Where's Your Hippo And Should They Obsess You?

Here’s a phrase that’s been around a while. I was reminded of it when reading about Silicon Valley’s approach to building layout and the like(*).

HiPPO (stands for) highest paid person’s opinion

Apparently, ‘empowerment of individuals from every rung on the corporate ladder is also a notion strongly nurtured in Silicon Valley’. Google UK’s head honcho, Dan Cobley, hopes ‘that at meetings he always tried to avoid awarding too much value to the Hippo‘.

Author Deborah Perry Piscione writes books on this. “We’re so used to working within hierarchical structures that we can’t fathom how someone could have a billion-dollar idea at a very junior level. But good ideas come from all ages and all ranges of experience. Silicon Valley was the first place to understand that.

And here’s a cracking Forbes report of the dangers from when a hippo equates megapay with vastly superior intellect. Like a medieval monarch or modern-day despot, some of the behaviours are startling;

[the hippo] required the then-marketing Vice President to go through each customer mailing publicly in an exercise designed to show the foolishness of the company’s prior communication and promotion strategy

As Forbes comments, no “unvarnished dose of reality” could ever be forthcoming in such constricting culture.

It occurred to me you could evoke other animals. Bison could be for Biggest Salary ONameplate. Cougar could suggest Corner Office
User Guarantees Annoying Reasoning. Inherent in the description is the inference that their opinion carries the day even when flawed. Which probably happens often. Nevertheless Hippo is a cracker.

I did wonder whether it matches the old reps’ dictum of needing to seek out the most macho job title holder. Also, I’ve long thought about how to root out the impact of the more informal, and opaque to the typical seller, authority. Such complexities are manifest in concepts like Core Group Theory and the wholly indefensible force that is wasta.

Where this term is useful is in that it looks at only a small group. The people in a room at any given time. So hippo does not necessarily equate to the CEO. It reminds us that the arrogance of selling is to be avoided. No matter how ‘lowly’ or junior you perceive an audience to be, a hippo will still exist in their midst. Politics is everywhere.

Hippo plainly feels a disparaging term. Taken from an animal that no matter how cute in cartoons, likes to wallow selfishly in mud and fiercely charge at anyone at the merest detectable sniff of danger to stampede over their presence.

I did read on the blogoshpere that one best way to ‘handle’ them is with ‘data’. I can’t quite bring myself to share this view. As a decision-buster, figures alone are rarely enough. One man’s stat is another’s blatant untruth and all that. Numbers presented as ‘fact’ can help a touch, but when faced with obstinacy, they all too easily get dismissed. After all, the hippo reckons they know about unwanted impacts that you cannot see as they’re beyond your pay grade.

Such people are even more inclined towards the emotions of decision making.

Appeal to their egos, help further their ambitions, and joy will follow.

Easier said than done, but like in any ‘complex’ sale (ie, where more than one person’s say-so is required) the rules remain the same. Understand and align their vested interest and what they want to achieve and your plans will more likely be adopted.


* Incidentally, it is not the case that the USA single-handedly won the war. American dotcommers did not necessarily ‘invent’ “2.0” workplace practices such as having people from different disciplines sit together and be made to mingle more.

As I’ve blogged before, English RnD powerhouses GSK and McLaren have long such deployed this thinking.

Still, the much trotted out example of Steve Jobs refitting a derelict factory with an unavoidable atrium and single set of loos to force people to bump into each other adds to the Hollywoodesque legend.

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