Undead Defense: 5 Ways to Survive Zombie Apocalypse & Business Transformation

As pop culture makes us ever-aware, few predicaments are as dire and imminent as the Zombie Apocalypse. As much as we try to take the evidence and media examples in stride, it’s hard to escape a sense of helplessness. In the business world, we live with the equally unsettling likelihood of business transformation failure. In his 1996 book Leading Change, Harvard Business School Professor John P. Kotter brought the failure of and prescription for transformations into focus. Fifteen years later, adoption of Kotter’s change principles notwithstanding, McKinsey & Co. research indicated that about 70% of enterprise change efforts are doomed. It’s a time of catastrophic odds for business and humanity. Munz, et al., in their pioneering work “When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection” deliver the crux and call to arms regarding walkers that serves also for workers, “An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead.”

Get aggressive about transformation success with these five steps:
1. Eradicate Issues – One or two zombies in an open space is more sport than threat, but in numbers and in close proximity the menace multiplies exponentially. And so it is with transformation issues. A misaligned goal, an unclear role, a process inconsistency, or a technical complexity can all be outmaneuvered in the light of day on an open field.  But in combination and in the haze of day-to-day execution they close in and threaten scope, timing, and budget. We must vigilantly identify and eliminate issues and manage risks.
2. Eliminate Opposition – Even one ungrateful undead can be fatal, both directly and through those they infect. It’s the same with transformation stakeholders. Regardless of level and function, they influence others and the ranks of infected will grow. Those who oppose your program are an ongoing threat to its success. An exact accounting of allegiance and relentless conversion is required. According to Munz, “the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often.”
3. Use Blunt Force – An untimely misfire or an emptied firearm creates a lot of unnecessary stress and death. Out of arrows? Axe stuck in a wall or a previous zombie? Uh-oh. The broader the scope of a transformation program, the more tempting to use complex weapons. Perhaps sophisticated modeling tools, an enterprise program management suite, highly customized systems, or expensive consultants. Use what it takes without adding unnecessary complexity.  This is why the Zombie Research Society recommends the standard aluminum baseball bat.
4. Keep Moving – It’s unnerving to watch the paralyzing fear that overcomes the living in their first (and often last) encounter with a walker, and who among us has not wondered if we would dash, bash or be dined upon? The response to major change can be abrupt and gruesome. Forceful objections will span the gamut from strategic fit to personal perspective and there will be moments of doubt and disorientation where stopping to reconsider is automatic. If you’ve done your homework, don’t panic. Engage and contend. Keep moving forward.
5. Stick Together – How many more times will we see petty disagreements and personal drama become the distractions that end lives?  In Zombieland, conflict equals casualties.  In the heat of today’s transformational work, it’s easy to become critical and narrow-minded.  After all, no one asked for market conditions to change, for customers and competitors to get smarter, or for a bold strategic shift.  A time without transformation is a bygone (if ever was) era.  And unified purpose and execution will deliver the transformation and the team.

In their final estimation, Munz urges, “if zombies arrive, we must act quickly and decisively to eradicate them before they eradicate us.”  It is a mathematical certainty.  We must act just as aggressively to ensure the success of our business transformations, which for our companies are a matter of life, death… and undeath!

What approaches do you recommend to keep transformation programs from meeting a grisly fate?

2 thoughts on “Undead Defense: 5 Ways to Survive Zombie Apocalypse & Business Transformation

  1. Great post, nothing like some “walkers” to help better explain business transformation! I followed the link to Munz’s work, and was immediately brought back to your comment about “70% of enterprise change efforts are doomed.” Why do humans inevitably fail in a zombie apocalypse? Lending from Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change, we see what happens when humans fail create a “sense of urgency.” In every modern zombie movie/series out there, humans almost always begin with a very conservative approach of quarantine and treatment, two Band-Aid scenarios that do little to mitigate the underlying cause. As we saw in the models, both end in a complete takeover (i.e. failure). In this the case of a zombie attack, as in business transformation, we should recognize the need for a sense of urgency and “act aggressively to ensure success.” Great food for thought, especially for those of us who watch a certain zombie apocalypse show. Thanks to you I’ll be thinking about business transformation while watching the next episode!

    • Great thoughts on urgency, Dan. This really hits home for me. Even though we’re making steady progress in our current eBusiness Transformation efforts, we have to diligently compare “steady” vs. “transformative” and determine if our rate of change is enough. Even with leaders, business partners, and a strong team propelling us to “act aggressively,” sometimes it’s more comfortable to reach for the Band-Aids and hope for the best. Comfortable only precipitates a gruesome fate (we’ve seen those episodes)! Thanks for the timely reminder… and sorry for bringing any despair into your zombie-watching!

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