watched the line of people waiting for their orders stack up behind me.

As someone who studies peak performance in organizations around the world, I was surprised to find the opposite of a high-achieving team in my own town. Customers could only stare in wonder at how inefficiently the employees went about their work.

Giving up hope of seeing my frozen dessert that hour, I realized these employees were acting like characters in old horror movies. This zombie-like affliction in employees has symptoms leaders in any organization need to watch for.

1. Lack of purpose

This manifests as lethargic movement, frequent breaks and even unexplained absence when customers appear. Admittedly, it’s tough for a teenager working a fast food counter to connect what she’s doing with a purpose, but purpose doesn’t have to be about an organization’s purpose.

The highest-performing teams I’ve studied often had employees who didn’t want to connect with their organization’s stated purpose. (Stories of hunting terrorists aren’t always appropriate for the dinner table, after all.) Instead, these organizations taught their employees to focus on their reason for doing the job: Family, travel, career, their friends, etc. Even with no corporate purpose to embrace, they still performed at high levels.

2. Zero ownership

In this second and more insidious stage, sufferers cease to care about their product or service. Quality slips, and they have no motivation for improving.

However, in the most dangerous and challenging environments on the planet (whether it was a war zone or a food counter at dinner rush), ownership is critical for continued success. If they have no input, it’s easy for employees to blame failure on the company’s processes instead of themselves. Top performers count on having ownership over their jobs — and their success.


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