When HiPPOs Attack

Being the voracious consumer of arts administration theory and philosophy, I jumped on the slide deck Drew McManus and Ceci Dadisman put together for their session at the Association of Arts Administration Educators conference.

The topic they covered was “Effective Data Driven Decision Making,” which may sound uninteresting until you realize that the main thrust of their session was providing guidance for dealing with a major barrier to progress in an organization, the HiPPOs.

In his post on Adaptistration reflecting on his conference experience, Drew expresses some surprise that conference attendees hadn’t heard of HiPPO decision making before. I suspect people are familiar with the practice, but just don’t know that particular term.

HiPPO stands for Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

I am pretty sure everyone has had the experience where they put a lot of effort into developing a plan/proposal, supporting it with research, surveys, etc., perhaps going through multiple layers of people to get their buy-in and approval only to have the final decision maker summarily nix it.

Usually the rejection is based on a personal opinion or gut feeling about what should be done, despite the fact that the people they pay to do research, analyze data, and be subject matter experts say otherwise.

This slide from Drew and Ceci’s presentation summarize it pretty well.

Accompanying this and other slides in the presentation are scads of notes Drew and Ceci graciously supply. Including the following tips about HiPPO behavior:

How to tell if you’re a HiPPO (or work for one). HiPPOs ask:

  • How much traffic is coming to our website?
  • What are our conversion rates?
  • What are the top exit pages on our website?
  • How many average monthly leads do we generate?
  • What is the average site visitor time on site?
  • What are our click-through rates on the homepage slider?

In short, if your data requests sound like grant applications, you have yet to establish a positive data culture.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking about effective data driven decision making in terms of having to collect even more information for reports no one is going to read. Think about this in terms of creating a work environment in which data analysis and expertise is honored across the whole organization (Drew & Ceci also address siloed decision making) and acted upon rather than disregarded on one person’s word.

Basically, the goal is to reduce how frequently you utter the phrase, “So what did I do all that work for…” at work

Go check out the slide presentation and accompanying notes.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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