How to Get Employees to Open Up
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.