Are you the queen bee of risk management? You probably wish you were, because it turns out bees are masters in the domain of risk management. In an article for The Knowledge Exchange, Michael O’Malley, beekeeper/vice-president of Human Capital at Sibson Consulting, writes about the incredible risk managing instincts of bees and what we could stand to learn from them.
Bees have an easy solution to the “too big to fail” concern that has at times plagued the financial sector. As O’Malley puts it, the solution is, “Don’t get too big.” When bee colonies become too unwieldy, the hive simply splits and new colonies branch out so that risk and resource management are distributed evenly between them. Another instance of risk management in action is when bees actively avoid maximizing current returns in order to prevent cycles of feast and famine, which is often the exact opposite of corporate business practices. We take sustainability for granted, whereas for bees, it is a way of life.
Information collection is also par excellence at the hive. Novice foragers will travel with experienced veterans so that they can learn the most efficient methods of interacting with and moving between flowers. New information is always on display at the hive, and the good info quickly drowns out the bad info. When there are decisions to be made, bees will actually present a selection of options and vote on the most viable solution. Even though mistakes are of course still made at times, they are always calculated mistakes. O’Malley explains:
For example, it is energy- and resource-costly for bees to build comb, and they don’t want to manufacture it if they aren’t going to use it. At the same time, they don’t want to under-build and miss a lifesaving opportunity to store honey. To strike the right balance between these potential errors, honeybees use a sliding rule (with respect to empty comb cells) that guides them toward the least bad mistake. “We will overbuild only if conditions are good and nectar is flowing, and we will under-build only if times are tough and nectar influx is marginal.” These errors are better than the alternatives. The bees consider the worst that can happen no matter how improbable and protect themselves against that eventuality.
O’Malley reminds us that the track record for bee business practices is pretty good, with 100 million years of productivity and growth. If it works for bees, it should work for us. Become the queen bee of your organization to keep your risks at a minimum.