DevOps Institute

[EP24] Humanocracy With Michele Zanini



Jayne Groll, CEO of DevOps Institute, chats with Michele Zanini, Co-founder and Managing Director of Management Lab and Co-author of the WSJ bestselling book “Humanocracy”, on how organizations can break down traditional bureaucratic models to become more human-focused to drive more success.

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Narrator 0:01
You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas and learning or the SKIL framework. Here’s your host DevOps Institute CEO Jayne Groll.

Jayne Groll 0:15
Hi, everyone, it’s Jayne Groll CEO of the DevOps Institute and welcome to another episode of the humans a DevOps Podcast. I’m here with Michele Zanini. I apologize. One of the authors of the recently published book, Humanautocracy, by Kelly, introduce yourself, please.

Michele Zanini 0:40
Hi, Jayne. Thank you for having me. So Jayne mentioned, I’m the co author, human autocracy with Professor Gary Hamel, I’ve been a partner of Gary’s for the last decades at the management lab where we are working really hard to usher a new new way of thinking about management in organizations and just helping organizations become escapable as a human being inside of them. Prior to that, I spent over a decade at McKinsey and Company and earlier than that, at the RAND Corporation, which is a public policy think tank in, in California, and, and maybe that’s where I could start in terms of my background ground and, and how that led me to, to this book, Jane, because, you know, I came to Rand, in the mid 1990s, and young researcher doing a PhD, and I was working on a project, Rand does a lot of work for the US government, this project was for the US Air Force. And it came in the wake of a terrible bomb attack in Saudi Arabia against Air Force barracks. And the the person, the organization that claimed responsibility was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. And at the time, he was not a household name, as unfortunately, he became later on. But, you know, the US Department defense was interested in learning more about him. And so I got involved in the project, learning a little bit more about him and, and the organization he created, which was very different from the typical kind of top down bureaucratic terrorist organization that, you know, was really the norm. You know, al Qaeda was highly networked, highly centralized, loosely organized, without an office without filing cabinets without an address. And this presented tremendous challenges for ways of countering it. And what we soon discovered, as part of the research is that, you know, the information revolution really enabled, you know, terrorist groups, just like any other organization to fundamentally change the way it operated. And it made it much more difficult to counter. And so the whole premise of the research that I did at Rand, and that led to a book called countering terrorism was the fact that, you know, as, as terrorist groups were becoming networked, through the revolution in information technology, so did you know governments and those who sought to conquer them had to rework and rewire their own way of managing, so that they could be as nimble and as, in a way innovative as some of the service groups. So that was, in a way, what planted the seed in my head, that thinking about organization was a really, really important aspects for even, you know, thinking about how strategy and capabilities within an organization get set and get improved, right? So you can think about operating models and business models as much as you want. But underlying those at the bottom of the stack, if you will, is the manager model, right? How an organization is making decisions about the strategy pursues the risks, how resources, get allocated, roles get defined, how can how can abilities, get set, and so on. And that that is the most powerful and in a way, the most fundamental engine that determines success.

Jayne Groll 4:04
And it’s really interesting to me, because when you when you look at where we are today, and so, you know, as I told you, before we started recording DevOps Institute’s mission is to advance the human elements of DevOps. And I would, you know, I think clearly feel comfortable saying that 2020 has been the year of the human because not only did we have a human crisis in the form of the pandemic, but organizations had to shift their models very, very quickly. And, and it’s, it’s interesting to me kind of watching it from the tech space, that the organizations that were nimble that had, you know, what did you I don’t remember what you said, but it was like loosely coupled, right, where it wasn’t so tightly constrained, that they were able to pivot very quickly and it wasn’t just pivoting the work from home. Certainly that was a big piece of it, but also pivot their operations be able to stay in business. as be able to continuously compete, you know, before the pandemic, they were facing disruption from these, you know, these these startups like, you know, Uber, right, or Airbnb, you know, now we have a pandemic. So, this has been an interesting year, what have you seen? I mean, have you seen any kind of a awakening, if I want to call it that, that organizations may be seeing that perhaps the way they were structured before may not be this structure as they go forward?

