I may be taking a bit of liberty with this old joke here, but chickens and bees have one thing in common – they are both living entities. Our relationships with chickens and bees are very different as we have both diverging patterns of behavior, and different attitudes toward each species. For example, we buy and own chickens, build them roosts, feed them, count the eggs they lay, and discuss their productivity over breakfast. We know they are alive, but we think of them as dependent on us for food, safety, and security. Our relationship is based on the assumption that it is our right to control all the critical aspects of their lives which gives us the right to their productivity – eggs!
Bees are also alive, but our relationship with them is based on attraction, not control. We have the same relationship with bees as Nature does – we depend on them to generate fruits and vegetables through pollination. Without bees, we would have to pollinate all of our fruits and vegetables by hand (just imagine that for a moment!) Just as flowers use different colors, shapes, and pheromones to attract bees, we also must attract bees so they create beneficial hives close to our orchards or crops.
Your relationship with your employees
Is your organization treating your employees like chickens or bees? This may seem like an odd question, but most of us work in organizations that are designed around control systems. For example, our HR processes are often designed to control and shape employee behavior. We call this “holding employees accountable” and we do this through job descriptions, performance reviews, and compensation packages. Just like our chickens, we create a dependency relationship by paying employees as long as they are contributing to productivity.
What if we began to treat people like bees instead? How can we attract people to our organizations, so they actively self-organize and contribute their time and talents to the organizational ecosystem? What would need to change to create an environment where attraction replaced command and control? Do we even have a clear picture of how supervision would change if we assumed our employees had autonomy and freedom of choice, instead of being dependent on a supervisor for direction?
The post-pandemic workplace
This may seem like a fun exercise to imagine the difference between leading based on attraction vs. leadership based on control. However, I believe we are seeing the need to shift our leadership and management right now. We are receiving feedback that people are seeking different experiences coming out of the pandemic than before the pandemic as we experience labor shortages and competitive marketplaces for talent.
The organization that can figure out how to attract talent and create a sense of belonging for employees will easily retain the talent they need. Conversely, the organizations that double down on command and control after two years of remote working will continue to struggle with attracting and retaining talent. Now more than ever before, we all need to reimagine what leadership looks like when it is based on attraction.