Dealing With the Hippo in the Room

Dispute Resolution

Hospitality - 2 minutes read

Some employees find themselves worried and anxious mid-meeting as they consider how to deal or respond to the hippo in the room.

You will be glad to know that I am not talking about a literal, 3,000 kg semi-aquatic mammal. Much rather, ‘hippo’ is an acronym for the ‘highest paid person’s opinion’.

The BBC recently reported on this issue (link below) and then findings are both unsurprising and eye-opening.

It shares accounts of employees who brainstorm, discuss ideas, all of which are a product of something that the hippo came up with on a whim.

Have you been in this situation before?

Or rather, do you think that you may have made your employees feel this way before?

A tough balance to strike, perhaps. Surveys show that most people will have worked for an overly dominating hippo at some point in our careers. The employer’s task is to ensure that they present themselves (and their business) as one where staff feel able to offer feedback (or even criticise), and even praise ideas which the employer may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.

Other reports show that businesses which allow their junior managers to partake and/or lead in projects benefit much more than those which relied solely on the decisions, ideas and opinions of senior management.

To summarise, one project in particular that the BBC highlights is one which a former hippo in Toronto pushed through:

“One idea, an animated, musical web series never really went anywhere commercially, and deep down it was what we all expected.”

In that kind of organisation, if you don't go with the flow you won't get promoted. Or what's happened historically is that people pay lip service to executives instead of giving them constructive feedback in order to toe the line.'