Moving from Watchmaker to Beekeeper

By Laurie Taylor

Low morale, low profits, lack of staff engagement, high turnover, rampant gossip – all can be attributed to a company being led by either a Watchmaker or a Beekeeper – care to guess which one is the culprit?

If you guessed Watchmaker, you’re right. Why? 

A Watchmaker, as referred to in James Fischer’s book, Navigating the Growth Curve is a person who wants things that are predictable, something they can control. They want to run their business like a precision machine. They believe that to be effective, a machine must be controlled by its operators. This is the overarching purpose of management – to control the enterprise. They further believe that the machine exists for a purpose conceived of by its builders. Its purpose is to make as much money as possible for its owners.

Nothing wrong with making money, but to create an intentional enterprise that provides sustainable profits over a long period of time, our research suggests that the better approach lies in becoming more of a Beekeeper.

Beekeepers have one foot in the future. They have a natural facility to work with the dangerous sisters of growth: complexity and chaos. Beekeepers are more likely to let the intelligence of the team or ‘hive’ to be the operator instead of themselves. They understand that their business is a living intelligent thing and if allowed, it will come up with far more ideas and solutions than they ever could. The beekeepers business will continually self organize around and through its problems and challenges.

In the book, Horace’s recommendation is for Peter to become more like a Beekeeper in order to capitalize upon the intelligence of his staff. That to try and control them, as he did in the beginning, causing anger, hostility and disengagement, was a downward spiral that he could reverse by simply asking for their input.

This is a lesson that each of us as leaders can’t seem to learn often enough. Seems we run into more Watchmakers than Beekeepers. Why? We make the observation that leaders tend to assume that they should know all the answers and that to ask for input may put them in a negative light in the eyes of their employees.

So ego wins over intellect. 

We would suggest that there is a Beekeeper in all of us but that in our day-to-day struggles to ‘do the right thing’, be ‘responsible’ and ‘act like a leader’, the Watchmaker takes over more often then any of us would like.

The 7 Stages of Growth concepts and programs, offered by FlashPoint! are designed to help leaders predict how that complexity will affect them, focus their efforts and resources on the right things at the right time and adapt to the needs of the company in its particular stage of growth.

So, how do you become a Beekeeper if you think you are more of a Watchmaker and you genuinely want to change?

We suggest there is a process and a mindset that has to change.

Embracing Complexity
The 7 Stages of Growth Model that FlashPoint! utilizes carries this concept to another level in determining that a leader’s ability to manage the complexity of their organization is challenged by the addition of human beings. Therefore, recognizing the impact the human intelligence of your organization can have on your company’s success is paramount.

The Four Step Process to becoming a Beekeeper:

1. Recognize the intelligence of the organization by asking its opinion
As scary as this can be, once you have it behind you, you will be amazed at the results and at the amount of ‘anxiety’ it can take off your plate. Most leaders we work with hesitate at asking the opinion of their staff. It’s normal. Many thoughts enter your head as you think about getting the opinion of every single employee:

  • How can they possibly know enough about the company to give me advice?
  • They’ll just use it as a ‘bitch’ session and I’ve heard enough of that
  • I don’t have time to take their suggestions – I have my own issues to deal with
  • If  I ask them for their opinion, they’ll expect me to do something with it and I have enough to do right now

In every situation where we have had the leader initiate a Stages of Growth X-Ray™, the results have been positive. The awareness of how your managers think is enough sometimes to shake a leader out of their reverie and come down to earth. 

Leadership is about learning and the best way to learn about how your company really thinks and feels is to ask them. Your job will get easier if you figure out what they think instead of trying to second guess them.

2. Filter out the noise from the X-Ray and come up with 5 key initiatives
What’s the ‘noise’? The noise is too many agendas that have people tugging in different directions, unable to focus on issues that really impact the company’s ability to grow. This is simply a lack of communication and dialogue – the X-Ray encourages all voices to be heard. It also puts a name to critical issues. If you can name a problem you can solve a problem. 

You and your management team want to spend significant time going through the valuable information from this exercise and get serious about the issues that can cause overriding performance issues. If there’s an issue that comes up that indicates lack of confidence in the financial stability of the company, that’s a key initiative that should garner some attention.

