Shoot Down HIPPOs: 5 Ways to Encourage Employee Dissent

Is yours an organization full of “Yes Men”?

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “If you have quick consensus on an important matter, don’t make the decision. Acclamation means nobody has done the homework.”

Innovative companies these days are doing more to snuff out their “yes men” cultures.

At Google, for example, the top dogs specifically tell employees not to listen only to “HIPPOs,” an acronym for the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

“Permission to speak freely is not enough—one has a duty to dissent” at Google, says Edward Hess, a University of Virginia business professor and author of the new book, Learn or Die. “This means that relative rookies can—and do—raise objections and present alternate ideas when they disagree with their bosses.”

Tough Talks D

UPS pushes a similar employee-centric culture of “constructive dissatisfaction,” meaning everyone has the duty to find ways to improve.

Make dissent a duty: 5 steps

Supervisors may feel more comfortable with people who always agree with them, but that’s coward management. Good managers should want employees to constructively challenge their ideas because it always produces better decisions. Here are five ways to encourage staff to politely dissent:

1. Ask … then thank. Present ideas along with pros and cons. Ask employees to express additional advantages or disadvantages. Focus on the latter with questions such as “What are the potential obstacles to achieving this goal?” Thank employees for taking the initiative to challenge your idea, regardless of the merit.

2. Reduce the risk. Break employees into small groups to come up with constructive criticisms. Ask the group to designate a spokesperson.

3. Be a role model. Your employees watch how you disagree with them, other managers and executives. Disagree with others the way you want employees to differ with you. Always demonstrate your desire for open discussion.  

4. Don’t insist on being right. Instead, focus on finding the best course of action for the department and the organization.

5. Keep conflict within accepted boundaries. Some employees may mistakenly think conflict means taking the liberty to criticize an individual. Managers should stifle bad behavior and identify the ways in which you want the discussion to proceed.

Bottom line: Healthy conflict is a key indicator of a healthy company culture. Do what you can to encourage employees to butt heads – in a productive, polite way.