Why Is Your Organization Not Human?

Here's post number two on Gary Hamel's Future of Management. I'm still in the first section of the book where he is talking about the three "meta issues" companies face when trying to actually change the way we manage. The first is creating genuine strategic renewal (more nimble organizations, as was discussed in my previous post about trauma-free renewal). The second is making innovation a priority (for more on that, see EVERY POST Jeff De Cagna has ever written!). The third is creating a workplace where everyone is fully engaged and gives the most of themselves. The short version of the third one: make organizations that are more human.

There has been extensive research on employee "engagement," and in general, it doesn't look too good. The study that Hamel cites concludes that "the vast majority of employees across all levels in an organization are less than fully engaged in their work." Eighty-five percent, in fact, are giving less of themselves than they could. While I suppose it might be too much to ask for every single person to be giving their all in every single job, I can't imagine we should settle for only 15%.

So why don't we do a better job? Hamel gives three answers that require more of our attention:

1. Too much management, too little freedom
2. Too much hierarchy, not enough community
3. Too much exhortation, too little purpose.

You read that list and it's hard to disagree–who's going to argue against freedom, community, and purpose. But to actually do something about any of those three is another matter. Really, are you willing to give your employees freedom? Will you give up the control of hierarchy for the potential of community? Are you actually willing to create an organization to which your people really WANT to give their all?

Historically organizations could succeed without answering these questions. I don't think we have that luxury any more.


  1. 22.06.2009 at 1:55 pm

    Amen Jamie. This is a topic very close to my heart!
    Humanity is something missing from many organizations. I’ll have to look at Gary’s new book.
    Great post!

  2. 22.06.2009 at 4:05 pm

    Well I have to say, that was a wonderfully pithy too much / too little statement. Speaking as a former musician, it beautifully sums up everything I try to say about the great conductors I played for versus the 99.9% of also-rans who followed every single rule in the book religiously and still became mediocre. But we should not be surprised that managers do these three too-muches . . . after all, it is what all of their training from grade school on has taught them to do and be. The real issue, I think, is having the guts to go against the conventional wisdom. May I be so bold as to suggest my book, “Principles of Applied Stupidity”? –jl

  3. Harriet Farnham
    11.10.2009 at 11:22 am

    The human side of organizations is EXACTLY why I am studying Organizational Psychology. This is my mantra – if you accept and nurture the human beings that make up the organization, you get people who want to be there and who give their all every day. If you treat staff like it has germs and is only there to feather the corporate nest, you get the 85% that dont give all they can – because they dont care. It really is very simple. Why cant more organizations see it??