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Humanocracy — A book review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 2, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

Humanocracy, by Gary Hamel and Michael Zanini, is part manifesto, part call to arms.  It is very serious about the need to reform the organization.  Reforms in favor of people rather than bureaucratic control. They authors make a spirited and fast paced discussion of the imperative to change corporations and how they work. The book builds on Gary and Michael’s work with the Management Innovation Exchange.  It demonstrates their master of management thinking and innovation. This is recommended reading for everyone who knows that we need new ways of working.  We need to move beyond bureaucracy and processes and toward human ability and results.

Humanocracy is particularly relevant now as organizations seek to be more resilient, agile, adaptive, innovative, customer centric etc. Leaders pursuing such goals seek to install systems like agile, devops, flexible teams etc.  They will fail, because people are not processes.  Resiliency, agility, efficiency, ect. are not new programming codes for people.  These goals require more than new rules or a corporate initiative.  Agility, resilience, etc. are behaviors, attitudes, ways of thinking that can only work when you change the deep ‘systems and assumptions’ within an organization.  This book discusses those deeper changes.

Read this book before putting those programs into place.  Installing new processes into an old bureaucracy will only replace one form of control with another. You cannot achieve and sustain the benefits without creating a more human organization.  It is not about change management or internal communications.  Discount such advice as bureaucracy in just another form.  The authors advocate that business must become more fundamentally human first.  The idea of human ability and how to cultivate and unleash it is an underlying premise of this book.

A Humanocracy is defined as the design of an organization to maximize human contribution. It is based on seven core tenets to bring this about: ownership, markets, meritocracy, community, openness, experimentation and paradox. The book does a great job detailing these tenets and how they have transformed different companies.

Now before you think that this is just another book about creating ‘a great place to work’, think again. Humanocracy is a full scale analysis and takedown of the limitations of power and position based bureaucracy. This book does so much more than traditional great place books and that makes it a must read for every executive. Those things include:

  • A spirited discussion of the corrosive impacts of the current state of bureaucracy present in most of our organizations. This makes the book fast paced and interested to read. When was the last time you read an organization design book and could not put it down?
  •  A fact based discussion of research done by others that demonstrate both those impacts and the business case for change. The data and insight of multiple studies proves that this is real and potentially transformative.
  • Detailed and descriptive case studies of companies that have already made the move to a Humanocracy, in some cases more than 20 years ago. This is real, not a fad or a way for HR to get money and its sustainable over time.

Overall, this SHOULD BE one of the most influential books of the decade. A suggestion is to read this book, share it with your peers, consider what it would mean to your organization and then invite HR into the discussion. It is everyone’s responsibility to make their organizations more human and this book gives you the encouragement to do so.

It is time for a human revolution and this explains its goals.

Related Posts

Human Ability — the Next Wave of Business Value?

Find your human middleware — which is another form of bureaucracy

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Category: book-review  leadership  management  

Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio

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