Zombie Employees Are Killing Your Business, And You’re Creating Them
If going to work feels like walking onto the set of “The Walking Dead,” leadership might be the cause of your office’s zombie apocalypse. Emphasizing the tasks you need employees to complete — instead of the end goals — can produce that effect.
Traditional leaders are trained to be task-oriented. You manage, assign, track, and follow up on tasks, but this approach sucks the life out of your team members. It creates an atmosphere of drudgery, boredom, and monotony. Employees react by checking their brain at the door, waiting for orders, and doing the bare minimum.
This micromanaging approach only devalues your employees and positions you as a helicopter manager. The trick to humanizing your workforce is to start treating employees like responsible adults and instilling meaning into the goals you set.
Here are five ways to escape that post-apocalyptic feel and breathe some life into your employees.
#1. Provide context
When describing the ideal manager, Peter Drucker famously used the parable of the three stonecutters. When asked what they were doing, the first one replied, “I am making a living.” The second continued to hammer while saying, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.” With an inspired spark in his eyes, the third one said, “I am building a cathedral.”
The third worker can see the broader picture. He understands that he has a role in something bigger than himself. High-performing leaders ensure that all team members know how their work contributes to overall company objectives. Acknowledging that context gives jobs meaning.
You can provide context by defining the reasons a job exists. Explain what’s critical about each position, how it contributes to the business and customer, and what happens if a job isn’t performed correctly. These details show people how much they’re valued and needed for the organization to accomplish its mission.
#2. Focus on responsibilities
Leaders fall into task tunnel vision because they see activities as steppingstones to a desired outcome. We have meetings, make phone calls, show up to work, etc. because we want to increase profits or improve the quality of a product.
Crossing off tasks on your to-do list might fill you with a sense of accomplishment, but you can slave away all day in the office and still not make a dent in your goals. A full workday often paints the illusion that you’re creating value. While many activities do produce some benefit, they don’t necessarily make a tangible difference for the organization. If you want specific, measurable outcomes that benefit the company, communicate the end results you want employees to accomplish, not the steps for getting there.
People can figure out the details without you micromanaging them, and when they’re free to do so, they tend to produce much better results. Even the requirement to work in the office can be overly restrictive for people who might work more effectively at home. Assigning and monitoring tasks limits creativity, suppresses spirits, and hampers outcomes.
Express the end result you want employees to accomplish in specific and positive terms. Make them tangible so you and your employees know when they’ve succeeded.
#3. Raise the bar
A powerful way to shift the focus away from tasks and back to outcomes is by revamping job descriptions. If they’re framed in terms of daily tasks, raise the bar to contain goal-oriented language.
For a supervisor, the job description might read, “Supervise production line operation in accordance with plan policies and procedures. Train and coach production-line employees.” If you wrote it to evoke a sense of purpose, it would say, “Inspire and develop a highly competent team that continuously produces the highest-quality products in the most cost-effective way.”
You can — and should — refine these descriptions at every level. The task-oriented approach is an epidemic that permeates department lines. Even a vending machine technician’s job could change from “Repair and maintain various vending equipment at customer locations” to “Maximize revenue for both the customer and the company by preventing vending equipment breakdowns. Expand sales through the continuous search and identification of new vending locations.” This goal-oriented job description acknowledges his value and fosters a sense of purpose.
#4. Broaden the scope
Broadening the scope of jobs promotes variety and keeps people on their toes as they continuously learn and master new skills. It also creates more opportunities for employees to contribute their skill sets, which increases engagement as they find new ways to invest in the job.
By broadening your job descriptions from day one, you set clear expectations for high performance and a stimulating atmosphere.
Along with instilling meaning and promoting more productive and engaged employees, multi-functional jobs also:
- Ease the hiring process because people are more attracted to broader jobs.
- Allow you to do more with fewer employees because they have more robust skill sets.
- Reduce scheduling issues because more employees can cover more roles.
- Ensure training is ongoing and create a culture in which continual improvement is expected.
#5. Say thank you
Like your mom always told you, saying thank you is the right thing to do, but research shows that it can also yield concrete benefits in the workplace.
A recent study by Forbes found that organizations that regularly thanked their employees outperformed those that didn’t. And according to a landmark Gallup poll, the No. 1 reason most Americans leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated. In fact, 65 percent of people surveyed said they got zero recognition for good work last year.
Showing gratitude is a vital performance skill that few leaders exercise effectively. They often feel like they’re too busy to give positive feedback, they shouldn’t have to thank people for doing their job, or they should wait until a job is done perfectly before expressing gratitude.
But positive recognition that rewards little steps in the right direction can promote desired behaviors.
When leaders show gratitude in a meaningful way, it elevates employees’ spirits, shows them they’re valued and appreciated, and gives context to the hard work they do every day. But you have to do more than say “good job” at the end of a hard day.
To truly make people feel appreciated, be specific. Describe the action or behavior you want to reinforce, the impact of that behavior, and how it reflects the person’s character. Then, say thank you. This can have a profound impact on people’s lives.
As a leader, you can ignite a culture of gratitude that pays dividends by modeling this behavior. You don’t need to invest in fancy “recognition programs” — you can simply start showing gratitude today.
Your employees are still human underneath the vacant stares, so start treating them like it. Liberate them from the bonds of being task-oriented so they can use their creativity and become passionate about their role in the company’s success. Mix in some tangible appreciation, and you’ll see improvements in every way that you measure success.
Images: “Belgrade, Serbia – October 19, 2013: People dressed as a zombie parades on a street during a zombie walk in Belgrade, The zombie walk is part of the events of a upcoming Serbian SF movie festival./Shutterstock.com“
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The founder and principal of HPWP Consulting, I have been on the forefront of the positive business movement for 30 years. I'm driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.Read Full Bio