Humanocracy by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini – Here are My Seven Lessons and Takeaways

HumanocracyBureaucracy: noun — a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation (Merriam-Webster)…
Our starting premise. Across the world, organizations are disabled by bureaucracy — they are inertial, incremental, and inhuman. — The premise of this book is that most of these choices can and must be revisited.
These companies were built, or in some cases rebuilt, with one goal in mind — to maximize human contribution. … The goal of humanocracy is to create an environment in which everyone is inspired to give their best.
One of our primary goals in this book is to lay out a blueprint for turning every job into a good job. Rather than deskilling work, we need to upskill employees.
As we’ve argued throughout this book, the shift to humanocracy requires radical change—in individuals, teams, and the core processes by which our organizations are run.
Bureaucracy was invented by human beings, and now it’s up to us to invent something better.
The question at the core of bureaucracy is, “How do we get human beings to better serve the organization?” The question at the heart of humanocracy is, “What sort of organization elicits and merits the best that human beings can give?”
The goal of humanocracy is to create an environment in which everyone is inspired to give their best.
While veteran leaders may… reflect a world that no longer exists.
From Humanocracy, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini


At the September Frist Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of the new book Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini.  (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020).  It is a good and important book; a true call to change things.

Here are some of the highlights from my synopsis presentation.

What is the point of this book?  Anything that takes away the true, full contribution of people is stifling and harmful.  Bureaucracy can do that, and thus it can be, and frequently is, deadly.  We need…HUMANOCRACY! 

I always ask, Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is a terrific overview of the organizational shifts over the last many decades. You will learn needed history.
#2 – This book is filled with examples of success and failure.  You will see their argument through the examples.
#3 – This book provides a survey of the literature, but is written for the lay practitioner (the non-academic). You will understand the progression (regression?) of organizational structure, and grasp why we are where we are now.

I always include numerous highlighted passages in my synopsis handouts.  Here are some of the best passages I highlighted from the book:

• Bureaucratic organizations are inertial, incremental, and dispiriting. In a bureaucracy, the power to initiate change is vested in a few senior leaders. When those at the top fall prey to denial, arrogance, and nostalgia, as they often do, the organization falters. That’s why deep change in a bureaucracy is usually belated and convulsive. Bureaucracies are also innovation-phobic.
• While entrepreneurial enclaves like Silicon Valley are important, we need to find ways to turn up the entrepreneurial flame in every organization.
• While there may be a finite number of routine jobs to be performed in the world, there’s no limit on the number of worthwhile problems that are begging to be solved. Viewed from this vantage point, the threat that automation poses for employment depends mostly on whether or not we continue to treat employees like robots.”
• We are defined by the causes we serve. …At some deep level, we know that life is too short to work on inconsequential problems.
• In this maelstrom, the most important question for any organization is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? For most organizations, the answer is no.
• There’s no secret about what drives engagement. From Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise to Dan Pink’s Drive, the formula hasn’t changed in sixty years: purpose, autonomy, collegiality, and the opportunity to grow. …It seems that every generation rediscovers the essential elements of human engagement and then does nothing.
• While veteran leaders may have the benefit of experience, they’re weighed down by legacy beliefs. Many of their assumptions about customers, technology, and the competitive environment were forged years or decades earlier, and reflect a world that no longer exists.
• The question is, how much bureaucracy could be eliminated without sacrificing organizational performance? The answer: more than you think.
• We have an obligation to pay it forward. A living wage, equal pay, respect for diversity, parental leave, flextime, health-care coverage—these are worth fighting for, but should we aim still higher? We think so.
• We need a new organizational paradigm—one in which human beings are no longer viewed as “resources” or “capital.” We must also reframe the problem — the goal is to maximize contribution, not compliance. And we need to embed new human-centric principles in every structure, system, process, and practice. If we’re serious about creating organizations that are fit for human beings and fit for the future, nothing less will do.
• Bureaucracies are run not by inventors but accountants, not by builders but administrators. In a large company, only a fraction of employees are active members of what Phelps evocatively calls the “imaginarium.”
• In a bureaucracy, megawatts of emotional energy get wasted on petty battles, data gets weaponized against adversaries, collegiality gets shredded by zero-sum promotion tournaments, and decisions get corrupted by artfully concealed self-interest. …To change all this, to replace bureaucracy with meritocracy, we must do four things: decontaminate judgments about merit, better align wisdom and authority, match compensation to contribution, and build natural, dynamic hierarchies.
• As Thomas Kuhn argued more than a half-century ago, we are prisoners of our paradigms. As Kuhn observed, “All significant breakthroughs are break-‘withs’ old ways of thinking.”
• We can do better than this, and we must. By embracing the principles and practices of humanocracy, we can build organizations that are as resilient, creative, and passion-filled as the people who work within them. …Most importantly, it will turn every job into a good job. …Freeing the human spirit — that’s the promise of humanocracy, and with grit and determination, you can claim that promise for yourself, for your team, and for your organization. 