For example, the knowledge that you are a Stage 3 company and your Builder/Protector Ratio should be 1:1 and it’s 1:4 may explain why implementing any type of change is next to impossible. The Builder/Protector Ratio is also known as the Confidence/Caution Ratio and once understood can mean the difference between average performance and exceptional performance.

A key initiative from the exercise may be to implement a daily discussion of the vision of the company – a Builder/Protector ratio driven by protectors means there is a lack of confidence and that translates to ‘they don’t know where the company is going so how will they know when they get there?’

The goal from the X-Ray process is to figure out the 5 key initiatives that a CEO and his/her team will focus on based on the input from the key employees or management team. Instant buy-in. How can anyone argue with what those key initiatives are when they all had a hand in developing them?

3. Unify the team around this plan that shows short term wins
Once the key initiatives from the X-Ray are identified, the work begins. This information should be distributed to the company either through division meetings or the entire company at one time. 

Each initiative should have a ‘champion’ – someone willing to be the ‘team lead’ on getting to completion. For instance, let’s say one of the initiatives is ‘identify core values’. This initiative addresses a concern that employees aren’t sure what behaviors are acceptable, what behaviors aren’t acceptable and why all decisions have to come from the CEO. Helping employees understand what they can and can’t do allows decisions to be made throughout the organization.

A lot of work? You bet. But the rewards are well worth it. Take the example of a company with 100 employees, a Stage 6 company that was hit hard by the downturn that hit in March, 2000. Hemorrhaging money in January 2001 and already having laid off 30% of their staff, their Assessment results came back with huge concerns about the financial stability of the company. A series of classes engineered by the CFO and the CEO to educate the company on how to read a Cash Flow statement, a P & L Statement, a Balance Sheet and a Budget, netted immediate results. 

Each department was challenged to come up with ‘expenditure’ savings. When they found ways to save money, the teams were rewarded with lunch gift certificates, a massage therapist was brought in for a half day to give out free massages, a picnic was organized so people could celebrate. 

Short term wins are critical in getting plans implemented and completed. The outcome was the company was at breakeven in three months and making a profit in six months. The larger result was not measurable in tangible terms. 

The more important win was that the entire staff was now completely engaged in helping the company make money and helping the company keep money. They were a much more educated group who began to understand the nuances of cash flow vs. profit and leads generated equal revenue. Their attention shifted from ‘why am I paying so much in medical insurance’ to ‘how many new leads did our last sales campaign net us?’

There is nothing easy about running a company. And getting more input will always cause more work to be generated. But the rewards are worth it. A company with 100 people understanding how to drive profit to the bottom line is a much more dynamic vision than 2 – 3 people struggling to maintain control.

4. Put in place natural systems and mechanisms that reinforce self-organizing behavior and work the change over 9 – 12 months.

Natural systems include how people interact together, how work gets done in the absence of sound processes, how teams ebb and flow, how trust gets established and broken. These natural systems are occurrences in your company that you really have no control over. People are human beings before they are employees, husbands, wives or managers.

Left alone, these natural systems find the ‘route of least resistance’. Recognizing that all companies have these natural systems is important. Helping harness these natural systems into more intentional systems and mechanisms is how growth is managed in successful companies.

Mechanisms focus and change behavior. Concepts like ‘open book management’ as outlined in the above example is a mechanism. By implementing this mechanism, the company fundamentally changes how people did their jobs and how they perceived their impact on the company’s bottom line. 

Another powerful mechanism includes ‘performance management’ systems that force, yes force, managers and employees to have weekly or monthly dialogues based on a fine tuned set of issues and expectations that get to the heart of how well the employee is performing and how well the manager is managing. 

Having a ‘decision making template’ for your company is another mechanism that will encourage your staff to take a more definitive role in the running of your company. A mechanism that teaches your staff how to make good decisions is the best empowering tool you can introduce. 

Watchmakers pull in control when bad decisions are made that adversely affect the company. Beekeepers teach their staff how to make good decisions so they can release the brain damaging exercise called ‘second guessing’ that demotivates employees and causes employees to become ‘robots’ who simply carry out orders. You will work a lot harder as a Watchmaker than you will as a Beekeeper.

Mechanisms are critical tools for Beekeepers to utilize in order to create an intentional enterprise. 

Practice being a Beekeeper and minimize the amount of time you spend as a Watchmaker. The results will be empowering for your staff and rewarding for you, the leader.