When a HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) is in play during staff meetings, it is doubtful that your enterprise is relying on data to inform decision-making. In fact, the HiPPO effect will be killing debate in your team meetings. Is your business making decisions based on what the HiPPO wants done?

I am sure you have been in a meeting where the boss starts the meeting saying “ I think we need to do such and such to improve profits”.

Immediately, everyone else in the room is thinking “what is the cost if I speak out against doing what the boss just said we should be doing”.  If you have a fairly robust team, some brave individuals will speak out. But, the majority will probably wait to see what happens to these hardy (or foolish) individuals and take their guidance from that.

In any case, the effect of the boss declaring a preferred action at the very start is likely to stifle debate.

The boss can run the risk of believing they are always the one in the room with the best idea. Hey, they have a track record of success, why would that change?  This adds to the highest paid person’s confidence and sense of superiority.  But it means you don't get the benefit of all the other minds in the meeting.  Alas, a vicious cycle begins and it is hard to stop.

If the boss has very firm opinions, there is likely to be no debate at all!

This is known as the HiPPO effect - the "Highest Paid Person's Opinion". The HiPPO will be weighted more than any other voice involved in the decision-making process.

Take a moment to think of meetings you have attended and how often the HiPPO effect has happened.

Think about how many meetings you chair where you speak first and probably unintentionally stifle the discussion.

The HIPPO Effect is fine if you know that you mean to do it. You might be intentionally guiding the discussion where you want it to go. There will be cases where that is appropriate.

But there is another suggested approach.

Take Another Tack: Start Small

Instead of taking the lead, ask the most junior person in the room for their opinion:

Choose the junior person as everyone else in the meeting is a HiPPO to them. Otherwise, they could easily get through the whole meeting without saying a word rather than contradict a HIPPO. They may be quite happy saying nothing but their input from their experience is valuable.

Of course, being juniors, and possibly less well informed and experienced, they are likely to make weaker or less feasible suggestions from time to time. It is important that they are not ridiculed for honest errors of this type. We all had to start somewhere!

Making sure the staff have something to say is a way of improving their attention and learning. The ancient greek philosopher, Plato, said that "expression is impression". Once you have to talk about something, your mind engages with the problem.  Think of how engaged you get if you have to teach something!

Share Your Opinion Last

Once you have called on the juniors, work up to the most senior and finally give your opinion. This might end up being a summary of earlier opinions given, or you might introduce new thoughts and directions. In any case, everyone has made a contribution and you have taken advantage of everyone's experience and skills.

A useful side effect is that you get all the other ideas before announcing your own. You have time to change your thinking before you speak. That makes you look very wise.

Staff, whose ideas you focus on in your comments, are going to get a real thrill from having the boss quote them.  That is self-reinforcing positive behaviour, encouraging them to contribute next time as well.

Inevitably, you will forget yourself from time to time and give your opinion first.  Empower the staff to ask if you intentionally spoke first so they know how to respond to your statements.

Roll It Out Company-wide

Meetings run by your managers, with their staff, will also suffer from the HiPPO Effect.

Explain your thinking about the impact of the HiPPO effect and make it normal business practice for the juniors to speak first at any staff meeting.

The outcome is that everyone is engaged and thinking at your meetings. You tap into all the intellectual capital you are employing, which might otherwise be silent.

It does mean your meetings will run longer because of more speakers, You will have to manage the agenda to suit. Alternatively, prune the numbers attending to only those likely to have a worthwhile contribution.

Taking care to consider the HiPPO Effect will mean you have much more engaged meetings with everyone actively participating. 

Resources

Forbes: Bernard Marr - "Data-Driven Decision Making: Beware Of The HIPPO Effect!?" (October 26, 2017) 

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