6. Michele Zanini - Dismantling Bureaucracy With Humanocracy

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Key Takeaways

My guest today is Michele Zanini, co-founder of the Management Lab and co-author of Wall Street Journal best seller ‘Humanocracy’.

Michele has spent his entire career understanding how organizations can best enable their people to succeed. From analyzing the rise of agile terrorist organizations in the late 90s to conducting in-depth research with companies driving management model innovation globally today, Michele is a wealth of knowledge.

In this episode we discussed the features of bureaucracy, how ‘Humanocracy’ is different and plenty of real-life examples along the way.

After reading his book I was so impressed that I had to reach out and have him on the podcast. I have so much respect for Michele and we cover many of his novel ideas in this conversation. I hope you enjoy it!


Humanocracy Book

Michele’s Twitter


Show Highlights

(1:46) - Michele’s early work at The Rand Corporation studying terrorist organizations

(4:48) - Why copying management models wholesale does not work

(7:28) - How the needs of companies have changed as it relates to management models over the years

(11:14) - What ‘Humanocracy’ is

(13:38) - The case for ‘Humanocracy’

(18:48) - Best examples of companies in the post-bureaucratic vanguard

(25:38) - How to enact change in your organization to enable ‘Humanocracy’

(30:32) - “Explain that Tweet” speed round

(31:04) -  Why supervisors should not be in charge of performance reviews

(31:53) -  Reasoning for Quibi’s downfall

(34:04) -  Why collaboration software is not a panacea for enabling dynamic organizations


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Show Notes

Management models can't be copied

  • Michele urges employees, managers and teams to not simply copy management models from well-run companies. I.e., Spotify's tribes models should not be copied wholesale to your organization.
  • Rather, he says to focus on how these companies think - what are their processes and principles they used to come up with a management model?

Historical organizational transformation is like bridge building

  • Michele made the point that a lot of organizational transformation (and transformation in general) is very episodic - there's a beginning, a middle and an end. Once it's over you declare victory and move on.
  • However, it's been known for years that this type of transformation is not valuable and useful beyond the initial effort. So why do we keep pursuing change in this way?

What is bureaucracy?

  • I love Michele's definition and thinking around bureaucracy - it's clear he's passionate about it: power is vested in positions, authority trickles down, resources allocated top down, big leaders pointing little leaders, people compete for promotion and compensation correlates with rank.
  • Michele argues that model is not fit-for-purpose.
  • In a bureaucracy, people are the instruments. In a humanocracy, the organization is the instrument.

The case for bureaucracy

  • Organizations entrenched with bureaucracy are slow, not innovative, and have employees that are uninspired.

The post-bureaucratic vanguard

  • I asked Michele what are examples of some companies that have broken away from bureaucratic principles.
  • One example is Haier - global appliance maker that broke up their company into hundreds of "micro enterprises"

Episode Transcript