1. Have the right CEO!

The success of a beehive is defined by the queen bee. As only female, she ponds all the eggs (up to 1500 per day during the season!) and it is her DNA that that will impact the whole bee colony. With her pheromones, she brings harmony and organisation amongst all 60.000 bees. She sets direction for the entire colony. Modern bee keepers know this very well and select their queen bees on different criteria: nectar collection, speed of colony expansion during spring, reduced aggression, resistance against diseases, reduced swarm drift, …

The difference between an average queen bee and a great queen bee is huge. It simply doubles or triples your honey harvest and makes it less painful to work with the bees.

When I started beekeeping, I could not care less. I was fascinated by the bees and was very happy with this. But after being confronted a few times with almost no honey or plenty of stings and therefore having talked to colleague bee keepers, you start changing your view: you want to get more out of your leisure. When I see that a certain colony does not perform well, I don’t hesitate and change the queen bee. Every 2 to 3 years, I change all queen bees as there is a drop in performance as from the second year.

Also the boards of directors of companies should choose the right CEO, in line with the company’s aspirations. They should also assess at regular moment if the fit is still there and otherwise take courageous actions.

2. Grow but don’t let the big size be a burden for your success! Or: small is beautiful!

The queen bee produces pheromones that create harmony and identity in the bee colony. It remains after all these years of bee keeping so amazing that 60.000 creatures get so well along with each other. It is also interesting to see that this is the threshold and maximum capacity of a beehive. When a colony grows very fast during spring and weather conditions and nectar supply are outstanding, it protects itself against losing harmony and becoming inefficient. The pheromones do not reach every bee anymore. At that moment half of the beehive will swarm and build a new colony elsewhere to continue the growth.

Also when I want to experiment with new techniques, I build a new, small beehive so that I don’t disrupt my ‘production’ beehives. At the end of the season, I easily can merge the 2 hives into one without any risk.

Companies definitely can learn from this: they should consider if it is wishful to realize further growth and expansion within the same structures. Sometimes it is more meaningful and less disruptive to create (like a swarm) a spin-off or joint-venture outside their main organisation and structures. Identify what are the pheromones that are keeping your organisation together and make sure you reach everyone in the company. 

3. Accountability leads to efficiency and clear career paths support this.

Accountability leads to efficiency and efficiency leads to… the liquid gold: honey! Bee colonies are super-organised and efficient. Think about the hexagonal concentric pattern of the honey combs, which provides strength and maximum capacity to stock honey. Even more important is the way a beehive is organised: 60.000 bees in less than ½ cubic meter require some organisation and housekeeping!

The reason why beehives are so well organised is clear accountabilities and career paths in the 6 to 8 weeks life of a worker bee.

When a worker bee is born, the first days of her life, she is cleaning the cells around her so that they are ready to stock honey or brood. After 10 days, she starts producing wax particles and starts building brand new cells. Then they stock pollen or honey and heat the combs by moving very fast their wings so that the water from the honey evaporates and that the honey becomes thick and conserves. Another next task is protecting the beehive for intruders. And there are many intruders: wasps, mice, a sheep that wants to rub against the hive and of course: men.

Only the last 2 to 4 weeks of her life, the worker bee will leave the hive and fly out to collect nectar.

What can companies learn from this? Clear accountabilities at the right moment of your employee lifecycle lead to great performance and harmony. Don’t burn your young talents too fast. Send your most experienced people to the outside, to your clients. Often too young, unexperienced people have to represent your company. 

4. A word about gender diversity.

And now we are at the complex part of beekeeping ;-). The bees teach us also that male are the weakest gender. Beside the queen bee, the other worker bees are – although not contributing actively to the precreation – also female. In a colony of approx. 60.000 bees, only 800 are drones (=male bees). The drones do not really contribute to the organisation. Their only role – and even limited to a happy few – is to spread the DNA to other colonies. And now even more cruel : as the drone bees are born from an ovum that is not inseminated (=parthenogenesis), they all are killed in August  by the female worker bees as the beehive is preparing for winter and male are only consuming the honey stock.

Morale: one of the most complex and performant eco-systems is purely female. I let you, reader, deduct what companies can learn from this…

5. Worthwhile to take into consideration…

Big companies suffer often getting their teams aligned on objectives, keeping the noses in the same directions and keeping up performance.  Perhaps they could get inspired how nature gets things organised.