HiPPOs Impede Productivity

hippo

Does your organization make decisions at the appropriate levels or do they run every decision up the flag pole to seek the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” (HiPPO)?  Are the people doing the work consulted or are all decisions mandated from above on how they must do their work?  Is there a “HiPPO” in the room or meeting that comes out of nowhere and adds a new mandatory condition without being involved in all the previous discussions or research?  Not making decisions at the appropriate level is inefficient and ineffective; not to mention demotivating for workers.  As a manager, create autonomy within your teams!

You can imagine the time wasted if workers need to seek approval for all or most of their decisions; sometimes even having to pass through multiple levels of approval just for the HiPPO to then put the “kabash” on it.  Beware of HiPPOs that use buzzwords and mandate implementation of ideas without much if any research or validation.  If you think you may be acting like a “HiPPO” then do the following:

  • Check your ego at the door.
  • Think three times before telling people how to specifically do something, especially if you are an executive leader.  Tell them what you want to happen instead of how you want them to do it.
  • Listen, listen and listen – the best executive leaders take in as much information as possible from their people.
  • Ask open questions and explore the information you are given.
  • Create a safe environment for discussion in the workplace.
  • Establish a trusting environment and progress towards moving decisions down to the proper level.

Jurgen Appelo, author of Management 3.0, identified that not only does empowerment improve worker satisfaction, but it enables the management of complex systems.  Complex systems are not sustainable and collapse without empowerment.

General McChrystal’s troops had to be autonomous and make decisions in the moment, since Al Qaeda would change tactics constantly.  There was no longer time to assess the situation and run it up to command for a decision. The troops needed to react on their own.  They just couldn’t call back for instructions every time they got in a fire fight where things were changing by the minute.  Heuristics could be set by command, but the troops needed the autonomy to make their own decisions and at a later time share their experience and knowledge with command and other troops.

Some roadblocks for managers empowering teams is that they feel a loss of control or insecurity.  You do not diminish your worth as a manager by empowering your people.  Your worth as a manger is measured by how well your team performs and a well empowered team is a much more efficient and effective one.

In some instances, management does not trust their subordinates to make the right decisions or they’re just plain entrenched in command and control.  Hopefully, if you are a manager reading this, upon reflection you recognize the efficiency of empowering your people and teams and will work towards that end.  If you are not completely comfortable empowering your people then start out with low risk activities and build up as you progress, but you need to start.

As a manager, consider the correct empowerment decisions based on the competence level of your people. Don’t misunderstand empowerment. It is not something that is either present or not. Below are seven authority levels that have been extended by Management 3.0 from Situational Leadership Theory; each with a different level of empowerment:

  • Level 1: Tell: You make decisions and announce them to your people. (This is actually not empowerment at all.)
  • Level 2: Sell: You make decisions, but you attempt to gain commitment from workers by “selling” your idea to them.
  • Level 3: Consult: You invite and weigh input from workers before coming to a decision. But you make it clear that it’s you who is making the decisions.
  • Level 4: Agree: You invite workers to join in a discussion and to reach consensus as a group. Your voice is equal to the others.
  • Level 5: Advise: You attempt to influence workers by telling them what your opinion is, but ultimately you leave it up to them to decide.
  • Level 6: Inquire: You let the team decide first, with the suggestion that it would be nice, though not strictly necessary, if they can convince you afterward.
  • Level 7: Delegate: You leave it entirely up to the team to deal with the matter.

The bottom line is that as a manager you need to get the HiPPO out of the mix and start finding a way to empower your people.  In doing so, you’ll find that their motivation will increase.  Daniel Pink, world renown author and business thinker, tells us that the three factors that lead to better performance are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  The first, “Autonomy”, (click here for Dan Pink’s video), is ones desire to be self-directed.  People and teams can accomplish amazing things when given autonomy and this greatly contributes to intrinsic motivation.

If you are a worker, the best way to battle a HiPPO is with facts.  If the HiPPOs ego does not allow them to relinquish their position, especially with an audience present, then do whatever you can to try and gain more trust from them in the future and increase levels of empowerment for you and your team. Another tactic is to have a set of objective criteria in selecting ideas or setting priority.  If the door is open to an opinion then the HiPPO can certainly insert theirs at the top of the list, even if it will not provide the most value to the organization.

So as we move forward with our organizations, let’s concentrate on empowering our people (see empowerment video “Greatness“) and reducing those HiPPO moments. If we do then we will find we have benefited by having more motivated workers and a more efficient and effective work environment.

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