Are you feeding the HiPPO?

To build an effective system can be challenging. There are a great number of details that need to be thought through and considered in order to achieve exactly what is needed for the successful achievement of organizational goals. For effective systems thinking to occur, leaders must consider the necessary principles of systems thinking (Anderson & Johnson, 1997):

  • Starting with the big picture
  • Finding balance between short-term and long-term perspectives
  • Recognizing the dynamic, complex, and interdependent nature systems
  • Accounting for measurable and unmeasurable factors
  • Leaders influence systems as well as are influenced by systems

Too often, organizational leaders design a system, set in motion, and then step away to allow the system to operate, and since systems operate in the background of organizational life (Morecroft, 2015) the system can end up neglected and creating systemic obstacles that can be misunderstood without regular evaluation of the system. For instance, an unchecked system can allow an organization’s commercial reach to extend beyond its technical grasp, or the system can become so complex that it exceeds the organizational leader’s ability to understand; when these occur, organizational leaders can choose to stop the system in order to remove complexity or risk losing market share, employee morale, profit potential, or a number of other things (Thomas, 2013).

There are generally two factors that drive system complexity: governance and capabilities (Thomas, 2013). Complexity in systems is usually the result of human exceptions. For instance, when a highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO) is chosen over sound best practices, the system must take on unnecessary complexity in order to accommodate the HiPPO (Thomas, 2013). At the same time, too many organizational leaders do not possess the necessary skills and capabilities to know how to remove complexity, causing the change to take longer, or go left unmanaged (Thomas, 2013).


Anderson, V., & Johnson, L. (1997). Systems thinking basics: from concepts to causal loops. Cambridge, Mass: Pegasus Communications.

Morecroft, J. D. W. (2015). Strategic modelling and business dynamics: a feedback systems approach (Second edition). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Thomas, J. A. (2013). Simple Is Powerful: Desired System Behavior Comes from Effective Design. INSIGHT, 16(3), 3–5.



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