January 31, 2012

“Ask Chris Anything!”

Go ahead – ask me ANYTHING!

No one wants to work at a place where they don’t trust the leaders.

A lack of trust will cost you dearly.  It will eat away at your organization like a invisible cancer.  Your people will  communicate ideas less freely, especially with you.  They feel less secure and less committed to the company.  People in such an environment are far less likely to achieve great things.

And you want to achieve great things, don’t you?

If so, it’s your job to lead by example.  Create a culture of openness and trust.  A place where no one is afraid to share their ideas or opinions.  A place where everyone feels “in the know” because they really are “in the know.”

One thing you can do is invite questions from your people.

I tried this for the first time at our monthly “All Hands” meeting by announcing “Ask Chris Anything!”  I explained that our values include openness and transparency.  I believe that Dream-Makers deserve to know what is happening in the company.  No question is off limits!  So, go ahead — ask me anything!

The Dream-Makers (aka DMs) just stared at me.  I could tell some of them had questions but no one wanted to speak out in front of the group.  The hum of the air conditioner increased to fill the silence.

(There’s a special taboo in Asian culture about challenging the boss, especially in front of others.  If you want an open and transparent culture you gotta get people past that.)

So I decided to tweak the idea.  People could ask me anything online, privately and anonymously.  I created a Form on Google Docs and emailed the link to the DMs.  “I don’t want to know who asks the questions, I just want the questions!”  (You can view a copy of the form here — it’s super easy to set up.)

Boy, did I get questions.

Some were tough, some were softballs.  “When will you get married?” came up three times.

Here are a few:

DM: “Hi Chris,

I am very excited with your idea “”Ask Chris Anything”” cause I always have a ton of questions to CEO/MD where I’ve worked but I never did it before (I was afraid to ask them).

My first question:

– What do you think about Yahoo in Vietnam? I think that it’s going to die soon.

Thanks so much for your willing to answer any question coming :)

Nice weekends,



Me: I’m glad you like “Ask Chris Anything.”  I enjoy answering your questions.

I agree with you.  Yahoo is in trouble.

I think Yahoo’s problems happened because the business environment changed faster than Yahoo changed.  Google, Facebook, Twitter, Groupon — all came after Yahoo but Yahoo kept doing business in the old way.   Business history is full of examples of companies who where unable to change when the environment changed.

I think Yahoo is on the way out.  They won’t die soon, but will die very slowly.

Let’s work together to make sure WE are always changing and improving so we don’t become like Yahoo!

DM: “Dear Anh Chris,

I would like to ask you 2 questions:

First, Any product alway has the limited life circle. How is about our Job posting service? Do you think when does it die?

Second, When are you going to get a family for yourself? have you ever felt nervous about the problem?

Thank you so much, Anh Chris.”

Me: Products live as long as they deliver value to the customer.  They die when they stop delivering value to the customer.

Other, more developed markets like the Australia, the USA and Singapore still have successful companies offering  Job Postings.  I think our Job Posting product will live for a very long time because it is so effective at delivering candidates to the customer.

As for your my getting married, troi oi my mother keeps asking me this question too.  My answer is always “Thời gian sẽ trả lời” (time will tell).  I do want kids, so that probably will happen in the next few years.  My heart is touched that so many DreamMakers are concerned about my marriage future!

I responded to every last question.  Then I put them up on an unlisted web page and sent out to the DMs.  I got a lot of positive feedback.

When your people see that you really mean it when you say “Ask me anything!” and you spend time answering, they appreciate it.

They begin to open up.  They begin to feel more secure.  They begin to trust more.

It’s a good thing.  And it will lead to great things.

[PS – Here’s a great article about how one company implemented radical transparency.]
[PPS – Why not share your experiences with transparency, or lack of transparency, in the comment section below?]

  • Thank you Chris, Another nice post again.
    I would like to share about my working environment. In fact  I have no idea whether it transparency or lack transparency? My boss has created a working environment base on what he call: ” Pháp trị “. The environment  that make people scrutiny, confrontation, and talking back each others, the environment that make only one boss  in the company and there are no middle management team. I had tried to talk about this problem, but the answer: “if you do the other way around, the true will never come to this desk ( his own room )”.
    So Chris, could you please tell me how to decode this kind of management?

    • Hi Hoa,

      From your description it seems you may have a boss who wants to know everything and make all the decisions himself.  This can be an effective management strategy for small teams, but has several drawbacks.  

      First, talented and ambitious people don’t like to be micro-managed.  They will not stay in these environments for long.

      Second, a boss who insists on controlling all details will never be able to develop leaders on his team to scale his business.   He will reach a point where he can’t manage more people directly, and then his business will stop growing.

      Does that sound like your environment?

      • Well well well, You are genius Chris :)

        • Thanks Hoa, but this has nothing to do with being smart.  Just accumulated experience.  Shucks.

  • Quoc Khanh

    Nice post Chris. Here my question for you.

    Suppose you are a talented employee. How you deal with your lousy boss? If you outsmart him, try to be a star, be proactive….he could put an end to your career. If you stay cool, then you can’t do great things, can’t make your voice heard, can’t prove yourself… Wait until he retires? Too long. Quit your job? Can’t because you believe this place is the best, the place for you to grow. What are you gonna do man?

    • My advice to someone in this situation would be simple: “Make your boss look good.”

      Do a great job for your boss.  Make him look good to his boss.  Then when the time comes, ask your boss for more responsibility or whatever you want. 

      Tell him that career advancement is important to you.  You would like to do it inside the company.  If that’s not an option, though, you’re ready to go outside the company to advance your career.

      If you’ve done a good job he won’t want to lose you.  He’s more likely to give you what you want.

      If he won’t give you want you want at that point you have two choices: 1) go outside the company, or 2) stay where you are an be miserable.

      In my career I’ve learned that sometimes you have to force your boss to give you want you want. It’s just the way things work sometimes.

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