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.



I’ve lived in the same building since the 90s. New York, my neighborhood, and the world have roiled with change. My home has been remarkably stable.

This stability is partly due to a group of people who have worked in the building since before I moved in.

It’s a nice building. Reflecting on why I stay, the building’s amenities are second to the team who keeps it running.

Recently, the wonderful man who ran our front desk left. In every circumstance — forgotten keys, broken elevators, 9/11 — his humanity and calm professionalism have been simply world class.

Residents were shocked. He had recently been promoted, and we’d seen no sign of his discomfort.

Yet after close to 20 years, when he left, he didn’t have another job.

When someone’s performing well, it hurts when they leave unexpectedly.

It’s life. People move on. Sometimes, it’s not in your control.

The Stay interview is one way to learn why our employees choose to work for us. Then, we can decide what we can influence, if not control.

We make implicit and explicit promises in our recruiting processes. And after someone joins us, we continue to make promises.

My focus in a Stay interview: why did an employee join us? What promises have they heard us make? Are we keeping our promises?

Sometimes, employees hear promises we’re not actually making. Sometimes, we make promises we can’t keep — or that don’t fit an employee’s timeline.

By identifying where we’re not aligned, it’s possible to find solutions.

Example:  Beth wants to be promoted. She’s qualified, and performing well. Yet we don’t have an open spot, and don’t know when we will. To us, this might not feel like a problem. To Beth, it might feel like career disaster. And without knowing it, we’re at risk. We might lose her.

Stay interviews might uncover some of your Beths, and help you to act to retain them. If you can’t promote Beth today, maybe you can give her a project to keep her learning, and to position her for that next open spot.

You, your lead on People, individual managers — anyone whose interview skills are proven — can do Stay interviews.  An experienced third party can also be useful. Done well, you can aggregate results, and identify themes that offer broader organizational actions and solutions.

(As an aside, bargaining with someone who has already quit? In the long term, rarely useful. But that’s another topic.)

Photo:  Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive. – Hafiz, by Jennifer (SweetOnVeg) via Flickr, under Creative Commons License.