Humanocracy: Book Overview & Key Takeaways

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Want an overview of the Humanocracy book by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini? What are the book’s key points and advice?

In their book Humanocracy, authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini explore how organizations can—and should—ditch bureaucratic ideas about employee obedience and efficiency. They argue in favor of human-focused ideals like fostering employee innovation and inspiration.

Here’s a brief overview of Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini’s book Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them.

Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them

In their book Humanocracy, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini propose a new way to build and run organizations: using human-focused principles, as opposed to bureaucratic principles like efficiency and employee obedience. The authors believe that, by doing so, companies can increase each employee’s contributions and job satisfaction, thereby benefiting both the company and its workers. They call this type of organization a humanocracy to emphasize how different it is from bureaucracy; for clarity, this guide will refer to these organizations as human-focused companies.

Gary Hamel is a professional management consultant, author, and co-founder of the Management Lab, which helps organizations implement Humanocracy’s principles. Management Lab co-founder Michele Zanini is a professional author, speaker, and business consultant. Zanini is dedicated to tearing down what she sees as outdated bureaucratic business practices to replace them with human-focused business models. Combined, Hamel and Zanini brought over 50 years of management and leadership expertise in writing the Humanocracy book.

What Is a Human-Focused Company?

According to Hamel and Zanini, a human-focused company 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-focused company optimizes people’s contributions to the company, rather than just their obedience and their production numbers.

Furthermore, the authors say the central belief behind a human-focused company 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. 

Human-Focused Companies Empower Employees

In their book Humanocracy, the authors describe how human-focused companies encourage and empower employees to solve problems on their own, instead of having them work through their supervisors and managers. Employees at human-focused companies take on tasks that aren’t normally part of their jobs, make plans and carry them out, and even use company funds as needed. 

Human-Focused Companies 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-focused company 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.

Why We Need Human-Focused Companies

Hamel and Zanini say that human-focused companies 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. 

How to Engage Employees

In their book Humanocracy, the authors further explain that, to solve the problem of disengaged and disillusioned employees, businesses need to completely change how they think about their workers. It’s time to move away from seeing employees as mere resources and instead start seeing them as people with their own interests and ideas. 

The authors add that business and leadership experts have known how to engage employees for decades. People do their best work when they have the freedom to explore and find their own answers, chances to grow by learning new things and taking on new challenges, a strong sense of connection with their colleagues, and a mission that they believe in.

People Aren’t Machines

According to the authors, another reason why human-focused principles are so important is that human-focused companies use their resources—that is to say, their employees—more effectively than their bureaucratic counterparts. Bureaucracies try to optimize performance using rules and systems, as if improving the programming on a machine. However, Hamel and Zanini remind us that people aren’t machines—trying to control and optimize everything they do is simply micromanagement, which leads to inefficiency and frustration among both workers and managers. 

The Pyramid of Business Needs

In Humanocracy, to further clarify why the authors believe that human-focused companies are important, the book offers a hierarchy of principles that Hamel and Zanini believe every company needs to embody to be successful. The highest tiers of this hierarchy are human-focused principles that can only be achieved by human-focused companies. 

Like Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, Hamel and Zanini’s pyramid of business needs is one in which each tier supports the tiers above it; in other words, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. They say that the most successful companies are those that build all six tiers—including the top, human-focused tiers—into their business practices.  

The Humanocracy book describes the six tiers in descending order of importance:

  • Tier 6: Courage
  • Tier 5: Ingenuity
  • Tier 4: Proactiveness
  • Tier 3: Proficiency
  • Tier 2: Conscientiousness
  • Tier 1: Compliance

The Lower Tiers: Making a Company Functional

The bottom tier of the authors’ pyramid is compliance. Although a humanocracy runs on ingenuity and freedom, there still have to be rules regarding safety, customer service, and how company resources can be used. For example, without some rules in place, an unscrupulous employee might just take company funds for himself and produce nothing in return. In short, compliance is the foundation upon which any successful business must be built. 

The Higher Tiers: Making a Company Great

The next tier of the authors’ pyramid is proactiveness. Breaking out of rigid, bureaucratic habits requires employees who are willing to take the initiative: to go beyond their basic job responsibilities to solve problems and improve the company. It also requires a company that will allow them to do so. 

The Higher Tiers Are Challenging to Reach, but Necessary

The top three tiers of the authors’ pyramid—proactiveness, ingenuity, and courage—are only possible to achieve when workers are engaged with and devoted to what they do. Remember, employee engagement can’t be brought out through bureaucracy and managerial orders; it only happens when people truly believe that their work is exciting and important, and that it therefore deserves their absolute best efforts.

Although they may be difficult to achieve, Hamel and Zanini believe that those top three tiers define the best businesses. This is because companies that encourage all employees to proactively generate ideas have the greatest chance of generating outstanding ideas. 

Building a Human-Focused Company

Hamel and Zanini say that it’s often better to start your own company and build it around human-focused principles from the ground up—bureaucracy emphasizes stability and control, and as such, existing companies that rely on it naturally resist change. Furthermore, power in a bureaucracy tends to be concentrated in the hands of a few decision-makers at the top of the organization, so if you’re not one of those decision-makers, then you’ll have an even harder time turning an existing organization into a human-focused company. 

Humanocracy: Book Overview & Key Takeaways

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Here's what you'll find in our full Humanocracy summary:

  • 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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