Michele Zanini 5:33
Yes, you definitely hear a lot of stories from executives about how, you know, the pandemic of responding to hit had led to flatten hierarchies, you know, more democratized information, less micromanagement, you know, focusing more on outcomes over inputs. So, you know, there is definitely a promising sign, but it remains to be seen how much of this will last, because, you know, in any crisis, Jain power moves to the periphery, a crisis pushes power out, and no hierarchical organization can handle the information processing demands, and the decision making requirements that a crisis presents. But, so, that’s the good news, right, but it will the change lasts, and we’ve gone through other crises. In our book, we document how often people have declared that we’re in a cusp of a new, you know, paradigm in organization, that, you know, we are now finally we’ve reached the human era, but often, you know, bureaucracy reassert reassert themselves rather, rather quickly, you know, I mean, literally, if you go back to the 60s and the 70s, and you hear what people were saying, the predictions people were making, that you know, and 20 years from now, we will be living in this, you know, in, it will be operating in organizations that resemble nothing like, the organizations of the past, you know, it’s just, you know, they’re there, these these kinds of predictions were, were were, you know, very, very common, but if you look at the raw statistics around the number of layers, people are under the amount of time they spend, you know, dealing with a process that isn’t very value, adding the scope of autonomy, that they have, the ability that they have to share in not only contribute their own ideas, but share in the fruits of their own innovations, those are all fairly stagnant, if anything, in fact, they’ve actually come down. So I think this presents an opportunity, you know, the crisis, people are getting woke, if you will, but, you know, if we don’t take this concept of putting people at the center of organizations, and flipping the paradigm, because in a typical bureaucracy, the human being is the instrument, they’re the resources, not for anything there, you know, human beings are called human resources. And we need to kind of flip it and say, No, you know, the human beings are the agents they are and your organization is the instrument the organization is, is the vehicle by which, through which, you know, human beings can better their lives and the lives of those who they serve. And, and, you know, that kind of shift New Paradigm leads to a set of very different practices, and different kinds of power relationships within within a company, we can get into that chain. But, but unless we take that seriously, and we really commit ourselves to changing the fundamental beers that operate organizations in this manner, and the manager model, if you will, you know, then you know, we won’t have made much progress. And maybe the best that we are left with is being able to, you know, get do meetings on zoom in our pajamas.

Jayne Groll 8:46
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at that. But But I think you make a very valid point is that the crisis was addressed. And it’s ironic, because I’ve heard within the last week, kind of two different very fuzzy logic statistics, one of which was only 40% will actually go back to the office, and the other was a large Wall Street bank. Now, you know, had 25% going back now they have 50%, going back, so there is a certain comfort, right for some organizations in reverting back to what was familiar, interestingly enough, because I find this particularly fascinating because in the tech space, we actually have almost two factions. So there is a faction of practices of which DevOps is one of them, which really advocates for self organizing self regulation systems. So teams get their work, they know what they have to do. They have the they’re empowered to make decisions. There’s not a lot of layers, they have to go through for approval, and they interact with each other. They optimize automation and they are considered a stream of self regulating teams.On the other hand, you have very traditional environments that are command and control, which means you can only go from step one to step two, before an approval, and then there’s a handoff. And then you’ve got to go, you know, and, and right. And so it’s it’s really interesting that the shift and the, to the self organizing teams, for for some organizations absolutely embrace it. And some organizations are scared by it. They’re scared that if they’re not micromanaging, if they don’t know, you know, everything that everybody is doing other than zoom meetings in pajamas, that somehow they’ve lost, complete control and anarchy will will ensue. How do they overcome that?

