Does a Hippo always have to kill a great idea?

06Jul08

Apologies, I haven’t been posting during the hiatus of my change in job to work at John Brown Group as their Senior Planning Partner.

I’ve been learning what the 20+ clients are up to, as well as trying to remember as many of the staff names as I can. No wonder Richard Branson advises his business units to keep to a size of around 100 people, so you get to know who the people are that you work with and operate as one team. I’ve been learning my way around the 4 businesses within the group: John Brown – the publishing business, Fingal – a digital and communications agency, Code – a directory/catalogue business, and John Brown Kids – who work across all comms targeted specifically at children.

The clients include Aston Martin, Emirates, John Lewis, Orange, RBS, Rolls Royce and Waitrose. An interesting mix and having reviewed much of the work and getting to know the team who work on their behalf, I can see why the clients work with us.

As well as heading the planning and research departments across the group, one of my responsibilities is to rebrand the combined companies, which will happen in the next few months.

Anyway, now you know what I’ve been up to. Back to a blog post:

HIPPO
An acronym you may have come across was used recently in a presentation by Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP product management and marketing at Google …

Avoid HiPPOs: A hippo kills more people than any other animal. In business, hippos kill more products and ideas than anyone. A hippo is the opinion of the highest paid person in the meeting room. Hippos say “I think…” It’s not uncommon for everyone to then fall into line with the Hippo’s view, possibly without even airing their own. Often the more junior clients will have little ability to influence their senior staffer, who has now publicly committed to a view, as the boss would lose face and isn’t open to discussion.

In variance to this, one management technique used by P&G, amongst others, during reviews of proposals and ideas with their agencies came to mind. It involves letting the most junior member of the marketing team present at a meeting to comment first. They are followed by the others, ascending in order of seniority; leaving the final comments to be spoken by the most senior person within the team. Sometimes 3 or 4 others may have commented before the Hippo speaks.

This approach has 4 effects.

1. It ensures everyone involved airs their opinion, even the most junior.
2. The less senior staff prove their ability, as they speak before the boss.
3. The meetings are more consensual in feel.
4. The most senior person gets to pick over the arguments and comments expressed by their team before uttering a word. At which point they may unify the response, focus on the most important points and speak with authority and insight that can appear more sage-like.

Meetings may take a little longer this way, but they make the most senior person appear more Sphinx-like. And they never generate a worse decision than a Hippo charge before anyone else has spoken.

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2 Responses to “Does a Hippo always have to kill a great idea?”

  1. Wellcome back! We ve missed your words

  2. 2 Ines

    Thanks, great post! Quoted your hippo story in my blog. I think meeting culture in general would benefit if “the usual suspects” could bring themselves to listen first.


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