Beware the HiPPO Drone!

Posted on 05/11/2014

HiPPO graphicIf you work in tech or know a lot of west-coasters then you’ve probably heard the term HiPPO – Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. The term is going increasingly mainstream as more millennials enter the professional workforce and as the world becomes inherently flat through digital networking.

A HiPPO-Drone is someone who declares their opinion as fact and enforces said opinion without seeking more context and ignoring any context offered – even if that context comes from non-HiPPO experts in the topic. Their opinion-turned-fact-turned-plan comes out of nowhere and drops on you like something falling out of an unmanned drone. Despite all your best efforts to correct, steer or otherwise influence the HiPPO you will fail because you are now a victim of a HiPPO-drone incident.

Companies of all sizes have HiPPO drone incidents, but they become a real issue when they are a pervasive part of the culture – the HiPPO Syndrome. Traditional, very hierarchical cultures based on positional authority rather than current topical expertise are ripe breeding grounds for the HiPPO Syndrome. These companies’ cultures were formed when people moved up the hierarchy because they (in theory) knew the most about a topic and these companies still operate under the assumption that positional authority and subject matter expertise are one and the same. In today’s world this is a dangerous assumption to make.

How do you spot a HiPPO Syndrome culture? Symptoms include high turnover of outside hires, especially experienced hires in areas the company is trying to grow; decreasing ability to hire young talent and to retain them; and the tell tale sign…. when people are asked why they are doing something and the most common answer is “because HiPPO told me to”. When you reach this last sign get ready for some major market or competitive disruption to hit your company and rock it to its foundation.

In fairness, not all HiPPOs are bad or misinformed. Many are extremely capable and do keep their information, skills and perspectives fresh and sharp as the world changes. The problem is the people who have not kept pace with the changing world and refuse to open their eyes despite the best efforts of those around them to show them the way – they are the HiPPO drones in the making that you must find and remove from your culture. Let them fester and you’ll have a HiPPO Syndrome on your hands.

As an executive how can you check yourself and your organization to make sure you don’t fall prey to the HiPPO Syndrome? (please add your thoughts in the comments as well – I’m sure you have fantastic ideas and experience to share

Ask your leadership team to back up their decisions with a mix of data and qualitative input that is recent. Experience is important but so are current data and forecasted trends

Never accept as an answer “That’s the way we’ve always done it” without a further explanation of why the ways of the past are still the best and most valid approach.

Manage your talent base by bringing in new people regularly and setting a culture of learning, experimentation and innovation so your employees keep their skills fresh. You actually want to be the company that recruiters actively target to fill jobs because it means your people have leading edge skills.

Lead by example. Meet with people at all levels of your organization and listen, listen, listen. Look for the eager learners; the diamonds in the rough; the ones with the ability to think of break-through ideas and nurture them. Check your own decision-making inputs regularly – are you a HiPPO drone at times?

Ask your leadership team where their ideas are coming from and really listen to the answers. If they claim all credit, or most of it, beware. If they have a mix of inputs from a variety of people in their network, from reading current information, watching your competitors and taking learnings from other industries in addition to their own ideas then that person is a keeper and less likely to be a HiPPO drone.

Great ideas, expertise and advice for your business can and should come from anywhere in the organization. This culture is not always easy to create but in this incredibly digitally connected, flat world it is truly a must. As an executive it is one’s responsibility to create an environment free of the HiPPO Syndrome and with very few HiPPO drone incidents. Culture can be a competitive advantage if you eliminate the HiPPO Syndrome.