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  • Writer's pictureStu

How do HiPPOs hurt?

Updated: May 29, 2023


How do HiPPOs hurt? … and how the title can also make things worse


A HiPPO = The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion… you know, the person in the room that tends to have the mandate to make the calls and direct the work. They can play a massive role in supporting OR undermining your efforts, which is why as influencers we want to get good at working with HiPPOs.


At last week’s Product Aotearoa Unconference I asked around 70 product managers how HiPPOs can hurt them and their projects. There was a focus on exploring what happens when you defer to the HiPPO. I got answers like:


❌ They disempower teams


❌ A culture of yes peeps


❌ Products pivot for the worse


❌ Your best people leave


❌ They stifle other’s opinions


❌ They slow things down


❌ Noise, distraction, confusion


Which of course is a problem for projects, teams and businesses, making it essential to influence the HiPPO and not just defer.


BUT… we need to be weary of the HiPPO label too.

It could actually be hurting how we turn up.


The problem with labels like this is that they can take hold in our minds and begin to distort how we see things. For example, the label might trigger assumptions about the person and what’s important to them (e.g. “they never…” or “they always…”) or prime emotions so we react in ways that are too defensive, aggressive or passive.


We may also give off some vibes that won’t help the conversation. After all, can we really hide how we feel about someone? Can we hide a lack of respect?


To counter this it can help to remind ourselves that HiPPOs are human too. The story they’re telling themselves, and the actions they’re taking, make perfect sense to them. Just like our actions do for us. They may also be right.


Our job as influencers is to discover the HiPPO's story (the picture in their heads) and see if we can work with it or shape it. And because we’re working with a human, the demonstration of respect, curiosity and care will go a long way to speeding up these influencing efforts.


At the risk of using the label, what is one of your favourite ways to influence a HiPPO?


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