The future of work” has become a hot topic in recent months – the end of the office, the shift to distributed working, careers to contracts, functions to projects, jobs displaced by machines. Yet the real challenge is not people, but the organisation structures that still limit them.

“In a world of unrelenting change and unprecedented challenges, we need organisations that are resilient and daring” says Gary Hamel, co-author of the new book Humanocracy: Creating organisations as amazing as the people inside them.”

“Resilient, creative, and passionate” are the qualities organisations now need, says Hamel and co-author Michele Zanini, yet many organisations are “inertial, incremental, and inhuman”. Organisations should be rebuilt “to free the human spirit”.

“Humans are adaptable, creative and passionate – but organisations are mostly not”. Even though openness, flexibility, and creativity are essential, our current bureaucratic organisations are not allowing us to pursue those qualities, he says.

Of course there are some great examples of amazing organisations that do release the power of humanity, as I explore in my forthcoming book:

  • Buurtzorg (self-organised teams) to Morning Star (employees contract with each other)
  • Haier (thousands of micro enterprises) to Haufe (people choose leaders, including CEO)
  • Red Hat (crowdsourced strategies) to Handelsbanken (most decisions made locally).

Hamel proposes 5 steps which business leaders can take, in order to create more resilient, innovative, and entrepreneurial organisations:

  1. Define the challenge … Most of the bureaucracy that stifles organisations is invisible, so leaders should calculate the “Bureaucratic Mass Index” (BMI) of their organization (find a link to tool on my website), based on factors such as layers, frictions, insularity, disempowerment, risk aversion and politics.
  2. Learn from innovators … Take inspiration from organisations that have embraced new approaches (as described above). Real examples demonstrate how the old bureaucracies are really not needed. Even large organizations can be led with only a few layers of management.
  3. Embrace new principles … New practices don’t work with old principles, demanding a rethink of values and culture. The old pursuit of maximising efficiency and compliance, should be replaced by experimentation, meritocracy, openness, community,and ownership.
  4. Hack the management model … “Bureaucracy is not going to die in one Armageddon-like battle”, says Hamel. Rather than top-down imposition by a change program, encourage people to hack the principles and practices. “Effective change rolls up, not down”.
  5. Start from where you are … Ask your team, “what should we change in order to get serious about openness, creativity, experimentation, and meritocracy?” Start with small steps that can reduce bureaucracy and encourage innovation across our organisations.

Hamel reflects that “only 1 in 5 employees believe their opinions matter at work, only 1 in 10 have the freedom to experiment with new solutions, and 1 in 11 say they can influence important decisions. This is a waste of human capability. We must do better”.