Humanocracy: The True Meaning of “Human-Focused”

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’s the meaning of the term “humanocracy?” What are the main principles? What is a human-focused organization?

Together, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini brought over 50 years of management and leadership expertise to their book Humanocracy. In the book, they explain the meaning behind the term “humanocracy,” which emphasizes the importance of fostering employee innovation and inspiration.

Read on to learn the true meaning of humanocracy, according to Hamel and Zanini.

What Is a Humanocracy?

According to authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, to understand the meaning of “humanocracy,” we must understand what a human-focused company is. 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, humanocracy means a human-focused company that 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 humanocracy 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. 

Here are three ways creating a human-focused company, or humanocracy, promotes innovation and creativity, according to Hamel and Zanini:

A humanocracy empowers employees: Hamel and Zanini explain that human-focused companies encourage and empower employees to solve problems on their own, instead of having them work through their supervisors and managers.

A humanocracy fosters 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.

A humanocracy fosters connection: Finally, the authors note, employees of a human-focused company 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-focused company nurtures direct relationships between the people who make the products and the people who use them.

(Shortform note: While the meaning of a humanocracy, or human-focused company, primarily can be defined as fostering 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.)

How Can We Build Human-Focused Companies?

Now that we understand the meaning of humanocracy, how can we work towards building human-focused companies? The authors argue that building a human-focused company—or converting a bureaucratic one—is a huge undertaking. You’ll have a lot of work to do, and it can be hard to know where to begin. However, Hamel and Zanini believe that the best place to start isn’t with any part of the company, but with yourself. Specifically, they argue, you have to undo the damage that bureaucratic thinking has done to you. Bureaucracy isn’t just inefficient and tedious—it’s harmful to the psyche. Thinking of people (including yourself) like parts of a machine erodes your faith in human creativity, autonomy, and growth. 

Therefore, before you can effectively build a human-focused company, you have to restore your belief that every person can do great things and truly embrace the meaning of humanocracy.

How to Heal Your Psyche

Restoring your belief in humanity’s potential is much easier said than done, especially if you’ve worked in a bureaucratic system for years or even decades. Psychologist Jill Suttie suggests five practices you can follow to start the healing process

1. Consume various kinds of media. Modern news sites and social networks tend to promote negative stories and ideas about humanity—fear and anger get people to click, which increases those sites’ engagement and therefore their revenue. However, there are countless stories of courage and kindness happening every day as well, so make an effort to find those stories instead. 

2. Post positivity instead of negativity. It’s often tempting to get into arguments on social media sites, but it’s not likely that you’ll change anyone’s mind—and you’ll only make yourself unhappy by trying. Instead, post uplifting stories that will put you, and the people who read your posts, into a more positive mind frame. 

3. Get involved in a cause you believe in. Volunteer work and charity can inspire you, boost your mood and mental health, and help you feel connected to something greater than yourself. Remember that one of Hamel and Zanini’s key points about human-focused companies is that they allow people to work toward goals they believe in—so, you could implement a volunteering drive at your workplace to create meaningful objectives for your employees or colleagues to work toward. 

4. Practice mindfulness. It’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and habits. Take some time each day to meditate, quiet your mind, and open yourself up to everything that’s presently happening around you. This will break you out of harmful thought patterns and make you more receptive to new, uplifting ideas. 

5. Seek uplifting experiences every day. Take just 20 minutes a day to seek out stories and experiences that uplift you instead of depressing you. For example, you might read about brave and generous people, watch a video about amazing accomplishments, or indulge in an episode of a feel-good TV show. 

Exercise: Apply Human-Focused Principles to Your Work

Humanocracy’s authors argue that most companies have much more bureaucracy than they need and that we should replace bureaucratic practices with human-focused principles. With your newfound understanding of the meaning of humanocracy, take some time now to think about how bureaucracy might be hindering your work and how you could replace it with human-focused approaches.

  • What’s one bureaucratic practice that you regularly engage in at work? (For example, maybe you’re a manager who demands daily reports from your team members, or you might be an experienced team member who still has to ask permission before giving any customer a refund.) 
  • Is that bureaucratic practice absolutely necessary, or could you still carry out your job functions without doing it? Explain your answer. (For example, the manager could likely still monitor their team’s actions and results from a distance without demanding daily reports. The employee could use their experience to judge when refunds are warranted and give them without needing permission.) 
  • Hypothetically, how might you replace that bureaucratic practice with a human-focused practice? In other words, how could you meet the same business need while maintaining employee autonomy and encouraging creative solutions? (For example, instead of having to ask for manager approval to give refunds, what if you were empowered to give whatever refunds you saw fit and the manager simply reviewed them at the end of the week? As a manager, what if you trusted your employees to complete their tasks without demanding daily updates, instead encouraging autonomy and holding check-ins on an as-needed basis?)
Humanocracy: The True Meaning of “Human-Focused”

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  • Why employee obedience and efficiency are not the most important traits
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  • 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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