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Beware the HiPPO

Beware the HiPPO! It sounds like something out of the latest blockbuster superhero or horror film doesn't it, a dire warning to the hero about the danger the HiPPO poses with the expectation that the hero, at some point, will have to face the HiPPO and survive. Encountering a HiPPO can range from being terrifying too hilarious to, well, depressing. They pop up when you least need them to and almost always consume time and energy you just don't have. When I say consume, I do mean consume, that's what feeds a HiPPO that, and its own internal power unit of self-worth. Make no mistake, HiPPO's are not good, and you do need to beware of them, or they will destroy your day, week or even year.

Sadly, HiPPO's aren't a mythological beast from a far off land that time forgot, they are real, and we get to see them all too often.

How to Spot a HiPPO 

Firstly, it's important to understand what a HiPPO is. HiPPO is the Highest Paid Person's Opinion, it's the set of words or phrases that tumble out the mouth of the typically most senior person in the room or conversation that sound reasonable to them but really aren't. The problem with HiPPO's is that they very rarely come meaning real harm, they believe that they are helping and speeding things along.

The danger is that they can sound reasonable to the uninitiated as well, after all this person is (usually) senior to them, has been around a while so clearly knows what the right answer is and then, well that's it. All other answers or suggestions for things stop, the HiPPO has spoken, everyone has heard now they must act on this opinion.

HiPPO's kill inspiration and out the box thinking, they also have a habit of stifling development of people since there is no need to try and figure anything out because, well, the HiPPO is out there and that's that.

The HiPPO also doesn't accept criticism of their idea no matter what reasons you give for the opinion not being valid, they know all therefore you should get on and just do. The challenge is that in the vast majority of cases your HiPPO is going to have very little to back it up, they will be subjective and most likely unscientific in the reasoning, but that doesn't matter. They earn the most, and so the opinion must be valid, and you must take it seriously. Except, you must do exactly the opposite, if you really want to beware the HiPPO you need to start by not giving in.

How to handle a HiPPO

On the surface it seems mad to go against the HiPPO. All sorts to things could happen to you as a result, you could be ridiculed, berated, sent to the corner to think about what you have said, be ignored or worse still have your confidence shattered. The reality is that you need to manage them carefully and with time it's possible to temper them, I'm not sure you ever really get rid of them.

1. Always have Data 

Data is the ultimate weapon when it comes to opinions. They can support or disprove an opinion quickly. Keep in mind there is 2 different types of data, quantitative and qualitative both are equally valid, and both can be used to counter opinion-based discussions.  

2. Bring the metrics 

The old adage of If you measure it you can manage it is mostly true, I say mostly because in reality just because you can measure something doesn't mean you can do anything about it. I can measure the performance of my favourite football team but there nothing I can do about the fact they probably are going to lose the next game. However, having actual metrics lets you show what's happening and how you are trending, it's the cousin to your data. The best type if you can get it are leading indicator metrics, those are the ones that you can use to predict an outcome. This allow you to have conversations such as well, this metric for material availability is heading up, that correlates to us being able to hit more sale son time 98% of the time so we should be good.  

3. Have allies 

Sometimes sheer numbers are enough to overwhelm the HiPPO. If you have enough of those in the room or conversation on your side it may be enough to overwhelm the inertia of a HiPPO. Just be sure you are not turning into the HiPPO! The best way to do this is share any data with everyone else and ask them to actively poke holes in it, ask them to find the faults so you can improve on it (the mere act of asking this means you are not a HiPPO)

4. Know when to walk a little with the HiPPO 

HiPPO's are, as we said, generally more senior in the organisation. It often feels like they got there because they have been there the longest, or they know where the bodies are buried but, they will be right some time. Learning to be able to ask them in the right way to explain their opinion, so you can understand and buy in is a bit of a skill, but one you would be well to learn. It lets the HiPPO share knowledge, and explain where the gut feel came from, that's after all really what an opinion is. It's a gut feel based on previous experience or beliefs. If you can get them to explain this, then one of a few things could happen

  1. You could learn more about the thinking and understand it's actually right (always possible)
  2. You could learn more, so you can then build the data to disprove the opinion
  3. The HiPPO themselves could talk themselves out of the opinion (rare, but has been known to happen)

Create a HiPPO Free zone  

methings you just don't needIn the end the very best solution for everyone is to create a HiPPO free zone, don't allow them into the organisation and when you find them, help them realise what they are and how they can change. If they can't change, then you must question what value they really bring to the meeting or potentially the organisation if the information flow is only one way, and it's only ever opinion based how do you build and grow new thinking? 

To build a culture of inquisativeness, of creativity and openness to new ideas or to make it OK to challenge all the exsiting ideas, the focus needs to be to get rid of the HiPPOs.

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Wednesday, 05 October 2022

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