What’s your organisation’s BMI? … Use the “bureaucracy mass index” tool to understand how your organisation is limiting the potential of your people, and your business future

August 13, 2020

“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.

Consider these facts … 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” says Gary Hamel, co-author of the new book “Humanocracy: Creating organisations as amazing as the people inside them.”


“In a world of unrelenting change and unprecedented challenges, we need organisations that are resilient and daring”

“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.

The BMI Tool

Hamel suggests that most of the bureaucracy that stifles organisations is invisible, so leaders should calculate the “Bureaucratic Mass Index” (BMI) of their organization.

“People pay attention to things that can be measured. To dismantle bureaucracy, then, the first step is to be honest about how much it’s costing your organization” he says. These costs fall into seven categories:

  • Bloat: too many managers, administrators, and management layers
  • Friction: too much busywork that slows down decision making
  • Insularity: too much time spent on internal issues
  • Disempowerment: too many constraints on autonomy
  • Risk Aversion: too many barriers to risk taking
  • Inertia: too many impediments to proactive change
  • Politics: too much energy devoted to gaining power and influence

Not all of these costs can be easily measured, but that shouldn’t deter you from working to calculate your organization’s bureaucratic burden. Hamel calls it the BMI, or bureaucracy mass index.

Here’s a link to the BMI self-assessment tool

Examples of organisations “as amazing as the people inside them”

Of course there are some great examples of amazing organisations that do release the power of humanity. The legends of Southwest Airlines and Zappos have been updated by new examples in recent times, who have gone beyond front line empowerment to reimagine their entire ways of working.

Just this week Siemens, the huge German engineering company said that it wants “a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office … trusting and empowering employees to shape their work themselves to achieve the best possible results.

In my forthcoming book “Business Recoded” I explore more of these companies. I talk to Jos de Blok, founder of Buurtzorg, Zhang Ruimin CEO of Haier, and many others. Some seek to reduce levels of hierarchies, to focus on outcomes not inputs, to create self-managing teams, to let employees choose their own bosses, and much more.

Here are a few of them:

Buurtzorg, the Dutch healthcare business … read more


Haier, the Chinese home appliances leader … watch more about the Rendanheyi model


Red Hat, the open sourced tech business

Supercell, the Finnish gaming business … read more

Valve, the US entertainment company … read more, including their internal handbook 

WL Gore, the American textile innovator … read more

Image: Unsplash

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