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How to Get Employees to Open Up

Once a day, ask someone this question: What is the dumbest thing you are working on?
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You can walk around all day as the CEO thinking you're not an intimidating person, but a lot of people, especially those who haven't known you a long time, are automatically intimidated by your title or by the fact that you don't talk with them every single day or whatever it is. When you have a strong personality, as I do, you have to make sure you are not intimidating people even more. You can say until you're blue in the face that you have an open-door policy, but nobody ever takes you up on it.

I try to combat that. Every day or so, I ask someone in the company, What is the dumbest thing you are working on? It accomplishes a few things. First, if I think the project isn't actually dumb, that usually means I have done an inadequate job explaining how it relates to the larger business, so I explain it a different way. If I think it is kind of dumb and we shouldn't be doing it, that is of course also helpful. And the question makes the open-door policy real. It gives people a comfort level to say something they might not otherwise say.

As told to Inc. editor-at-large Tom Foster.

IMAGE: Getty
From the November issue of Inc. magazine




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