Michele Zanini 10:42
Yes, well, first of all, probably by realizing that they have far less control than they believe. They have, you know, making things simple for for someone at the top to orchestrate work that is complex and interdependent means in a way, losing a lot of the fidelity that you need to make sure that the right decisions are being made. So you might feel like you have enough, enough control. But it’s often an illusion, we have a quote in the book from Jim, Haagen snobby who at the time was I think, co CEO, or the chairman of SAP who said that, at some point, he realized that SAP was had 20,000 KPIs that were being tracked. And he said, you know, we basically put our brains on ice, and we were running the organization by remote control. And, you know, and, you know, it gives people comfort, we were measuring things, but Were those the right things to be measuring? And, you know, was this really having an impact? So, so number one, you know, you probably don’t have as much control as you think you do. If you’re micromanaging. Number two, you you know, control, you have to separate the one that how we control is very important. But micromanagement isn’t the only way to achieve it. In fact, you know, there are a lot of companies in our, in our book, that have very few managers and very few top down processes, and very big staff functions, that are able to, you know, have a level of efficiency and innovation that is industry, industry leading. And the way they do that is by giving people not only the freedom to make decisions at the appropriate level, which is far down in the organization, but also the incentives, you know, they and the accountability, so they, they, they are the ones who bear the brunt positive or negative of decisions that they make, they give them the information so that they can make the appropriate decisions, right. And they give them the skills, the business skills, or the functional skills, so that they know, they know what’s best for the customer and for the organization as a whole. And you know, this, they’re examples from it, but also from other industries, where you might think that there’s no reason to give people a lot of frontline autonomy. But we have a whole chapter, Nucor, the most innovative steel maker in the world, they have over 26,000 employees $20 billion in revenue, and the whole company is managed, in the self organizing teams at the front line, who get paid for their own productivity, who have no, they know exactly who their customer is, they interact directly with a customer, these are frontline people, you know, they understand economics of steel, they have the autonomy to buy equipment to experiment with the equipment, so they can make it even more productive. And, you know, they just, you know, and they do this, and as I said, they’re the most, they’re the ones who bring the most innovative process improvements in the industry, they have no CTO, they have no Well, in fact, the CTO, the CEO would say, tell you, it’s not quite true, we don’t have a CTO, we do and it’s 26,000 people strong, right. So everybody is responsible for driving technological improvements. And so you basically, you know, there is a way to have, you know, in a way the cake and eat it too, right to to have the discipline and efficiency that comes with bureaucracy, with the innovation, the resilience that comes from, you know, what we call human autocracy, which is, you know, a different way of organizing and managing, you know,people and processes.

Jayne Groll 14:28
And I’m sure there’s some characteristics of the organizational culture, that take time to groom right from everything you’re describing. And I love that, right? Because what we’re doing is we’re challenging people to be their best to succeed, right to innovate, to work with each other, without that kind of robotic, she says, with a little bit of a plan with with everything happening with robotics, those human robots where I tell you what to do, when to do it, how to do it and when to clock out. Right. And so we train people that way, right? We train peoplebut not to make decisions. And I love what you’re describing, because it is making the most of something that at least today only humans can do, which is really critical thinking.

We will put in the link to the book, obviously, as we publish this podcast, but if I’m a if I’m a leader in an organization, and and so you know, now I’ve read the book, I’m all excited about it. Step one, right? Because obviously, there’s baby steps, what would be one of the one piece of advice that you would give a leader who’s who’s thinking, you know, what, it’s time for us to really embrace the strategies behind human accuracy?

