HiPPO versus HiPo; or why hierarchy can be bad for performance
A view from Sue Unerman

HiPPO versus HiPo; or why hierarchy can be bad for performance

A knock at the door of a hotel in Amsterdam. Mick Jagger opens the door and – bam! – Charlie Watts punches him in the face.

The journalist Bill German says that during a meeting in which The Rolling Stones were discussing splitting up, Jagger said to Watts: "None of this should matter to you because you’re only my drummer." Watts’ point of view was that, in fact, Jagger was only his singer. Watts went back to his hotel room. He then walked down the hall and knocked on Jagger's door. When Jagger opened it, Watts hit him. If there's a hierarchy in The Rolling Stones, then Jagger isn't at the top.

The other day, someone mentioned to me that they thought they should really improve their relationship with a more senior Person X because, one day, X might be their immediate boss.

I was a bit confused. I said: "Shouldn’t you improve your relationship with X because you have to work with him now, and therefore you’ll work better together if you have a good relationship?" "Hmm," this person replied. "Yeah, and X might be my boss one day."

I'm with Watts on this. I base what I do on the idea that the person with the best ideas is the most important person in the room. Not everyone does – I accept that – though I am horrified by the idea that someone would want to get to know anyone or want anybody’s goodwill purely because of a title. I hope it is because that person can help improve their performance and make things happen.

Don't back the HiPPO, back the HiPo. The HiPPO is the highest-paid-person’s opinion; HiPo is the high performer. Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, writing in Forbes, say: "HiPPOs are leaders who are so self-assured that they need neither others' ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs. They are quick to shoot down contradictory positions and dismissive of underlings' input." Great companies override arrogant HiPPOs and, instead, foster a culture of experimentation in which leaders at all levels are encouraged to test ideas in the marketplace and let outcomes guide implementation.

Hierarchy matters to our egos, but the most important person is the one who makes a difference to results.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom