School Climate & Safety Opinion

Cultural Zombies and Vampires, Oh My!

By Emily Douglas-McNab — October 31, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last year around Halloween, a blog was published on Harvard Business Review by Eric Sinoway called, “When to Fire a Top Performer Who Hurts Your Company Culture.” I think about this post frequently, even when it’s not Halloween, as the classification system Eric and his professor Howard Stevenson created when it comes to identifying “employees that help an organization’s culture and those who hurt it” made complete sense!

Eric noted that his former Harvard Business School professor, Howard Stevenson, had told him that “maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.” I couldn’t agree more. This is also something that I work with clients on daily, as the projects I am involved with tend to be sensitive in nature and have the ability to break, batter, or bruise a culture if not thought through carefully.

In Eric and Howard’s book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, theyplace individuals into four groups: Zombies, Vampires, High Potentials, and Stars.

Zombies: Staff members who have mediocre performance and whose behavior does not align with the focus, mission, and culture of the organization. The authors refer to them as “proverbial dead wood.” They don’t really have many followers, they lack real credibility, and overall they don’t add much to the organization. These are the people we tend to focus on when it comes to getting rid of people who don’t do much for our organization. Yet, their destruction comes in the form of who they follow and support - the Vampires.

Vampires: Employees who, due to their performance, acquire influence and power. These employees perform well, yet their aim, intent, and purpose tend to be different (and not in a good way) than that of the organization. These individuals acquire followers who share their values--the Zombies. From my observations, I would add that Vampires essentially suck the lifeblood from High Potentials and Stars. They use tactics such as bullying or deception to undermine others’ work despite what everyone in the organization believes. While they are destructive, they’re hard to get rid of.

High Potentials: Staff who “do the right thing” but need additional support, development, coaching, mentoring, and nurturing to fully develop into Stars. From personal experience, we need these people! They’re positive, excited, and want to make a difference in what we do. They help to prevent the zombies from taking over... whether they realize it or not.

Stars: Employees who “do the right thing” and are supportive of the organizational culture, the work required to build it, make good decisions, support others in a variety of ways, and are high performers but are always working to improve.

As Talent Managers, we must work to protect and build our culture... and Zombies and Vampires are very dangerous when it comes to our High-Po’s and Stars! This becomes even more difficult when you’re in a sector that is going through extreme change--such as K-12 education.

How to you work to manage your culture? How are you keeping the Zombies and Vampires out of your workplace, or at least ensuring they’re not attacking the living, breathing successful people within your organization?

For more information on talent and human capital management in education, you can follow Emily on Twitter at @EmilyDouglasHC. Feel free to share comments or ideas below or on Twitter with the hashtag #K12TalentMgr.

Image courtsey of FreeDigitalPhotos.net user of Anusorn P nachol.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.