Here are a few of the important points and principles from the book: 

  • The hierarchy of work work-related capabilities:
  • Level 6 – Daring
  • Level 5 – Creativity
  • Level 4 – Initiative
  • Level 3 — Expertise
  • Level 2 — Diligence
  • Level 1 – Obedience
  • Hallmarks of humanocracy
  • zero distance between employees and customers (Haier)
  • very little friction within the organization– people have permission: to spend money;’ to innovate; to try (and fail);
  • provide freedom for peer pressure in a good way – employees are held accountable by team members and colleagues (and customers), not bosses or supervisors (more a network than a hierarchy) 
  • Think, and act, like a Hacker – Become a “Hacktivist”
  • Could rebel hackers have the same dramatic impact on management they’ve had on software? Yep. …To be a hacker you have to get a basic thrill from solving problems, sharpening your skills, and exercising your intelligence. 

I added this, upon reflection: A thought for those of us who work by ourselves; or in very small companies –you’ve established your own little fiefdom of bureaucracy, whether you know it or not… (You may be your own bureaucratic nightmare!)

  • innovation comes from many, many ideas
  • these ideas have to do with problems to solve — there’s no limit on the number of worthwhile problems that are begging to be solved.
  • So…schedule your own humanocracy schedule into each week – with time (and ritual/designed activity) for problem identificaiton, and idea generation
  • And here are my Seven Lessons and Takeaways:

#1 – The future belongs to those with the best next ideas. You need a lot of ideas, from anyone and everyone, to find the best ideas. – (Since game-changing business ideas are rare, the probability of coming up with a breakthrough strategy depends on an organization’s capacity to generate a large number of strategic options).
#2 – In order to find the best ideas, everyone has to be free of bureaucracy that stifles their ideas.
#3 – In order for people to come up with such ideas, they have to be valued as human beings, and set free – set free to think, to ponder, to try (and fail), and to make some money in the process. – (The starting point is to acknowledge that everyone, whatever their role or title, deserves the opportunity to cultivate their creative gifts.)
#4 – You need to both exploit and explore; or explore and exploit; as you explore some more.
#5 – Start with yourself. – (The question is, how do you change the system when you don’t own it, when you’re not a senior vice president, or even a manager? The first step is to change what’s inside of you. To change your organization, you must first change yourself. This means actively committing ourselves to the ideals of human agency, dignity, and growth. To varying degrees, bureaucracy makes assholes of us all. Getting woke means more than bashing “the system”; it means doing soul repair in the areas where bureaucracy has eaten away at our humanity).
#6 – Basically; put the wisdom of crowds to work in the best way possible. – (“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”).
#7 – And, reluctantly, a warning – starting from scratch might be better. But, beware – don’t kid yourself; that too will end up growing into (building into) a bureaucracy. Humanocracy will not come easily…

I think this book is absolutely worth your time.  It basically confirms what we know, but do not want to face:  there is an almost inevitable movement toward greater bureaucracy within organizations.  Bureaucracy will just happen; will most definitely develop.  Building a Humanocracy takes intentional work, and perpetual, diligent protection.  It will take a lot of work to keep a humanocracy at work.


You can watch a video of my synopsis by clicking here.

And, you will be able to purchase an audio recording of my presentation, along with my synopsis handout, soon from this page on our web site:  newest additions.  Browse through synopses of many, many books at the “Buy Synopses” tab at the top of this page (search by title).

Leave a Reply

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