Gary Hamel’s pyramid of human capabilities

gary hamel pyramid

This is a transcript from Gary Hamel video on management innovation. The author of Future of Management presents his Maslow pyramid describing the hierarchy of human capabilities within a work environment.

There are 6 levels of engagement and human capabilities in the work space :

  1. Obedience : show up, do the job
  2. Diligence : work hard, stay focus, long hours etc …
  3. Intellect : taking responsibility for their own skills, bring best practices to the work place
  4. Initiative : taking ownership for a problem, an opportunity before you ask them, not bound by a definition of their job
  5. Human creativity : brought by people who would ask how to do this in a fundamental different way ? What is there to learn from other industries ? Where are the chances for radical innovation in this product/service ?
  6. Passion and zeal : for whom their job is not only intellectually meaningful it is indeed spiritualy meaningful to them. Enormous meaning comes out of their work.

Layers 1 to 3 are becoming global commoditites. One can buy these human capabilities in any low cost country in the world. There is certainly no company in the western world with a cost structure able to defend their place in the world if this is all they’re getting out of their employees.

If you attach some percentage to that hierarchy to your people, what proportion of their capabilities are they bringing each day ? We’ve asked that question, we’ve done some surveys and most of the results were showing that we’ve getting about 50-55% of our employees capabilities.

Which means that we only are tapping into the first 3 commoditized capabilities, not in the last three which are the ones bringing most value.

That’s not enough for the world that lies ahead.

This is the reason why employee’s engagement is such a critical issue whenever working with knowledge workers.

Now : what is the proportion of their capabilities people bring into your company ? Is that acceptable for you ? How do you plan to improve these capabilities ?


  1. As a guess, I would say that in many companies, the first layer ‘Obedience’ probably count for as high as 30% of the workforce if not more …

    I’ve seen more often than not people coming to the office for the paycheck at the end of the month …

    Mostly because the company did not offer anything else of course, but still …

  2. Hey man,

    From my company’s perspective, I’ll add a few thoughts: 1. I hate the word obedience, it sounds too top-down to me and I really like other 5 in my employees. You’re right, obedience quickly becomes a commodity, especially because the other 5 already result in the latter.

    2. Intellect/Creativity & Diligence don’t usually match. People who are really, really smart, usually work in bursts, creativity comes in bursts, and a really good mix is if you have the creatives working together with the “dilligents” (for lack of a better word).

    3. the implication is that having all 6 capabilities in the same person is a very rare thing.

    Probably other stuff to add, but that’s it for now.

  3. Interesting and should be discuss in details because none of this level is sure !

    See what happens when you don’t treat your workforce like they should deserve.

    Strike, betray, counteract…

    You have to work hard in your compagny values and how manager makes them live to climb these levels…

    A view about this pyramid for employee in entreprise 2.0 :

  4. Barthox > thanks for your comment. fully agree with you. It is the responsibility of managers to make sure people make sens out of their contribution and they’re happy to come to work

    Vincent-vw> see Barthox comments above. there are still MANY people bringing onl obedience to work – they just show up and do the job. I understand you’re not comfortable with this but it’s not a manager view it’s just a fact.

    Vincent> Thanks for your comment. No disrespect but you’d better think twice before questioning Gary’s point of view. This guy has fascinating understanding and view on management. Refer to his book the Future of management discussed there.

  5. This is a nice way of thinking the value people bring to their work. Is there any research regarding the impact each stage has on productivity? Or the success of the company?

  6. I don’t see the reason for the pyramid shape. The things below aren’t foundations for the things above, and since “commodities” is obviously already spelled out the whole thing could just as well have been a list. But I’m influenced by the criticism of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

  7. When you ask, ‘is this acceptable?’ you almost acknowledge the obvious: i.e. that those of us who just ‘show up and do the job’ are consciously and rationally DISobedient. Not only is our ‘zeal and passion’ not for sale, it’s busy turning your pyramid on its tiny head.

  8. Actually the pyramid makes a lot of sense.

    The vast majority of workers are only there for a paycheck. They have no vested interest in the company beyond making the product so the company makes enough to pay them. The are Obedient, follow orders, stay where they are, they are the working class, the foundation of society. They are controlled by commodities, dangle a carrot in front of them, and watch them work.

    With Diligence we rise above the masses of the obedient workers. There are fewer here, work hard, strive to better oneself, nicer accommodations.

    At this point we see specialization really showing up, and with that is Intellect. As we involve ourselves deeper into our passions, we rise above the Diligent, we are more sought after, because there are fewer of us at this level. We think for ourselves, tinker with ideas, start opening doors to higher knowledge.

    Since we are sought after, we take Initiative, in stating we are the “go to” individual, the “one who is in the know.” which brings us into a new level, fewer here, we act, and those below us respond and obey. We take the ball and run with it, pushing our ideas forward.

    With Creativity, we find we are not dependent on manual labor, we are not controlled for the most part, we are free to express ourselves without reprimand. We begin seeing the system from a different view point, and tinker with the command structure in inventive ways.

    With Passion and Zeal, we no longer are controlled by commodities, we have a higher desire. We throw ourselves into our compulsion, and whether it sustains our lifestyle or destroys it, we have our calling, and will follow it to our grave. We are beyond the need for followers, there is only the desire, the zeal, nothing else has value beyond our calling. It is value beyond imagining.

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