Beehive yourself

Yesterday a bunch of us met up with David Zinger for a workshop titled “Think different inside our hives – How to achieve exceptional employee engagement”. The event was generously sponsored by Berghind Joseph. I’ve corresponded with David for some time now via email, blog posts and his Employee Engagement Network so I was very keen to meet him in person.

Thinking different inside our hives

We were intriguingly offered as much likelihood of puzzlement and muddlement, as clarity. As someone who believes that no one knows what they are doing I was excited by the possibilities, and I will try to recall some snippets of possibility for you now.


Engagement is invitational. You can’t make people do it, they have to want to. Engagement as a program is a recipe for disaster.

Engagement is not a problem to solve; it is an experience to be lived

David’s a great story teller. I’m not going to attempt to retell all his tales from yesterday, but here’s a stab at one for you. David comes across a guy unhappy in his work. So unhappy that he is literally counting the days until he can retire. David asks him, “So is there anything you do like?” “Yeah, golf”, comes the reply. David remarks that given Canada only has about a three month golf season it probably isn’t the best country to have golf as your like. The guy retires. Some time later David sees him in the street on a lovely sunny afternoon, looking as miserable as ever. “Did you play golf?” he asks. “yeah, and I hate it” comes the reply. From this encounter we learn that “Engagement is not a problem to solve; it is an experience to be lived”.

Small is the new significant

I often ask myself and others – what is the least I can do today to make a positive impact. David spoke about how engagement is less about a return on investment, more about ensuring it is worth the risk. And a way to reduce risk is to keep things small. Small is the new significant, as long as we stand for the significant. Pilots are great; you often don’t need permission for pilots (and if you do it’s usually much quicker to obtain)


David is conducting an interesting experiment with bees. Zinghive is dedicated to co-creating organisations, businesses, and social networking through parallel play and metaphoric understanding of honey bees and hives. The project will culminate in the summer of 2012 with an interaction between bees, social media, and computers. Following that there will be exhibits, presentations, and implications for organisations as we learn to think differently inside the hive.

We learned that as the queen bee reaches the end of her useful life, other bees “cook the queen”. They do this by crowding her and beating their wings to raise the temperature around the queen until she dies. He suggests that employees do this to projects they don’t believe in. Maybe not by beating their wings, but if they’re not engaged in the project, it will get cooked. David said that there are bloggers in the audience today and for all he knows, he may get roasted after today…

Resisting change

Folks don’t resist change, they resist coercion to change. It must be invitational, and we must be mindful that the gravity of the familiar pulls you back.

Table talk

We spent some time discussing and maybe debunking, some engagement myths. We did this in small groups which were regularly broken up and reformed. Here are just a few thoughts which emerged from the conversations I was a part of:

Engagement is like water, you can’t push it but you can create inclines and receptacles into which it can flow.

We need more fools! (just be careful not to make the queen too angry, you don’t want to hear “off with his head!”)

Is engagement love?

We own engagement individually. In the past companies had a quality department. Nowadays everyone owns quality. That’s how it should be with engagement.


David said, “I hate the term employee engagement, but it’s here and we work with it”. I don’t like it either and as regular readers know I’m up for simply making work better. Choose your label.


Engagement needs to return more energy than it demands or it is unsustainable.

The end of engagement

The concept will end. Hopefully because it becomes integrated, not because it was the previous fad. Taskforces, add ons, programmes make extra work. There is no way to engagement, it is the way.

What makes engagement?

Progress – probably the biggest single factor. People need to know and see they are making progress. David spoke about Albert (Stonewall) Johnson, who built the great wall of Saskatchewan. After building it for ten years, Johnson’s wife declared him nuts. She left him, and five years later, he declared himself nuts too. And he kept on going, making progress. What is your legacy, what will you leave behind?

High quality connections – choose to make contact, to say hello. David spoke about Jane Dutton, whose research focuses on how organizational conditions strengthen capabilities of individuals and firms.  In particular, she examines how high quality connections, positive meaning and emotions contribute to individual and organizational strengths. David said that his observations of how many (or how few) folks acknowledge and engage with a front desk in an organisation, tells him a lot about their high quality connections, and how it is around here. My friend Sukh Pabial wrote something about this which I consider to be recommended reading – you may want to take a look.

And it is important these connections aren’t all nicey nicey. Engagement means being confident to hold people to account. Checking in with them, not checking up on them.


When was the last time you heard of a company which allowed the staff to ask what should be in the staff survey?

Never do anything about me, without me.

What about an open creative commons survey? Companies are enslaved to expensive surveys because they (wrongly in my opinion) look for comparative data. Seeing this as valuable presumes that what works here, works there too. It may, and it may not.

Anonymity is not an engagement problem it is a safety problem. When did it become acceptable not to want to know who we are? When I used to work at BT I used to plaster my name all over the verbatim comments. I figured if I had an opinion and I wanted to help then how the hell was anyone going to progress things if they didn’t know who I was? BT then used to go through the data and religiously remove mine and others names. I found that offensive, and I still do. Forced anonymity sucks!


A value is a promise. Live it, be it, behave it and it becomes strong.


Community trumps organisation

Half of what I say is right, half is wrong and I don’t know the difference

I reserve the right to change my mind


High quality connections


A value is a promise

Bees are cool

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

9 thoughts on “Beehive yourself”

    1. My pleasure – it was a great fun, useful day. I learned and reinforced lots of things. I hope to see you again afore long and am glad you are back home safe.

  1. Hi Doug and Dave

    Some interesting insights, which are so good, that they appear to be statements of the obvious, but are in fact as rare as that wonderful commodity “common sense”.

    1. Hello Q – thanks for popping by. Sometimes the obvious fades from view as we see and hear it so often it ends up hiding in plain sight. Ninja style. One of the things I learned from the session is that common sense can become less rare, when you remind yourself and others of it from time to time. I enjoyed recalling, learning and rethinking – great fun.

      Cheers – Doug

  2. Thanks Doug, a great read and a great take-away from a meeting!
    Two lines motivated my stopping by to contribute:

    1) what is the least I can do today to make a positive impact? A Great question in so many ways

    2) Community trumps organisation. Amen to that.

    1. Thanks Richard – I’m glad you enjoyed reading the meeting summary and that it struck not one but two chords is great. I hope you enjoy asking the question and getting some great answers to it. Re: community trumps organisation – absolutely, here’s to making that stick 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *