CEO gives workers 'get out of jail free' cards

The boss at Extended Stay America uses the miniature notes to encourage employees to take risks.

By Kim Peterson Mar 21, 2013 3:05PM
Image: Man at concierge - Comstock, Getty ImagesAfter years of massive layoffs and high unemployment, can you blame employees for hunkering down?

Taking risks and putting yourself out there for failure, well, that might fly when there are oodles of open jobs you could fall into. But these days, many of us feel lucky just to have the job we're in. We don't want to jeopardize that.

One CEO is trying to fight that line of thinking with his own miniature "Get Out of Jail, Free" cards, The Wall Street Journal reports. Jim Donald, the boss at Extended Stay America, is giving the cards to some of his 9,000 employees.

The logic goes like this: Go ahead and take a risk. Do something without permission that you think will help the company. If you screw up, use this card and we won't ask any questions.

Sounds good, but what does a card like that really mean? It's going to take much more than a free pass from the boss to get employees thinking more boldly. It takes a broad culture change from top to bottom. Google (GOOG) did it well, at least in the early days, when developers were encouraged to spend some of their time working on pet projects. Executives told employees to act first and apologize later, and they meant it.

But with many companies, bosses only like risky behavior when it succeeds. When it doesn't, well, you still might get that black mark you were supposed to avoid.

Even at Extended Stay, it sounds like the lime-green cards didn't do much. A New Jersey hotel manager cold-called a movie production company that would be filming in the area. Isn't that something she should have been doing anyway?

Another manager went to the nearby La Quinta and stole 20 business cards from the fishbowl to find some customers. That sounds unethical and slightly illegal, and maybe she would have needed a literal get-out-of-jail card if she pushed that behavior any further.

One consultant told The Journal that workers get "conflicting messages" to be creative and cautious at the same time. And a recent survey shows that CEOs already have an incredibly low opinion of the American worker, saying employees lack the basic skills necessary for collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

So go ahead and ask for risky behavior, CEOs. But don't be surprised when you don't get what you want.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 21, 2013 5:35PM
Sounds like most all companies.It is why America is failing,but yet the CEO still gets giant payday.Talk is cheap,why would you help these people.If your idea is that good,sell it yourself.It is the American way.
Mar 21, 2013 7:02PM
This is a fantastic way to identify employees with potential. There are many employees who have the potential to excel in this day and age but haven't been able to due to lack of education, unfortunate circumstances, etc. Even if they don't make it to the top (I'm just being realistic here - if you don't have the right "education", chances are you won't), the employees will enjoy a more fruitful life. If the company they work for REALLY cares, they will guide these employees and give them the nurturing, tools and education they need to progress in their current business and in their future lives and careers.
Apr 1, 2013 1:38PM
This sounds like something this guy would do. We has also cut 80% of the employees hours to 24hrs a week, being paid $ 9.25 hr. Making the managers work 70-80hrs a week to cover not having the employees to cover the shifts. This guy  is a piece of work. Does not care about the employees or there family.
Mar 22, 2013 9:55PM

Are these the same ones issued to the CEOs by the governments all over the globe? 


Cheap token trickery to get employees to take chance with their income.  CEOs don't need these, they have golden parachutes.  Lack of innovation, laying off entire payrolls, still thinking of new and clever ways to get the surfs to do your unethical bidding. 

Mar 22, 2013 2:21PM
I wonder when CEO's realize that to maintain these double digit profits, eventually they will be the only one's working?
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