The Highest Paid People’s Opinions (HIPPOs) can stifle and derail critical conversations within your organization.

Mike Diaz and Carolyn Galvin rounded out Tuesday’s presentations with a session on “getting people on the same page,” and how to best advocate for change.

Deconstructing Sacred Cows

Sacred cows within the organization masquerade as other things, says Galvin.

What is a sacred cow?  They are largely untouchable, such as outmoded beliefs, assumptions, practices, policies, systems, or strategies.

They are also generally invisible, inhibit change, and prevent responsiveness to new opportunities and new ideas.  They are powerful because they become part of the corporate culture; resistance to change feeds sacred cows, says Galvin.

What does a sacred cow look like?  They can be identified around some of these phrases:

“That won’t work,”

“It’s just a fad”

“You don’t have the authority”

”It’s too complicated”

“Don’t rock the boat”

“That’s not the way we do things here”

Examples include:

  • Protected cows: People with inflated titles who talk a lot but say a little
  • Information hoarding cows: Hide information for selfish benefit
  • Wall Street cows: Extreme focus on meeting Wall Street expectations distorts business processes/customer focus
  • Unaccountable cows: Weak governance means no one is being held accountable
  • Disconnected cows: Lack of communication means right and left “hands” of the organization are not talking

Getting started with sacred cow deconstruction:

  • Ask why are we doing it?
  • Does it add value?
  • What if it didn’t exist?
  • How and when did we start doing it?
  • Does it have a sponsor?

Answer these questions:

  • This job would be great if I didn’t have to…
  • What a pain it is to…
  • Why am I doing this?

More suggestions include:

  • Think like a beginner; ask “stupid” questions about why things are done a certain way
  • Challenge convention
  • Don’t be complacent. Even when something is working well, keep looking for ways to improve
  • Promote truth sayers: Give a seat at the table to those who challenge the norms
  • Celebrate failure: Rather than penalize mistakes, reward attempts to try something new
  • Look to customers for inspiration

Interactive exercise: Participants assembled in groups to identify the three biggest sacred cows within organizations today.  They asked each other these questions in formulating their responses:

  • Why are they so damaging?
  • How can we limit or remove them?
  • What resistance do we anticipate and how can we overcome this resistance?

Some of the conclusions reached by symposium attendees include:

  • Remote staffing is an innovation at some places
  • In a worldwide economy, there is need for some to work during “off” hours to accommodate those in other time zones
  • Internal challenges may be inhibiting external interactions
  • Asking for feedback from the customer when we win—maybe the client “wasn’t completely thrilled.” Also, the sales team needs positive reinforcement.

Mike Diaz concluded this session with comments and discussion on aligning stakeholders around a single version of the truth.

Fundamental disconnects that undermine critical conversations include: Where are we?  Where are we going?  How will we get there?  How will we know when we’re there?

Where are we now?

Problem: People seeing what they want to see, perceptions of the present is colored by prior success.

Example: Myland raised prices for EpiPens 400%.  They did not account for prior congressional scrutiny for pricing of generics.  Backlash was likely, and the CEO’s salary went up 600% over this same time.  There was poor communication prior to the change.

The impact was higher revenues in 2017, earnings per share was down 7% versus the prior year.  Four lawsuits and countless congressional hearings resulted, Myland already paid out more than $400M to settle one suit.  And, the price hike accelerated market entry of competitors.

Where are we going?

Problem: Poor recall for strategy pillars at C-Level (50%) even worse at the next level (22%).  Multiple, often conflicting strategies in play or mix and match.

Example: Blackberry PlayBook has a consumer-oriented name.  The tagline is “professional grade” and effort to tying the device to the phone suggests businesses were the target.

Impact: RIM wasted scarce resources to create a product flop.  They demonstrated that they are out of touch with the market, paving the way for stronger iPad sales.

How will we get there? 

Problem: Failure to clarify roles, resources, and expectations for people and teams to deliver on strategy.  Lack of accountability around what must happen to move the needle/drive results.

Example: Firestone operations and capital allocation exploited booming demand for tires by quickly bringing production capacity online.  Michelin challenged the company with new radial tires and Firestone invested $400M to develop radials.  Quality and productivity suffer as Firestone tweaks designs for current tires rather than doing full redesigns.

Impact: Tires failed to meet market demand, poor sales left production at lesser capacity.

How will we know when we are there?

Problem: Stakeholders fail to align around common metrics.

Example:  Blockbuster flip-flopped between an entertainment company and retail company.  Retail leaders failed to acknowledge the importance of critical metrics for the entertainment side—like store visitors could not get popular movies that they were looking for 75% of the time.

Impact: Entertainment and retail factions wasted time and energy with infighting.  The company repeated the same mistakes across three former retail CEOs from Walmart, Seven Eleven, and Toys R Us.

It is often not easy to reason with Hippos, said Diaz.

The Highest Paid People’s Opinions (HIPPOs) can stifle and derail critical conversations within your organization.

Managing data and analytics is key:

  • Clarity: Further the data conversation. Make sure stakeholders understand where data improvements are needed to deliver expected performance.
  • Selectivity and Simplicity: Help stakeholders to align around metrics and views of data that matter.
  • Reliability: Surface issues with data integrity and quality and their implications—including resource needs.
  • Flow: Identify weak links in your data supply chain—problems wit integrations, APIs, and appropriate tools to fill the gaps.

Allies and coaches are key, notes Diaz, from IT departments to the executive office.  “Your ability and agility to make decisions are very critical, there are lots of more nimble organizations out there,” he said.

Getting started

  • Identify and prioritize disconnects
  • Find stakeholder that can help you make the case to address important differences
  • Frame the impacts of competing versions of the truth in terms of outcomes that matter
  • Zero in on impact

Once again, participants split into groups to identify most important area of disconnects about fundamental business realities.

They addressed these questions in their discussions:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where are we going?
  • How will we get there?
  • How will we know they are there?

Attendees were further tasked to describe and quantify impacts, suggest strategies, and then to report individual findings back to the group.

Participants arrived at these conclusions:

  • Sometimes staff is not interested in knowing any more about the business than is required for them to do their jobs
  • Multiple generations in the workforce creates an immediate disconnect. In an atmosphere of bombardment on issues like AI, nobody wants to be eliminated, but at the same time, nobody wants to accept responsibility