Season 3 of AMC’s popular drama, The Walking Dead, premiered October 15 and drew 10.9 million viewers setting a record as the most watched drama episode in cable history. The show focuses on a group of people who have banded together to survive a zombie apocalypse. Along the way they gratuitously eradicate any “walkers” as they call them, by means of pistol, screwdriver, pitchfork, or any other instrument they can turn into a lethal killing device. Though most tune in for the mayhem, an underlying story, that of the survivors battling each other, develops and keeps us glued to the screen. The chaos simultaneously pulls strangers together and rips friends apart. Here are a few business lessons we can learn from this rag tag bands’ inner workings.
- He who makes the tough choices, right or wrong, is the one called leader – Many of the survivors (Shane, Andrea, Carol, and even you Lori) constantly gripe about Rick, our hero’s decisions, but despite the sometimes calamitous outcomes of listening to him, they still follow his lead. Why? Rick isn’t followed just because more often than not he makes a good decision but because he’s the only one capable of taking the criticism surrounding his bad choices, moving on, and coming up with a new plan. In other words he can take the heat when the others can’t. “Holy crap the little girl that I lost was turned into a zombie!” Bam!” Rick shoots her in the head. “Let’s move on!” Strong leaders do what others realize must be done but won’t because they fear judgment. As redneck Daryl put it, Rick does the heavy lifting.
- A shared mission promotes cooperation even when “cultural fit” is lacking – “T-Dog meet Daryl the crossbow wielding redneck. Daryl, meet T-Dog, our team’s only black guy.” Daryl’s brother was handcuffed to the roof of a building and as the zombies rolled in T-Dog lost the key and had to leave Daryl’s racist brother behind to a probable gruesome demise. Despite this these two men from wildly different backgrounds work together in the face of an opposing force. Their differences mean very little when the whole of the world has been zombified. As they continue working together for the greater good, past differences are replaced with mutual respect and cooperation towards their end goal of survival. Though cultures may vary, shared values and a shared company mission can unite a diverse workforce into a formidable power.
- Who cares about cultural fit when you’ve got skills – Cultural fit means very little when the end goal is to survive to see the next day. If you’re handy killing with a pick axe, baseball bat, or samurai sword, then you’re on the team regardless of whether you are red or yellow, black or white. If you can do the job, you’re hired is the point. Few of the Walking Dead survivors would hang out with one another if the world wasn’t overrun with zombies and yet little of that matters when they’ve got the skills to do the job and further the end goal.
- Don’t know how to shoot? No problem we’ll train you! – Most employers want a well trained, batteries included, fully made employee right out of the box and will leave a position vacant if training is required until they find Mr. Perfect. Not so in a zombie apocalypse. Again adversity or rather the shared goal of survival pulls people together. Those who can, do, and those who can’t step up to get trained. “You don’t know how to fire a gun? No problem, here’s how. In fact let’s go practice on this hoard of walkers meandering our way.” Whether your business is in crisis or on smooth seas, you can’t afford to wait around for dream zombie slayers when you have perfectly good people applying. They can just as easily learn to behead a zombie with a scythe as the next guy. Yes, you have to make an investment in them but that is also an investment in your company. When you train people who share your end goal, your company’s survival for example, then odds are they won’t leave before their hard work has more than paid for the cost of their training.
- One bad apple spoils the whole bunch – Some people just can’t handle the pressure. Rick’s best friend Shane griped constantly and consistently tried to undermine Rick’s decisions to the detriment of the whole group. So strong was his desire to survive that he was willing to kill the living even if that meant killing Rick too. So Rick killed him first. Never one to advocate whacking your employees sometimes even your capable ones must be terminated (fired not killed) for the greater good lest they spread strife and dissension throughout your organization. Opposing points of view are good but corrupting the company from within is not.
If you have any additional knowledge of how weathering a zombie apocalypse can help your business survive, I welcome your additional inputs.