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?]