As human beings who are uniquely capable of rational thought, we generally know better than to default to old ways of thinking and to do things how they have been done in centuries past.
We use refrigeration technology to keep our food fresh, rather than resorting to outdated methods like keeping meat in cold streams or burying it in snow. We were quick to adapt to the streaming revolution, with many people watching more hours of Netflix or YouTube than network television these days. And, hopefully at least, we take full advantage of modern medicine, rather than entrusting our health to traditional methods like trepanning or balancing the humors.
You get the point. We don’t do things just because that’s how they’ve always been done. We’re always on the lookout for ways to improve or streamline our lives.
In Humanocracy, a book by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, the two authors argue that we should apply this innovative attitude to our work. In their book, both co-founders of the Management Lab, assert that we’ve spent the last 300-odd years building organizations that operate under bureaucratic systems.
This book packs a narrative and informative punch about how we should leave such outdated systems behind in favor of organizations that bring out the best in their workers. Yes, you’ve got it, we need to build Humanocracies.
If you’re skeptical about what this Humanocracy might look like or why it’s so important we dismantle the bureaucratic structures and systems that have propelled millions out of poverty, then this book does an excellent job of convincing you with thoughtful and data-driven arguments.
Essentially, bureaucracies were well-suited to giving the human race the productivity boost it needed during the Industrial Revolution and throughout the waning of monarchic systems of government. But centuries of stagnation and complexity growth have left this system unfit to help us in the Information Age.
We haven’t done anything awfully clever with bureaucracy in all this time, and the book outline the costs of not innovating: declining global productivity, inefficient allocation of a third of wage costs, poor decision-making on a company level, and general unhappiness and unfulfillment.
Thankfully, the authors only spend the first part of the book lamenting the decadence of modern work culture and spend most part of the book proposing solutions and showing off best practices.
The goal of Humanocracy is to put people at the center of the organization. Rather than employing stratification, standardization, and specialization to turn people into tools that the organization can use to meet quotas, Zanini and Hamel propose that we make organizations the instrument instead. After all, humans are more clever, adaptable, passionate, and creative than organizations are.
I particularly enjoyed profiles of Nucor and Haier, two companies that have embraced humanocratic (is that even a word?) principles and have prospered as a result. It was thrilling to read about how differently these companies operate and how their leadership have made their organizations instruments of empowerment.
These two profiles, as well as the many examples from other organizations that have bucked the trend, provide a helpful blueprint for how leaders can disrupt their businesses and shift from bureaucracy to Humanocracy.
On the other hand, the profiles do give the reader the sense that making this change requires monumental effort and not an insignificant amount of creative destruction. And they would be right, as both Haier and Nucor had put a lot of time and resources into building their successful postmodern organizations.
Thoughtfully, the authors spend some time in each chapter and they center the latter part of the book on how you can begin to introduce these principles and processes in your organization. These suggestions can be as simple yet meaningful as giving teams a say in who their managers are or making an honest effort to understand your company’s implicit biases when making decisions.
Ultimately, any organization would benefit from the proposals Zanini and Hamel lay out, even if you don’t decide to upend your company and rebuild it as a Humanocracy from the ground up. And regardless of how moving the needle even slightly towards a human-centered organization can improve productivity and save wage costs, the most important benefit of a Humanocracy is the empowerment of workers.
The authors say that building Humanocracies is a moral imperative, because employees deserve to be treated as humans and not cogs in a machine. By the end of this book, you’ll wholeheartedly agree with them.