Controlling Your Zombie Population

Imagine for a moment that you are the CFO of an electronics company and just learned that nearly 67% of your product inventory was either partially or completely at risk of becoming a warranty liability – meaning that it is already broken or close to being broken before the warranty expires.  In that circumstance, you likely would immediately seek to address the risk by addressing the at risk inventory and reassess your supply chain, raw material providers, component assembly functions, and your quality processes.

Additionally, stringent quality controls would be put in place to prevent at-risk product from entering inventory in the future.  To do anything different would expose your business to entirely too much financial risk, jeopardizing the ongoing viability of the firm.  Most Chief Human Resource Officers face a very similar situation, with 69% of the average workforce being either partially or completely disengaged according to a 2011 study of employee engagement by Blessing White Research.

A bit tongue in cheek, any workforce can be viewed in three distinct categories; fully disengaged workers (The Dead) , partially disengaged workers (Zombies) and engaged workers (Zombie Slayers).  The Dead population are those workers who do the bare minimum to get by, occupying a chair and collecting a paycheck.  The Zombie Slayers are those who are actively driving the business, pushing the envelope, making things happen – a population that can never be large enough for any company.  The rest of the population are somewhat in the middle – they do what they need to do, may go above and beyond, any may not even realize that they aren’t fully engaged – much like a Zombie may not realize that they’ve become the living dead.  You can easily identify the dead and the Zombie Slayer populations in your workforce, but the Zombies often are more difficult to spot.

As with any good Zombie movie, the goal is to either slay the Zombies or find a way to bring them back from the living dead .  To that end, after assessing the engagement levels of their workforce, many companies attempt to put in place programs which prove to be ineffective or worse yet aren’t funded.  The end result is often a Zombie population who is neither slayed nor “cured”, they simply maintain status quo, blissfully unaware that they have become the living dead.

Exacerbating the situation, companies will exclusively focus their engagement programs  upon the existing employee population.  This results in  little to no thought to the workers joining the company by way of external recruitment.  Failure to effective screen for potential Zombies is likely to result in growth of the Zombie population within your company.

What’s an HR Pro to do?

Employee engagement is the byproduct of competent people doing work that fulfills them for a company they admire.  Unfortunately there is no simple screening mechanism to identify a disengaged candidate.  It’s not a skill, competency, or behavioral characteristic which can easily be measured by way of a survey or assessment.  It can only be identified through personal interaction, careful screening, and an honest assessment by the recruiter as to whether the company is really the right fit for the candidate as much as whether the candidate is the right fit for the company.

While there’s no silver bullet so to speak, in recruiting candidates I’ve found those that perform the best and remain engaged satisfy three simple observation points:

  1. The work that the position requires addresses a personal need of the candidate – i.e. professional fulfillment, personal desire, etc.
  2. The candidate has a clear and realistic expectation of what the job entails and the operating environment of the company
  3. There is a strong cultural fit between the candidate and the company

If you as a HR pro are looking for ways to directly impact the financial performance of your company – look no further than your hiring practices.  Hiring a candidate based on the best set of skills, the lowest price candidate, or some other set of attributes which don’t address the three bullets above may result in growth of your Zombie population.  And unlike in the movies, Zombies in your workforce don’t eat brains, they eat profits.

Happy Zombie Hunting!