“If we think about what happens in a human conversation, bees do seem to converse. Like us, they pass information, evaluate, respond, and reevaluate as new information emerges. We both pass on nuanced, complex signals…Most significantly we – and bees – often change our behavior based on a conversation, which is one of the hallmarks of a social interaction. Bees respond to each other, which is one of the core reasons we relate so strongly to them.”
— Mark L. Winston, Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive
Please consider this post as a small nudge to direct your work as an internal communicator. We are often encouraged to think differently outside the box but for this post I invite you to think differently inside your hive and have the humility to believe, that if you are open, even a honeybee can be a teacher.
I devoted 3 summers just outside of Starbuck Manitoba, Canada working with honeybees. I was not a beekeeper, rather I was a bee convenor as I wanted to bring together the world of honeybees and humans. I wanted to learn if you could engage bees in their work and I wanted to study their social ways of working to learn lessons for our methods of organizational communication.
During part of the project, the bees had a Twitter account as I placed live connected computers into the hive. I invited people to tweet the bees and I donated money to overcoming colony collapse disorder based on the number of tweets the bees received. As I was planning this phase of the experiment, I told my mentor, Aganetha Dyck – a well-known Canadian artist, “of course I don’t expect the bees to text.” She corrected me instantly saying, “honeybees can text!”
The image below is one of Aganetha’s works of art. The text is beautiful. The bees do not know the meaning of the text but they can respond to the structural invitation to fill in the holes with their honeycomb. This is an exquisite example of collaboration between human and honeybees, the power of structure, and an inspiration for us as internal communicators to foster powerful collaboration in our organization.
Here are 5 nudges to help you think about your role and function as an Internal Communicator:
Dance. Waggle while your work. Honeybees use an upside-down figure-8 waggle dance in the dark to communicate to the rest of the organization about rich sources of nectar and possible new locations for the organization. Honeybees use the waggle as a democratic process to choose the best new location if they decide to move. You don’t have to dance like Ellen DeGeneres, but you can use the tools of Poppulo to (waggle) communicate with your organization about important resources and to make important organizational decisions. In addition, you have the advanced analytic tools to help determine your success so that you are not dancing in the dark.
Drum. My project ended a few years ago, but I have just been learning about the drumming of honeybees. According to research cited in the New Scientist older honeybees may drum on other bees to mobilize them and to engage in work. Internal communicators can help everyone in the organization march to the beat of the same drum. Poppulo gives us custom email and other tools to align and engage the organization. I think of the drum as the heart beat in an organization — ensure you are offering a strong robust heartbeat to the entire organization.
Value. Honeybees add value. The contribution of pollinators to food crop pollination around the globe is estimated at $197 billion. Of the one hundred crop species, which provide 90% of food worldwide, seventy-one of these are bee-pollinated. Of course, that does not even include that magnificent food, honey. The lesson is clear for internal communicators, add value. Know the value you create in the organization and attach your work to the strategic objectives and long term strategy of the organization. Internal communications must contribute to revenue. It cannot be a cost center sapping resources from the rest of the organization.
Small. Small touches make a big difference. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating the United States’ almond crop. Their contribution to the economic production of almonds is estimated at two billion dollars a year. Yet each individual bee, pollinates just nineteen cents worth of almonds. Although you must attach your work to the big strategic objectives and you have an eye on the big picture never neglect how the multitude of small and momentary tasks you do can add up to major and significant contributions to your workplace. I like to say that small is the new significant but only if we ensure it is attached to what is most significant in the organization. Plan with strategy but act in seconds – contemplate months while making moments count.
Precise. Be exacting in your structural specificity. Honeycomb construction is a precise art: a cell’s wall thickness is 0.073mm plus or minus 0.002mm., the angle between adjacent cell walls is exactly one hundred and twenty degrees, and each comb is constructed 0.95 cm from its neighbor, while one kilogram of cells can support 22 kilograms of honey, over 20 times its own weight. We are fully embedded in the age of analytics. As Internal Communicators, we must become adept at the tools of analytics and familiar with the numbers we are generating. Use precision in your work and analytics to ensure you are not only reaching the right audience but playing a role in mobilizing all employees and gathering their voices and contributions.
Conclusion. This article was not meant as a diversion from work. The purpose was for you to catch the buzz and encourage you to see the value of your roles and functions within the organization. Adopt, adapt, and engage in the tools of your work to make a difference for both yourself and your organization.