Watchmaker or Beekeeper: Does it Really Make Difference?

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 predictable things, 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 is wrong with making money, but to create an intentional enterprise that provides sustainable profits over a long 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 team’s intelligence 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 Beekeeper’s business will continually self organize around and through its problems and challenges.

In Navigating the Growth Curve, Horace’s recommendation is for Peter to become more like a Beekeeper to capitalize upon his staff’s intelligence. Trying to control them, as he did in the beginning, caused anger, hostility, and disengagement leading to a downward spiral that he could reverse by merely asking for their input.

This is a lesson that each of us, as leaders, can’t seem to learn often enough. It seems we run into more Watchmakers than Beekeepers. Why? We observe 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 their employees’ eyes.

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 than any of us would like.

The 7 Stages of Growth concepts and programs offered by Workplaces are designed to help leaders predict how complexity will affect them, focus their efforts and resources on the right things at the right time and adapt to the company’s needs 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 Workplaces utilize carries this concept to another level in determining that the addition of human beings challenges a leader’s ability to manage the complexity of their business. Therefore, recognizing the impact your company’s human intelligence can have on your company’s success is paramount.

The Four-Step Process to becoming a Beekeeper:

  1. Recognize the intelligence of the company by asking its opinion

As scary as this can be, once you have it behind you, you will be amazed at the results and 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 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 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 the leader initiates a “Stages of Growth X-Ray™, the results have been positive. The awareness of how you (and your managers) think is enough sometimes to shake a leader out of their trance and come down to earth.

Leadership is about learning, and the best way to learn about how your company thinks and feels is to ask them. Your job will get more comfortable if you figure out what they think instead of guessing every second.

  1. Filter out the noise from the X-Ray and come up with five 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 impact its 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 on critical issues. If you can name a problem, you can solve a problem.

You and your 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 indicates a lack of confidence in its financial stability, that’s a critical 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 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 X-Ray process aims to figure out the five 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 were when they all had a hand in developing them?

  1. 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 group and individual 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 behaviours are acceptable, what actions aren’t sufficient 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 company.

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 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 company’s financial stability. 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 critical win was that the entire staff was now wholly engaged in helping the company make money and keep the money. They were a much more educated group that understood 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.

  1. Put in place natural systems and mechanisms that reinforce self-organizing behaviour 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, and how trust is established and broken. These natural systems are occurrences in your company that you 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 essential. Helping harness these natural systems into more intentional systems and mechanisms is how growth is managed in successful companies.

Mechanisms focus on and change behaviour. 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 performs 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 your company’s running. A mechanism that teaches your team how to make the right 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 to release the brain-damaging exercise called ‘second-guessing’ that demotivates employees and causes employees to become ‘robots’ who 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 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.

Join us April 4-5, 2024, for a game-changing workshop to scale your business, presented in partnership with ATB Financial.