Michele Zanini 15:49
Yeah, that’s a very good question, Jay. Because the, the, I think the southern bloc, in previous efforts at busting bureaucracy has always been the migration. So how do I get from A to B? You know, I, we describe companies that some of them were born this way other ones became post bureaucratic through crisis and a transformational leader. But what if you’re not, you know, your company is not going through an existential crisis. We’re all obviously in crisis mode now. But maybe we’re not teetering on the brink of Oblivion, right? Well, we weren’t, we don’t have the luxury of starting over. How do you how do you change? Right? It’s, it’s not, it’s not. And you mentioned earlier, maybe this is, before we started recording gene, but companies willing, you know, and trying to copy the Spotify model, and that being all the rage with the squads, and the tribes and so on. And, you know, it’s interesting, I, I’ve heard people that are close to those kinds of examples, coming away, feeling a little skeptical about how deeply those changes are actually being instantiated. I mean, because it’s one thing to just copy the surface level practices and rebranding certain certain things in the in the company, according to that terminology, it’s quite another to change both mindsets and practices, right. So, you know, the, the, I don’t think the solution is as simple as you know, copy and paste, and the promise that within six months, you’re just going to be able to move from, you know, one, one system or one model to the next. You know, organizations are very complex systems. And it’s pretty unrealistic to assume that you can just pivot cleanly and quickly, right. So it is hard work. But we think that it’s worth the effort, given the payoff, both in terms of the human wellbeing, as well as the productivity advantage that you get from ditching bureaucracy. So how do practically speaking, where do you begin, and so we have, you know, we lay out three different levels of which you should think about operating one is individually, one is at the level of your workgroup, right, and one is at the level of the entire organization, and, and maybe, you know, the most, the one we can can start with, is really around changing yourself, right. So this to change organizations, we must first change ourselves, right, we must own our part in perpetuating kind of bureaucracy, especially if we are in a position where we have positional positional authority. And this means, you know, thinking about how, you know, bureaucracy, maybe if you let me use this expression makes assholes of us of us all, and then, you know, finding ways to reverse that, you know, and do some soul repair, right? And think about, like, how is the raw cracy even aware of our own humanity? So here’s a simple exercise that our listeners can do. So reflect on your own actions across the last week, or maybe the last month and ask yourself these five questions. First, you know, that I suck, suddenly undermine arrival. In a bureaucracy, you know, power is zero sum, when a slot opens up, only one person gets promoted, right? It’s a zero sum game. And it’s a battle where you move ahead, and in that kind of a battle, it’s tempting to discount the contributions of others, or sow doubts about their integrity or their competence. So that’s number one. Number two, that I think enthusiasm for one of my bosses ideas. You know, raw cracy, disagreeing with your boss can be not so great for your career. And individuals often swallow their reservations rather than risk being seen as disloyal. Third, you know, did I disregard the human cost of a decision? If our organization treats people as resources, as I mentioned earlier, we might be pushed to making decisions that sacrifice trust for, you know, relational bonds between people for short term business gains, right. So just checking on that and making sure that doesn’t happen. And then the last two quickly, J for that I played safe when I should have been gold, you know, bureaucracies tend to penalize screw screw ups, and more so than the screws that penalize people sitting on their hands. And so it’s often tempting to defend timidity as prudence when it’s not? And then the last one is, you know, did I unfairly deflect blame or clean credit? You know, bureaucracy performance assessments are typically focused on individuals, not teams. And the goal is to be, you know, Teflon when the shit hits the fan and velcro when awards are being handed out, right. And this behavior distorts reputations and muscles, get recipes, rewards, but it’s kind of the only way to win an individualistic organization. So, so, you know, these are five questions, you can ask yourself and set aside some time and work through these questions. We actually have a longer list and some additional advice on in the book on how to work through these, you know, grab a journal, do a spreadsheet, and just start to think about when did I do this? What was this trigger? And how am I reduce my chances of being triggered? And make this a regular exercise and even ask your colleagues, you know, to help you keep yourself honest, so that’s just one set of things you can do. And then, you know, start individually, and that, you know, change will then propagate from there.

Jayne Groll 21:02
But and it’s interesting, as you were asking the questions, I was self reflecting myself. So very, very powerful questions, really. And I think my team’s next book club, I know what the book is going to be really fantastic. And I think, I think very human for you know, and accept the pun for what it’s worth. Because the humanity you’re right, in the humanity of work, is I think, what’s going to propel us forward, if we get not only the right support, but but also and again, before we recording, I said this, you know, there’s some myths believe that culture is surgical, that we can remove the old culture, and it didn’t steal, and we change human behavior, we change leader behavior, and then that we have the confidence and trust in in ourselves and in the people that we work with that, if if the answer is I have reservations, or I don’t want to deflect the blame, I want to accept the blame, then we should be comfortable doing that. So I wish we could talk forever, because I’m really thoroughly enjoying this. So thank you so much for for sharing with us, we will put up the link to Amazon for listeners to purchase the book really worthwhile. I said, my team is getting a gift from me. So I’m very excited about that. Is there a website or other resources that you want to share?

