Human-Centered Organizations: Why We Need Them

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Humanocracy" by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are human-centered organizations? How do they operate differently from traditional companies?

Authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini argue that fostering human-centered ideals, like employee innovation and inspiration, results in happier workers and more successful companies. In their book Humanocracy, they describe how to build human-centered organizations.

Keep reading to learn more about human-centered organizations, according to Hamel and Zanini.

Defining Human-Centered Organizations

According to Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, a human-centered organization is an organization that’s designed to bring out and harness each employee’s full creative potential, instead of forcing people into lockstep using rules and micromanagement. In other words, a human-centered organization optimizes people’s contributions to the company, rather than just their obedience and their production numbers.

In their book Humanocracy, the authors say the central belief behind a human-centered organization is that each person—regardless of role or job title—deserves the chance to nurture their unique ideas and creative gifts. Everyone has ideas that are worth exploring, and allowing them to do so could turn out to be more valuable to the company than forcing them to just carry out their official duties. 

(Shortform note: While human-centered organizations should, according to the authors, foster innovation and creativity, that doesn’t mean leaving employees to figure out everything by themselves: To thrive, they’ll still need some training in their basic work tasks. Training employees well and encouraging creativity can also boost their inventiveness: One study found that in the workplace, creativity is the link between training and innovation. In other words, employees need training to learn the basics of their jobs, but they also need creativity to find new and better ways to do those jobs. This has important implications: Many people think that innovation is about breaking away from your training, but this study suggests that innovation is more about building upon it.)

In this article, we’ll explore three ways human-centered organizations promote innovation and creativity: They 1) empower employees, 2) foster accountability, and 3) foster connection.

Human-Centered Organizations Empower Employees

Hamel and Zanini explain that human-centered organizations encourage and empower employees to solve problems on their own, instead of having them work through their supervisors and managers. Employees at human-centered organizations take on tasks that aren’t normally part of their jobs, make plans and carry them out, and even use company funds as needed. 

(Shortform note: Many leaders find it hard to let go of their need for control and simply trust their employees, especially when delegating tasks outside of those employees’ usual job descriptions. One simple and practical strategy to stop micromanaging and cede control is to focus your attention on setting goals, rather than heavily explaining tasks. In other words, instead of giving step-by-step instructions for how to get something done, simply give the employee an objective and, if applicable, a budget. If they need more guidance on specific tasks, they can then come to you and ask for help.) 

They Foster Accountability

Along with this empowerment, workers must take responsibility for the outcomes of their ideas, whether good or bad. 

The authors say that team members in a human-centered organizations must directly communicate with each other about their issues and intentions, and they must hold each other accountable for their actions and results. This creates a web of accountability, instead of the traditional pyramid of authority figures handing down decisions to the workers beneath them. That web creates stronger bonds among employees, fosters a sense of ownership and pride in their work, and encourages teamwork. 

(Shortform note: While the authors advocate for personal accountability to foster teamwork, ownership, and pride, in Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin recommend going a step further: Take responsibility for the entire team’s performance, not just for your own. If everyone on the team feels accountable for the team as a whole, then everyone will put forth their best efforts to find solutions to everyone’s problems and further boost team performance. This will help to create the “web of accountability” that Hamel and Zanini propose, resulting in happier employees and better results for the company.) 

They Foster Connection

Finally, the authors note, employees of a human-centered organization must have direct contact with customers. Instead of having a separate customer service team whose entire job is to be the face of the company, a human-centered organization nurtures direct relationships between the people who make the products and the people who use them. This allows employees to directly see the outcome of their efforts—that they’re helping people—and further builds that sense of pride in their work. 

(Shortform note: Direct contact between workers and customers doesn’t just improve your employees’ experience of work— it also greatly improves the customer experience, which translates into more repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. It also provides opportunities to seek customer feedback, which will help you to find and fix weaknesses in your business practices.) 

Why We Need Human-Centered Organizations

Hamel and Zanini say that human-centered organizations are necessary because employees at traditional companies are bored, frustrated, and disillusioned—in fact, only 15% of people currently feel engaged at work. This widespread disengagement is bad for people and bad for business. 

(Shortform note: Present employee engagement numbers aren’t quite as bad as Hamel and Zanini describe here—it’s true that only 15% of employees reported feeling engaged in 2017, but that number is up to 36% as of the latest Gallup poll. Even so, that means only just over a third of employees feel happy and engaged in the workplace, so there’s still a great deal of room for improvement.)

Human-Centered Organizations: Why We Need Them

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  • Why employee obedience and efficiency are not the most important traits
  • How to create happier and more innovative employees
  • The six-tier hierarchy of needs in human-focused companies

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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