The Walking Dead and The Blade Through the Zombie Skull Solution

By: Dr. Adam Stoehr
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Rick could just make out the faint but distinct sound of his iPhone ringing on the other side of the office.  He rushed back to his desk to see that his friend Shane, who works in the tower a few streets over, was trying to “FaceTime” him.  He swiped his phone on and was shocked to see Shane in a dark room wearing street clothes and a baseball cap.  “Are you at work?” Rick asked.  “Yes, I’m glad I got you.  I can’t talk long.  I need your help.” Shane responded, short of breath. “Can you meet me over lunch?“.  “Sure, meet me at the food court at the Eaton Centre at 12:30pm.”  Rick suggested but the connection was lost before Shane had a chance to confirm the plans.  With a busy morning of back-to-back meetings Rick didn’t have much time to think about the cryptic call.

At 12:25 p.m. Rick grabbed his coat and headed off to meet his friend.  He and his colleague Lori got on the elevator together and headed for the ground floor.  Lori was smiling as usual. They made small talk and laughed about a silly comment made in the meeting they had just attended.  The elevator stopped at the 13th floor. A new crop of people embarked, each one looking more miserable than the next. The mood had completely changed. One rude woman unapologetically bumped into Lori. Everyone stared blankly at the floor numbers as they continued the ride to the first floor.  No one spoke, made eye contact, or smiled.

Rick escaped the unseasonably cold weather by taking the underground PATH to get to the Eaton Centre food court. He saw Shane from the back sitting at a corner table. When he got closer he was taken aback by the state Shane was in.  “What’s up? You look terrible.” he asked as Shane looked up at him with hollow eyes.

“We’ve been overrun by “walkers” at Trust Royal”, Shane said. “Walkers?” Rick asked. “It started with one a few months back.  Then slowly one-by-one everyone changed” Shane explained.  “So far I’ve been immune to it but I feel like it’s slowly sucking the life out of me.” “Slow down, start from the beginning.”  Rick requested.

Shane took a few deep breaths. “The best way I can explain it, is to compare it to a zombie apocalypse. A few weeks ago there was an initial outbreak in the accounting department which has led to the widespread rise of grumpy “walkers” who are opposed to fun of any kind at work.  Anyone who comes into close contact with them eventually becomes one himself. This outbreak has become an exponentially- growing crisis at Trust Royal. It has led to the panicked collapse of our organizational culture.  Only isolated pockets of survivors remain, scavenging for smiles and warmth at work.  The work environment has been reduced to a pre-industrial hostile wilderness. The customers are starting to sense the changes and are leaving us in droves. No one cares about anything other than our ridiculous unachievable weekly targets.  No one cares about the…”.  Shane’s eyes suddenly rolled into the back of his head and he appeared to lose consciousness.

“Come back to me Shane”, begged Rick.  He was blown away by what was going on at Trust Royal.  Shane got up and slowly walked off in a trance-like state.  “Did that really just happen?”.  Rick wondered.   He lost sight of Shane in the busy lunch crowd and hurried back to work.

Rick got back into the elevator on the basement floor and tried to put the bizarre meeting behind him.  At the ground level the door opened and he was happy to see Lori, his friendly colleague. “Wow, it’s cold out there today, eh?”  he smiled and commented as she joined him in the elevator.  But she was different somehow.  She didn’t answer and just stared blankly at the floor numbers as they changed.  Thinking she hadn’t heard him he asked her another question.  “Do you have a busy afternoon planned?”.  She didn’t break her stare or crack a hint of her usual smile.

Rick got back to his desk, thinking that the day couldn’t get any weirder. He wondered if there might be a cure for this “walker syndrome” which seemed to be spreading to his office now.  A fan of zombie movies he recalled that the only way to stop fictional zombies was to stab them through the skull with a blade.  He pulled up his web browser and searched for information on employee engagement and what causes it for ideas of a practical solution to this real world problem.     

Rick learned that happiness at work is a function of engagement, morale, and satisfaction.  An "engaged employee" is one who is fully-involved in and enthusiastic about their work and thus will act in a way which furthers their organization's interests.  The exact opposite of that was the “walking dead” syndrome in evidence at Trust Royal and in the elevator.  He found some interesting research on how employee happiness can be caused and fostered.   Evidence shows that if an organization implements a strategic approach to excellence, then the employees of that organization are more likely to be happy working there.  The scatter diagram below shows this relationship.  Each of the dots represents an organization. As the organization’s focus on excellence increases so does the level of employee happiness.  The bottom left corner is where the “walkers” work (low excellence and low happiness) and the top right (high excellence and high happiness) is where Rick wants to continue working. 

Relationship between

Rick’s mind was racing and he saw the problem and the solution as clear as day.  He drew a picture of the problem which he was now calling the “Walking Dead Syndrome”, detailed in the red-arrowed figure below. 
 Walking Dead Syndrome
He then focused on how to overcome the Walking Dead Syndrome based on research.  For lack of a better title he called it the “Blade through the Zombie Skull Solution” as detailed below in the green-arrowed figure. Less dramatic than a blade through the skull like you see in the movies, he concluded it might just work. 
 Blade through the Zombie Skull Solution
Rick immediately approached his boss warning “We are in danger of having an outbreak of epic proportions.  I’ve seen it happen across the street at Trust Royal.  They’ve been overrun by walkers.  From what I could see they are mindless corpses with a hunger for human flesh and brains. In other words, they are formerly-great workers who have lost their desire to thrive.  There has been a loss of focus on staff engagement, morale, and satisfaction.  Employee grumpiness has led to employee disengagement, which has led to customer disengagement.  Once they lose their customers they lose the entire business.  We can’t afford to let this happen here!” 

“Wow, how are we going to stop our people from becoming mindless corpses with a hunger for human flesh and brains?”, she asked.

“My solution is to take a blade to their zombie skulls!  In other words, we need to increase our strategic focus on excellence.  This will lead to happier employees, which will lead to happier customers, which will lead to higher performance.  I’ve already seen the effects of this Walking Dead Syndrome take hold of someone here.  We need to move on this right away!”, Rick insisted.

Rick’s boss was impressed and didn’t hesitate.  She fully-authorized the Blade Through Zombie Skull Solution.  And they lived happily ever after…

Author Information

Adam  Stoehr, PhD

Adam Stoehr, PhD