High performance in an organization or with a project team is never an accident. There’s a blending of the right ingredients at the right time. There’s a catalyst somewhere in the process, and much like that favorite meal mom used to prepare on your birthday, there’s an intangible passion or love for the effort shared by the participants. But first, there are the ingredients—carefully selected and apportioned in just the right amounts, that ultimately create that incredible outcome.

Three Ingredients of High Performance to Rule Them All:

Let’s focus on three of the ingredients of high performance that are more equal than others:

  • A focus on vision
  • A values-driven orientation
  • A relentless, full court press to translate the above two (vision and values) into meaningful plans.

How many of the above three key ingredients do you see in play in your organization?

For most organizations I encounter, the number is somewhere around zero. OK, if I average things out, maybe it’s slightly less than one.

There are, of course, exceptions. We celebrate those in our management books and study them in MBA classes.

But in general, here’s what I see and hear:

  • People struggle to articulate the aspirations of their organization.
  • The answers to the question: “What are the firm’s core values?” tend to focus on beer, work-life balance (whatever the hell that is), and occasionally, pizza.
  • Questions about strategy or plans intended to strengthen the firm’s market, customer, and financial success, are mostly met with blank stares.
  • Changes announced by top leaders are met with fear, confusion, and resistance.


Leaders, this isn’t that hard. It’s hard work, but the recipe to high performance isn’t locked in a vault like the formula for Coca Cola.

Given the locomotive power of a vision well-defined, values well-established, and a plans well-understood, it is amazing but no longer surprising how little time those at the top of leadership charts actually put into bringing all three to life.

It’s as if we’ve created the Zombie Apocalypse inside our organizations.

Sure Signs Your Firm Has Succumbed to the Zombie Apocalypse:

In your organization, are people mostly wandering aimlessly, bumping into each other in their search for sustenance, meaning, and self-justification?

Are they focusing on the political environment while ignoring the real challenges posed by competitors, technologies, and changing customers?

Are all forms of aberrant behaviors tolerated or ignore?

Do you feel like every day is more of a battle with adversaries supposedly in your army?

Yep, zombie apocalypse.

Those at the Top Should Know Better:

I wish I were exaggerating.

I suppose if you’ve never been part of an organization where vision, values, and meaningful, engaged planning have interoperated to create that catalytic effect where teams and associates run through walls to achieve success, you cannot relate to this with the same burning passion and frustration I feel.

Those critical ingredients create a catalytic effect that is a wonder to behold and a privilege to participate in at the time

Those in leadership roles should get this. There are no excuses for ignoring these issues.

I should not be able to come into your organization and through fairly casual observation conclude that people are wandering aimlessly, groaning, and looking for something to give meaning to their work.

What You Can Do to End the Zombie Apocalypse:

My encouragement, if you perceive one or more of those ingredients are missing from your workplace:

Pass this article along to someone with a big title (preferably the CEO) with the question, “Hey, what is our vision, anyway?”

Worried you will be food for the political zombies? Print it out and place it anonymously on someone’s desk (preferably the CEO’s) with the hand-written terms: Vision? Values? Plans to Win?

Create a milk-carton type missing note and tape it to restroom stalls. (Recruit someone to help.) Missing: vision, values, plans. Last seen: never. Impact: without them, we’re all zombies.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Or, you can do the right thing and courageously and relentlessly (that word again) ask questions and strive to seek and help create clarity. If they don’t do it at the top, start the revolution from the middle! Let’s end the Zombie Apocalypse in our organizations.

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Leadership Books by Art Petty