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CEO gives workers 'get out of jail free' cards
After 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.
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