From office heroes to office zombies; coaching is the key

As a leader, I bet that you can easily categorise the members of your team if I ask you to.

Who are the office heroes, who are the extras and who are the dreaded working dead, the office zombies?

The Office Heroes

These people are chock-full of passion, energy, ideas and vision. They never give the bare minimum of effort on any project you pass to them; they’ll grab the task with both hands, expand the scope of it and bring you results better than you could have imagined.

They’re also cultural superheroes, the ultimate defenders of team morale. They make a real effort to connect with all of their colleagues, know the name of everyone’s kids and gleefully take on the role of Team Birthday Coordinator. They keep your team running like clockwork when you’re away, and they bring their A-game every single day – almost. After all, they’re still human, right?


The Office Extras

Office Extras are much like extras in the movies; they stand around in the background, not bothering anyone much, keeping quiet and doing as they’re told. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not going to cause you any great trouble or stress – but nor are they going to set the corporate world alight.

They’ve probably been in their role for quite a few years, and their enthusiasm has been slowly worn away by bureaucracy, constant change and just, well, the same old-same old that comes with long service. They’re as reliable as a steady old car, but sometimes what you really need is a sporty little number that has flair, style and is capable of hitting top speed when you need it.


The Walking Dead

These are the Office Extras to the power of a million. Their motivation had a DNR order slapped on it years ago, and now they are going through the motions, doing very little good and a whole lot of bad.  For it is the darker side of the Office Zombie that is the real problem; like zombies from all good horror movies, they’re not content to be taken down alone. They’ve got to (metaphorically) bite into the necks of the Heroes and take them over to the dark side too. Not content until they’ve infected the entire team with the poison of their disillusion, they are the real ones to keep a wary eye on.

So, as the leader, how on earth do you get the most from the people in these varying groups?

Meeting the needs of your team

  • Well, the Office Heroes might seem like the group that need the least attention; after all they’re motivated, smart and getting the job done. But in fact you need to nurture your Heroes by coaching them to the greatness that they are clearly capable of – give them a plan, develop them, stretch them, use them in areas where you are weak and they are strong. Look ahead five years: if you don’t give your Heroes a vision for their successful future, they might just become the next generation of Office Extras.
  • And speaking of Extras? Well, you need to get serious with them. This is where coaching can really come into its own. Often the Extras can be restored to the Heroes that they once were, with realignment between their passion and their everyday job. Ok, they’ve lost that loving feeling - but their commitment to their job and their team shows that there’s still a beating heart under there, casting around for something to get lost in again. So take your time with them, uncover what they really care about, make sure they’re heard, and work with them to create a plan that will move them into a role where they can really fly.
  • And the Office Zombies? Well, for starters if you’re going to get up close and personal, wear armour. Remember that you believe in your company, you value your mission, you love your team – or their carping from the side-lines may just begin to wear you down, too. Zombies are at their most infectious when they get right up close - but it’s only by getting close, and having really honest, even difficult, conversations, that you’ll be able to tell if they’re really the walking, working dead, or if there is a spark inside them that you know you can kindle back into a flame.


Coaching is the key

As a leader, I’ve managed very few people who are so demotivated that I would class them as a true Office Zombie. There is a spark that can potentially be reignited in almost everyone and it’s your duty as a leader never to give up on any willing member of your team. Coaching is the key to building brilliant relationships with absolutely everyone in your team, no matter their situation, attitude or potential.

However, should you encounter a true Office Zombie, wish them well if they choose to move on. As a leader, you have to let people shine, and if that’s not going to happen in your organisation, then wave them off into the sunset, hopefully to become the Office Hero of their new adventure.