Yeah, Jayne, I think the best address is And there, your listeners will be able to download the preface in chapter one and access a number of tools and videos from from Gary and me. So that would be the place to go human Ah And I will just make Jay and I, we may be running out of time, but one special plea to your audience, because I think they’re so well positioned to be catalysts for change in organizations having, you know, working in it, as I mentioned before, it could be the enabler of fundamentally new and more progressive ways of organizing, it could go frankly, the other way, right, it could become the enabler of digital Taylorism, where everything is, everything is checked, you know, every keystroke is recorded, and you can tell whether people are are working or not. And, you know, the algorithm could could could be an even worse boss, and then your supervisor. So there’s a, there’s a choice we can we can make here. And I think, you know, it could help create, and it’s actually not an accident that a lot of these organizations we do in the book have incredibly robust information systems that allow the level of granularity around performance, that allowed people to be connected with each other in communities that that span silos that are cross cutting. And so you know, without, you know, and also that enable change, to happen in large scale in a distributed fashion, you know, the kinds of technologies that we have now, that allow us to create a bit of a measure of evolution were not around 20 years ago, so it’s much easier. And much, we have better odds at not, you know, succeeding where a lot of previous attempts to bust the bureaucracy failed. And so I urge your listeners in it to, you know, think of themselves as a little bit the enablers, a catalyst for this change, you know, working not only within it, but across it, and liaising with our colleagues and asking them what can we do to help you rethink, you know, processes such as strategy budgeting, performance review, of performance management, and so on? Because I think, you know, it’s through the support of it and these emerging technologies that we’ll be able to make, to make a difference. And I think you’re absolutely right.

You know, one of the things that’s become very clear over the last, say, five to 10 years is that every organization regardless of what their vertical is, is a technology organization. So encouraging the technology stack, the IT organization to be the agents of change is very timely, because I think that we as an industry can show that the breaking down of bureaucracy actually results in increased revenue, better competitive advantage, and the ability to transform. That word is really overused, but the ability to transform to the requirements of the new decade. Thank you so much, I so appreciate your time. Very, very excited about where this goes, we’ll add the book, of course, to our book corner, and I’m really looking to see how how this can really help shape or reshape, you know, the landscape of of today’s enterprise, particularly those that are afraid that they’re going to fall behind. I also have a plea to our audience, DevOps Institute, open the upskilling, enterprise dev upskill survey a couple of weeks ago, some of you know, this is our third year, we look for 1000s of responses around the world to help us understand what is the state of, of the human in, in the equation known as DevOps. And we can look, one of the things that’s been proven the last few years is that human skills are considered equally essential by the respondents to this pretty deep survey as their automation and their process skills. So this year, in particular has been such a strange year. I’m sure everybody knows that. Please take a few minutes, it takes about 20 minutes to fill out the survey. So if you’re listening, please go up to our website. Give us your input, regardless of what region you are, we collect a lot of global data, and the report we’ll publish early next year. Makayla, thank you so much. Again, such such valuable information, I’m hoping that we could get back together and do another podcast in a few months and see the impact of this this new, I wouldn’t even say operating model, I would say new way of thinking as much as new way of operating and the impact that you add the insight in the book, have done. So again, thank you so much.

Michele Zanini 27:19
Thank you, Jayne.

Jayne Groll 27:21
So again, if you’re listening, this is the Humans of DevOps podcasts. I’m very delighted to have been joined by Makayla Nene, one of the co authors of human autocracy, we’ll put in the link to to get the book and we’ll also put in the link to human So again, if you’re listening, please stay safe. Please stay well. Please stay connected.

Narrator 27:44
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. You belong


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