Gary Hamel on Humanocracy vs Bureausclerosis (part 1)


I’m at WOBI in London and have been listening to Gary Hamel providing an early overview of his book Humanocracy, out early next year.

Hamel has assembled a range of evidence supporting his view that we need to move beyond today’s bureaucratic organisations and create new humanocratic ones. I think some of this data is a bit ropey. Gallup’s Q12 results don’t show that a third of global employees are saboteurs, just that they haven’t responded positively to 12 (admittedly important) questions. But from my experience, if we make it easier for them to do a good job than a bad one, most of these people will still try to do good work. And actually, they’re not the issue anyway, it’s their organisations, which I’m sure Hamel would agree.

Eg, the fact that less than 20% of people are consulted about their goals (European Workforce Study) is a bit stupid. And 70% of jobs having no, or very limited opportunities for originality (US Bureau of Labour Statistics) is quite appalling. 



I’m less concerned about growth in the bureaucratic class (a 108% increase in managers and operations since 1983 compared to 44% in other occupations, and now at 14% of, and with operations, nearly a third of the total workforce). I think the number of pure managers or managers who think their job is about controlling their underlings has actually declined in this period. And most managers are doing valuable work for their organisations, in fact one of the reasons many people are so disengaged is that they’re prioritising doing this work, rather than managing their people. (However, I don’t agree with the 14% getting 30% of the compensation.)

Hamel describes a range of issues about this, but all of these are open to challenge. Eg management layers will get added, and this imposes a cost, but other ways of coordinating people will have different costs too. I love the way Morning Star has its people agree commitments with each other, but we shouldn’t pretend this comes without a time penalty or some frustration for employees.

Bureaucracy –



Humanocracy –


However, we’ve also been hearing from Susan David about the importance of emotional agility and I think it’s actually Hamel’s belief and passion for this topic, not his evidence, which is most convincing. Though again, I’d challenge some of the emotional imagery – eg having people buried under 7 or 8 layers of management sounds terrible, but hierarchy doesn’t necessarily need to bury people, and I don’t believe most people at the bottom of hierarchical organisations feel like they are buried (any more than most people in a network organisation feel like they’re lost). For those that do, a true focus on servant leadership would get rid of this.


This point on emotion has relevance for modern organisations too. Yes, we do need to look at our organisation and job designs and management processes. But we also need to spend time on connection. As David noted, innovation is a myth unless we connect with out own emotional agility, and the emotional agility of those we connect with. But we won’t do this when we’re stressed and thinking transactionally rather than relationally (cognitively vs pro-socially).

Hamel summed it up like this: people don’t bring their private lives to work but if they are struggling there or at work and can’t talk about it – you can’t expect them to be engaged at work if they’re not engaged in each other. Later on, Simon Sinek also made a similar point suggesting that leadership can be lonely and that we need to invest in deep, meaningful relationships and support networks in order be effective.

Making that shift doesn’t actually need most of the changes Hamel has suggested – just the encouragement for people to create a bit more time and space for themselves and each other. Eg if over two thirds of people in larger businesses report new ideas are met with skepticism or hostility then we’ve got a lot of businesses, leaders and managers who need to take a good, long look at themselves and change what they’re doing with each other. But they don’t necessarily need to change anything about the organisation to do that. Similarly if people feel that they can only get to the top by managing up and stiff arming their colleagues.

It’s why in The Social Organization I add a Connections element to my organisation model, and explain why organisation design needs to be supported by organisation development interventions too.

I do agree with Hamel that organisations need to change, and often use the same logic he does to explain this – that business models have changed very radically but our organisation models, ie the ways we allocate resources, change and compensate people, haven’t. As Hamel notes, Mary Parker Follett’s desire to free the energies of the human spirit still feels like a very distant dream. Most people have very inspiring stories but organisations too often feel like emotional dead zones.

I do believe organisations need radical innovation, and use a lot of Hamel’s examples myself. As Sinek explained, there’s only a handful of organisations doing things significantly differently and better than all the others, so everyone uses these cases. 

But I’m just not convinced, still, that fighting bureaucracy (mainly management and management layers) is the biggest need to deal with the problem. I see lots of dysfunction, but not that much bureaucracy, and very few bloated, highly inefficient organisations.

More in part 2…

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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).

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