Not Being Human-centered Destroys Value, for Everyone: Recommended Reading

Hamel, G. and M. Zanini (2020). Humanocracy: Creating Organizations As Amazing As The People Inside Them. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press. [Read chapter 1 for free here.]

The logic is simple. And so is the math. Treat people as less than what they are, and they produce less. Treat people like the creative beings they are, and they creatively generate. Start with a No! towards people, and your results will be net-negative: the system is worse off, with more energy extracted than added. Start with a Yes! towards people, and your results will be net-positive: the system is better off, with more energy added than extracted. Always.

The numbers are now showing this. Everywhere. On the leading edge of showing this, Hamel and Zanini provide the numbers with the whats and the hows to do it. What drives the numbers towards net-negative or towards net-positive. Most of the findings aren’t surprising: it is more surprising that they are findings. And, the findings are very timely, as leaders everywhere struggle to figure out how to manage big changes from a human-centered approach.

In Humanocracy, Hamel and Zanini start by busting the myth that people are resistant to change. “Fact is, we’re change addicts. We have an insatiable appetite for the new. All those changes that are roiling in the work, they’re our doing. We are the agents of upheaval” (p.8). It is not the people who are resistant to change, it is the organizations. Throughout their book, they describe why they think institutional inertia keeps organizations resistant to change and the huge costs that come with that resistance. At the core of their findings, “our organizations are less than fully human, because they were designed to be so” (p.17). “In bureaucracy, human beings are instruments, employed by an organization to create products and services. In a humanocracy, the organization is the instrument–it’s the vehicle human beings use to better their lives and the lives of those they serve. The question at the core of bureaucracy is , ‘How do we get human beings to better serve the organization?’ The question at the heart of humanocracy is, ‘What sort of organization elicits and merits the best that human beings can give?'” (p.20).

Numbers from their book. “We estimate there are 13.45 million managers and the equivalent of 9.5 million employees in the US economy who are producing little to no economic value…Excising bureaucratic deadweight would raise US GDP per employed person from $127,000 (the figure for 2018) to $148,000…If each of these individuals contributed $148,000 to the economy, rather than zero, GDP would increase by roughly $3.4 trillion” (p.59). A big number. Independent of whether GDP is a good measure of human creativity, the point is that treating people as creative beings would unlock huge potential.

In ecosynomic terms, humanocracy shows how to move an organization FROM focusing only on extracting value from others to achieve its own outcomes TO an organization that recognizes the capacities its people contribute and focuses on unlocking their learning and connection to generate far greater value, for everyone. While this blog describes many examples of organizations that are highly developed in engaging the best of humanity towards deep systems transformation, evolving mission-driven impacts, Humanocracy goes for the jugular of the vast majority of organizations that still disengage most of their people, showing how to take the critical and necessary first steps, with lots of examples of practices, with the numbers to back it up. This is a huge first step. I highly recommend this book.

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