As Busy as a Bee: A Look at Performance Management

Once upon a time, there were two bee-keepers that each had a beehive. The bee-keepers worked for a company called Bees Inc. The Company’s customers loved its honey and wanted the business to produce more honey than it had the previous year.

Bees Inc.

As a result of the increase in demand, Bees Inc. wanted each bee-keeper to produce more honey at the same quality. With different ideas about how to do this, the bee-keepers designed different performance management approaches to improve the performance of their respective hives.

Performance Management Approach 1

The first bee-keeper established a bee performance management approach that measured how many flowers each bee visited. At considerable cost to the bee-keeper, an extensive measurement system was created to count the flowers each bee visited. The bee-keeper provided feedback to each bee at mid-season on his individual performance, but the bees were never told about the hive’s goal to produce more honey so that the company could increase honey sales. The bee-keeper created special awards for the bees who visited the most flowers.

Performance Management Approach 2

The second bee-keeper also established a bee performance management approach, but this approach communicated to each bee the goal of the hive — to produce more honey. The bee-keeper and his bees measured two aspects of their performance: the amount of nectar each bee brought back to the hive and the amount of honey the hive produced. The performance of each bee and the hive’s overall performance were charted and posted on the hive’s bulletin board for all bees to see. The bee-keeper created a few awards for the bees that gathered the most nectar, but he also established a hive incentive programme that rewarded each bee in the hive based on the hive’s production of honey—the more honey produced the more recognition each bee would receive.

The Results

At the end of the season, the bee-keepers evaluated their approaches. The first bee-keeper found that his hive had indeed increased the number of flowers visited, but the amount of honey produced by the hive had dropped. The Queen Bee reported that because the bees were so busy trying to visit as many flowers as possible, they limited the amount of nectar they would carry so they could fly faster. Also, because the bees felt they were competing against each other for awards (since only the top performers were recognised) they would not share valuable information with each other (like the location of the flower-filled fields they’d spotted on the way back to the hive) that could have helped improve the performance of all the bees. (After all was said and done, one of the high performing bees told the bee-keeper that if he’d been told that the real goal was to make more honey rather than to visit more flowers, he would have done his work completely differently). As the bee-keeper handed out the awards to individual bees, unhappy buzzing was heard in the background.

The second bee-keeper, however, had very different results. Because each bee in his hive was focused on the hive’s goal of producing more honey, the bees had concentrated their efforts on gathering more nectar in order to produce more honey than ever before. The bees worked together to determine the highest nectar-yielding flowers and to create quicker processes for depositing the nectar they’d gathered.

They also worked together to help increase the amount of nectar gathered by the poor performers. The Queen Bee of this hive reported that the poor performers either improved their performance or transferred to the other hive. Because the hive had reached its goal, the bee-keeper awarded each bee his portion of the hive incentive payment. The bee-keeper was also surprised to hear a loud, happy buzz and a jubilant flapping of wings as he rewarded the individual high-performing bees with special recognition.

Moral of the Strory

"Measuring and recognising accomplishments rather than activities (and giving feedback to the worker bees) usually improves the results of the hive"

Although the story somewhat simplifies performance management, the bee-keepers’ story illustrates the importance of measuring and recognising results (outputs) (i.e. the amount of honey production per hive) rather than activities (i.e. number of flowers visited).

Activities, Output and Outcomes

The diagram illustrates the relationship of individual team and organisational performance objectives and the different type of performance management measures that the bee-keepers should have used.

Activities are the actions taken to produce results and are generally described using verbs. In the bee-keeper fable, the activity being measured was visiting flowers.

Outputs are the products or services (i.e. the results) of employee and work unit activities and are generally described using nouns. The examples of outputs used in the fable include the amount of nectar each bee collected and the honey production for the hive.

Outcomes are the final results of an organisation’s products and services. The example of an outcome used in the bee-keeper story was increased sales of honey for Bees Inc. Other examples of outcomes include:

  • Reduce the number of transportation-related deaths
  • Improved fish hatcheries
  • A decrease in the rate of teenage alcoholism
  • Clean air

Reflection Questions:

  1. Thinking about your own organisation, identify a set of ACTIVITIES, OUTPUTS and OUTCOMES
  2. Take a few minutes to explore the relationship of each of the ACTIVITIES to the OUTPUTS and the OUTCOMES – are the connections clear? If not what suggestions do you have for making them more explicit?
  3. What improvements can you implement to ACTIVITIES to improve the quality of the OUTPUTS and OUTCOMES?

Share your thoughts...

One Comment

  • Domnica Cotet commented on May 5, 2016

    This is a very good example to use when you teach people about Management and performance in management.
    Thank you very much John to share it with us.

About the Author

John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.

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