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In tough times, encourage employees to open up

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

That was one of the secrets of success for Novell Inc. chairman of the board Eric Schmidt when he took over the troubled networking software company in 1997. Schmidt employed a “kind of algorithm” to identify talented employees. After listening to a conversation between two obviously bright engineers, he asked them for the names of the “smartest people in the company.” Then he set up half-hour meetings with those identified and asked them for the names of the 10 smartest people they knew.

The conversations helped Schmidt identify a “culture of fear” at Novell. The best and the brightest were demoralized and had been suppressing their feelings instead of talking to their bosses for fear of being fired. By encouraging everyone—not just the best and the brightest—to speak his mind and pursue his passion, Schmidt was able to get people focused on new products that eventually rebuilt company revenues.

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