• Martin Eberhardt

Don’t let the HiPPO become the elephant in the room

Updated: Aug 26

Tradition has taught us to respect and listen to authorities, especially in a corporate environment. But often enough, those opinions are too subjective to lead to growth and success. We need to start involving employees and listen to different opinions.



Let’s just be honest, we all had situations where we have listened way too many times to someone thinking his opinion is correct just because he was “higher ranked” and earning more money. But was that also the best decision? Large companies often have problems with difficult decisions because there are too many different opinions and not enough data and analysis. Like us, managers then tend to choose the direction and opinion of the Highest Paid Person since they seem like they are on that salary level for a reason having enough expertise. However, this HiPPO effect (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) results often in one-dimensional development plans that prevent the company from taking risks and growing.




Problems of the HiPPO effect


Studies have shown that projects led by junior managers had a higher success rate than teams with senior executives. Employees are more comfortable offering opinions, challenging assumptions and giving honest feedback in younger teams. The results improve and provide better chances for growth. On the other hand, employees can be afraid of voicing opinions or providing other additional input towards senior executives.



In addition, some senior executives are afraid of expressing their opinion because they know that other managers might interpret this directly as the direction they should go. Some senior executives do not even know that they have this effect on co-workers.


Moreover, taking (almost) every opinion of a HiPPO for granted can lead to overconfidence for senior executives. If everything they say is taken as it is the right way, they believe that all their ideas and knowledge are correct and that they do not need data or analysis any longer. Additionally, they avoid talking to their employees to receive feedback and different opinions.




Identify the HiPPO and fight it!


To minimize the effects of a HiPPO consider these actions:


1. If you want to avoid the HiPPO effect you need to remove or at least “ignore” the power of authorities that senior executives have. It is important to make employees be able to voice their opinions without fear. 


2. Work in small teams to gather feedback before presenting them in the plenum. This way people feel freer to voice opinions since they don’t have the spotlight on them. Feedback is necessary to see if your employees commit to your strategy if there are problems that need to be identified and if they maybe even have input and knowledge that could help you to improve your strategy. 



3. Furthermore, implement regular Q&A sessions to give employees the chance to question your strategy and to receive new knowledge.


4.  Mix your teams for your strategy development to provide senior executives with new input and a modern and different perspective. Moreover, junior managers can learn and grow as leaders.


Small changes like that can provide a huge change in the company. Involving employees will help you to avoid being stuck with the HiPPO effect and gathering collective knowledge to build your strategy. It helps you to be more agile by identifying problems easier and adapting quicker and you can stop talking about the elephant and the HiPPO in the room.


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