Recruiting, Retention, and Rick Grimes

Will you be ready...In case you missed it:  The Walking Dead is a TV show about the zombie apocalypse.

I’m a fan.*

(NB:  Some Season 4 plot points, no real spoilers.)

Life for survivors of this apocalypse is different than it is on Cormac McCarthy’s Road; consorting with other people offers a survival advantage.  Unlike a Gibsonian dystopia, the “haves” aren’t the 1%.

Survivors live or die on their leadership, logistics, and mad weapons skills.

Several years into the apocalypse, there’s no relief in sight.   In fact, there are new risks.  Like the possibility that zombies — called walkers — may now be transmitting a flu-like disease.

Our band of survivors is a core team, plus people who have joined along the way.

They’re organized, and fluid.  Adaptable and creative.  Everyone can kill a zombie; some people have assumed specialized roles.  The group has a culture:  there are shared values.   At this stage, nobody is involved in every decision.  Not even the leaders.

Like a start-up that has managed to scale up to 20-25 people.

They’ve also developed a screening process for new people who wish to join their community.  Namely, they ask 3 questions:

  • How many walkers have you killed?
  • How many people have you killed?
  • Why?

The first question weeds out dead weight.   Anyone who can’t take out a walker puts the entire community at risk.

Question two is a bit more subtle.  There are bad guys out there.   Most survivors have been involved in pivotal “us or them” decisions.  For better and for worse.

The third question is key.  If you’ve experienced the power of asking an open-ended question, you know this to be the most important question.

The questions reflect the group’s circumstances, experience and culture.   Group members listen for answers that reflect group values.

As the season progresses, former sheriff Rick Grimes is pulled back into the leadership position he had abdicated.   We see how he uses the questions when he encounters new people.

Unexpectedly, we then see Rick exploring the third question with someone he already knows.  One of the last living members of his core team — someone Rick has to decide whether to cut loose.

Their discussion sheds light on how each aligns with the group’s core values.

This gives Rick clarity for his decision.

What are your team’s 3 questions?

Photo:  Will you be ready, by Kenny Louie, via Flickr under Creative Commons license.  Yes, that’s the RV!   Flickr is home to some serious TWD minifig awesomeness.   Like Lego Michonne.

*stay tuned for a related blog post — a couple of brief thoughts on genre entertainment in the post-jobs/post-financial apocalypse World.

Things That Don’t Scale — Like Relationships


This century, the US job market has been brought to you by, in part, an experiment in Human Capital:  the failed attempt to scale the hiring process.

Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has written extensively on this and related topics.  He believes that the so-called skills gap is not real.   He asserts that automated screening processes have contributed to creating a faux mis-match between available labor and open jobs.

’One manager told me that in his company 25,000 applicants had applied for a standard engineering job, yet none were rated as qualified.  How could that be?’

Peter Cappelli in TIME, June 2012


This is what happens when we want something human to be transactional, rather than part of a relationship.

And work is about relationships.   We commute, we work with our teams, we provide service to our customers, and so forth  Commuting is fairly transactional.   The rest of it, not so much.

Relationships don’t scale.

When I was part of running a personal services business, we were barraged by resumes from people we didn’t know.  We wanted to hire people who would learn to understand our very particular service offering.

I had been through frustrating work experiences where people didn’t respond to me, even to say “no.”  That hadn’t felt good.

We decided to respond to everyone.   And to add something to the process, we offered free services to every applicant.   My thought was that we’d talk with them after they had sampled our wares, and see if they “got” us.

This turned out to be a very effective screen for us:  almost nobody came in.  It wasn’t overly efficient on the front end; I wrote individual emails and made phone calls.

On the back end, though, we avoided a costly interview process with people who couldn’t be bothered to use our services for free:  people who didn’t really want to work for us.

Later, I had a hideous experience interviewing with a large consulting firm.  It involved automation, and unskilled interviewers.

I didn’t get the job.  (This was a good outcome, for all concerned.)

The bad taste left in my mouth disinclines me to recommend this firm, years later.   Fortunately for them, I don’t purchase multi-million dollar consulting contracts.

Bad, automated front-end experiences with people who might be customers:   a bad idea.

Some parts of the hiring process can be automated.  Many firms don’t send rejection letters.  Why not?   It would be simple to automate, and in a well-mannered way.   A polite “no” could even engender appreciation.

Last week, a Paul Graham blog post was re-tweeted, uh, everywhere.   He talked about the importance of doing things that don’t scale.   (He gave a shout out to a firm that wrote thank you notes.   I’m a sucker for a thank you.)

Your hiring process can build relationships, or it can tear them down.

And because work is about relationships, and not transactions, your hiring process is a good place to do things that don’t scale.

Especially when you might want applicants to be your customers, too.

Photo: Hanson Bros. Scale 04.06.09 [96] by timlewisnm under Creative Commons license