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I was working with a company because the CEO was worried about a lack of morale.

As part of the time I spent with them, I sat in on a bunch of meetings, and one thing hit me right between the eyes.

Often, he would lead the group in rousing discussion, take a lot of input, and then come back, sometimes days later with a decision that nobody had discussed and seemed to come out of the blue. Most troubling to his people is they never knew when their input was being considered and when they were just “ wasting time in meetings that would have no impact on the company.”

This wasn’t doing anyone any good, and it left his people feeling deflated.

One of the things we did right away was to coach him on setting better expectations with his people and the desired outcomes of the meetings. Not the most eloquent solution, but it certainly helped.

The point isn’t that the CEO was wrong to make a decision that wasn’t discussed. Making the right decision is the job of the CEO. The point is that he was wrong to let others believe that their discussion was shaping input and not making it clear beforehand that he was soliciting feedback and input rather than allowing them to be part of the decision making process.

I’ve thought about that CEO a lot, and since then I’ve witnessed countless meetings in companies ranging from small businesses to global Fortune 500 firms doing billions in annual revenue. Some of those meetings used efficient decision-making processes where others ended with no decisions being made and people shouting across the room. Regardless of the situation, here’s an important lesson I’ve learned.

There is a fine art to corporate arguing, and there are many ways to resolve differences of opinion in any sized company. But the most important lesson of all?

Watch out for the HIPPO!

For some decisions, particularly when speed is of the essence, or when it’s a strategic organizational measure, the easiest (and sometimes most effective) is to simply agree with the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HIPPO).

Agree and move on.

Other times, though, the HIPPO is detrimental or just plain wrong–the hippo’s “hunch” or is rooted in opinion where facts would be better; it’s rooted in tradition where innovation is required

It’s carrying a ” what got me here, will surely get me there!” assumption that may not be true. It’s at those times when you need to look beyond the simplicity of following the HIPPO, which you need to have a clear sense of how you argue in your company.

It’s about being able to ask questions like:

What are the expectations when making a case?

What are the expectations of individuals making a case?

What level of authority is required to make an argument for change?

How are decisions communicated?

What’s the line between being open to suggestions versus allowing people just to say no, just because?

All of these questions are important because finding a way to effectively argue in your business might be the secret of success you’re missing, and knowing how to set expectations as a leader is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you’re consistently getting to utilize everybody’s intellectual firepower and experience.

Arguing isn’t about being disagreeable, it’s sales 101. It’s about trying to convince others to follow your ideas or trying to make your case as to why other’s ideas might be the wrong path.

How you as a company argue, how decisions are made, and how you provide feedback are all key areas of success.

Here’s something to think about. At the start of the next meeting you have where a decision will be made, be sure to let everybody know what decision making framework you’ll be using. For example:

Is it truly a consensus, where you’ll follow their decision even if you don’t agree?

Is it fact finding, where you take everybody’s input but make your own decision at the end?

Or will you listen politely even though you’ve already made your decision?

(Hint: It shouldn’t be that last one!)

Your Challenge For This Week:

Think about an important strategic decision to be made shortly. Ask yourself, are you using an effective decision making process, is the HIPPO running the show, or is everybody just trying to get out of the HIPPOS way?

Only 1 of 3 of these answers means your team is equipped to make effective decisions. If you’re not sure how to start doing this, get in touch! This is an incredibly useful practice to bring to your company, and it can dramatically reduce stress and improve goodwill when it’s done effectively.