Despite the global pandemic, economic difficulties and personal struggles that we are all facing, I can’t help but feel a little more positive now that Spring has finally arrived.
As a chartered certified accountant from an apiarist (beekeeping) family, it’s fair to say I find inspiration in unusual places. I’ve been enjoying watching the worker honey bees make the most of the warmer sunny days to venture out from the hive and discover some nectar from the newly emerging flowers. Within the hive there is even more activity. Only a few months ago in the coldest and darkest of times a skeleton workforce of dedicated bees kept the hive alive. But now there is a frenzy of activity on an industrial scale, preparing, growing and building, in order to optimise performance in the summer.
It’s hard for me not to drawn comparisons between the challenges faced by my hive dwelling friends and our clients’ businesses and other organisation. This has led me to ponder the question: what can bees teach us about business?
1. Make the most of business opportunities
Take advantage of favourable conditions and opportunities as they may arise (or in the words of my father ‘make hay while the sun is shining’). Making these forward-looking steps at the correct time for your business can help you to become that little bit closer to your long-term business goals. Please note this philosophy should be clearly differentiated from ‘spend now and don’t worry about tomorrow’ which I would advise against!
2. Encourage teamwork and planning
When viewing the efficiency of bees, you could almost imagine that they had read a book by Adam Smith or Henry Ford. Each worker performs their task with precision and efficiency, even when obstacles are placed in their way. With teamwork the problem is resolved, sometimes in the most ingenious ways.
I would not go so far as to say a factory style of production is best for every business, as different sectors function in such different ways. But we should not overlook the fact that the honed skills, expertise and the dedication of each member of staff are tremendously valuable to each business. Content staff who are confident and experienced in their roles will provide synergy to the operations of the business. In the words of Aristotle: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In addition, it should be noted that, wherever possible, systems, procedures and training should be implemented to ensure that no one task can only be performed by a single member of the team.
3. Make the best use of the resources available
You may not have the largest business, the most expensive equipment or a 60,000 strong workforce (the number of bees in an average hive at midsummer), but it is still important to make the very best of the resources you possess – both tangible and intangible.
Making small marginal gains across a number of areas of the business can make a significant improvement to the bottom line. So, although it may not be revolutionary or exciting, review the possible use for redundant machinery, check the position of old and obsolete stock, monitor idle staff time and review the cause of production downtime.
4. Plan for times of austerity
Just like bees must prepare for the winter months, businesses too should make necessary plans for harder times. This includes building up adequate reserves during better times or maintaining debt to equity ratios within prudent levels, so that a business can survive leaner periods or an unexpected blindside event. Unfortunately, we cannot predict global economic downturns and pandemics with the same precision as the bees can sense the seasons changing. But good contingency planning is key to long-term survival.
By understanding these basic and seemingly universal principals, I hope that we can all look back at our business performance at the end of the year and be pleased with the progress made towards our strategic objectives, so that just like the bees, business owners can enjoy the rewards of their dedication and hard work.
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