Never underestimate a hippopotamus. According to Wikipedia, hippos are the third-largest land mammal and close relatives of whales and porpoises. Adult hippos average 3100 pounds and are capable of running at 19 mph. In short, the hippopotamus “is a highly aggressive and unpredictable animal and is ranked among the most dangerous animals in Africa.”
What about the hippos in your law firm? Are they aggressive, unpredictable and dangerous? Obviously, we’re not concerned that there may be hoofed animals practicing law down the hall from you. We are concerned about the corrosive effect the “highest paid person’s opinion” (HiPPO) can have on your KM project, intranet design, proposal for a new product or service, etc.
What’s so dangerous about the highest paid person?
- They are senior in rank and often do not have (or will not tolerate) subordinates who question or otherwise push back on them.
- They are busy and may not have the time to think through all the details before making a decision.
- They believe that their judgment and seniority equip them to make quick decisions that are sound.
- They may rely on gut feeling, instinct or personal experience, without checking to see if their experience is the norm or an outlier.
If you find yourself facing HiPPOs in your law firm, here are some strategies that can help you move beyond HiPPOs to better decisions:
- Data, data, data. To paraphrase Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you may be entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. So if you want to redirect an ill-advised HiPPO, arm yourself with verifiable data. Better yet, use top-notch data visualization to ensure that their Seeing is Understanding.
- Clients, clients, clients. When you are facing a HiPPO, do not rely simply on your own opposing opinion — even if it is well-considered. Buttress it with information direct from your clients. No matter how fond a HiPPO may be fond of his own opinion, he will have to face reality if his opinion runs counter to that of one or, preferably, more clients.
- Educate. Keep your HiPPO informed. When you leave to the last minute your interaction with your HiPPO, you increase the likelihood that your HiPPO will feel compelled to make a quick decision based on incomplete information. By contrast, when you educate your HiPPO through-out your process, you help your HiPPO reach a better-informed decision.
- KYH. Just like each law firm implements “know your client” (KYC) procedures, you need to implement procedures to ensure you know your HiPPO (KYH). Learn your HiPPO’s biases and blindspots. Find ways to augment your HiPPOs understanding of the facts and issues. Develop the ability to steer your HiPPO towards better decisions. It all starts with knowing your HiPPO.
Now that you know how to handle HiPPOs, here are some final questions to consider. Are you a HiPPO or are you in danger of becoming one? If so, make sure the rest of your team reads this post!