Walking into my client’s building, I noticed a large crew of maintenance workers feverishly manicuring the company grounds. When I asked the new CEO what had prompted such frenzied activity, he shook his head and said that earlier that morning, he had commented to the receptionist that he was having a hard time keeping up with his lawn, with all of the rain they had been having. His comment had been misunderstood by a bystander as criticism of how the grounds were being maintained, and reinforcements had been dispatched to manage the “grounds keeping crisis”. This was my first introduction to the “HIPPO” effect, which is an acronym for how the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion can ripple through an organization.
The effect is even greater when a CEO has strong views about an issue. For example, Steve Jobs pushed through the introduction of the new iPhone, even though problems about the antenna design had been known for months.
Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a. Evil HR Lady) suggests 5 tips for how employees can avoid being trampled by a HIPPO. I think they are pretty good, and I recommend that CEO’s not only read them, but distribute them and discuss them at a team meeting to assure their opinions are being constructively challenged.
CEOs, like HIPPOs, at times need to avoid trampling others.