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Joy Wilson

Spectrum Training services

Learning and Development Consultant

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YemBees A story about performance management


Once upon a time in Yemen, there were two beekeepers who each had a beehive. The beekeepers worked for a company called YemBees Ltd.  The company’s customers loved its honey and wanted the business to produce more honey than it had the previous year.  As a result, each beekeeper was told to produce more honey at the same quality.

With different ideas about how to do this, the beekeepers designed different approaches to improve the performance of their hives.

YemBees - Beekeeper 1

  • The first beekeeper established a bee performance management approach that measured how many flowers each bee visited.   At considerable cost to the beekeeper, an extensive measurement system was created to count the flowers each bee visited.
  • The beekeeper provided feedback to each bee at midseason on his individual performance, but the bees were never told about the hive’s goal to produce more honey so that YemBees Ltd could increase honey sales.

The beekeeper created special awards for the bees who visited the most flowers

YemBees - Beekeeper 2

  • The second beekeeper also established a bee performance management approach, but this approach communicated to each bee the goal of the hive—to produce more honey. 
  • This beekeeper 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 beekeeper created a few awards for the bees that gathered the most nectar, but he also established a hive incentive program 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.

YemBees – Prediction

What  do you think might have happened to each hive at the end of the season when the Queen Bee would report back to each Beekeeper?

YemBees Beekeeper 1 at the end of the season

The first beekeeper 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 (because only the top performers were recognized), 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 beekeeper 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 beekeeper handed out the awards to individual bees, unhappy buzzing was heard in the background.

YemBees Beekeeper 2 at the end of the season

The second beekeeper, 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 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 another hive.

Because the hive had reached its goal, the beekeeper awarded each bee his portion of the hive incentive payment.

The beekeeper 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.


  • Design your systems carefully because they will affect the behaviour of your staff
  • Measuring and recognizing accomplishments rather than activities—and giving feedback to the worker bees—often improve the results of the hive.

6 Responses

  1. Great blog!

    I absolutely loved this blog – thank you!  Got us thinking about summer too which was a nice side effect.

  2. Yembees

    Thanks for your feedback Becky, much appreciated, and I am thinking about summer too!

  3. Yembees

    What a delightful blog! It struck a real chord in the land of ‘bee bee bee’. 

    Perhaps it ought to be compulsory reading for anyone designing a performance management system.

    Roll on summer.

  4. YemBees

    I’ve just read this with the sun shining brightly in a blue sky – ideal for the reading I think and such a change after the dark and grey days of the last few weeks.

    I loved the story which made it’s points perfectly.  I think if you can get people to accept that there are transferable messages in stories like these then it’s a great way to learn.

    Thank you for a lovely half hour.

  5. YeBees Wonderful Feedback

    Thank you all for your wonderful feedback. I am so pleased that you enjoyed the Yembees story and I hope you can put it to good use in your sessions.

    It’s been a long day and a delight to come home to such delightful feedback – Pure Honey 🙂


  6. Can we share?


    Fab story.

    Is this your story or have you borrowed it from someone else?

    Either way, are you happy for us to share it with others?

    I love collecting analogies and produce booklets that sit on the table in our workshops so that attendees can drift into them during the sessions.  They regularly produce  smiles and nods of recognition and I think this would be perfect to add to our performance management booklet.

    Many thanks again.


Author Profile Picture
Joy Wilson

Learning and Development Consultant

Read more from Joy Wilson

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