“I have an open door policy so don’t hesitate to come talk with me.”
“We want your ideas so we have an open door policy.”
“If you need anything, I have an open door policy. Come talk to me.”
When your CEO or other members of management tell you, the office or the entire company an open door policy is in place, what do you think?
Be honest. You think, “Yeah, they say they have an open door policy but they don’t really want to hear from me.”
Or you think, “Open door policy…sure sounds nice. Too bad I know anything I say will be held against me.”
It’s a shame we think that way when management tries to do something good for us and the company. Why don’t we believe what management says?
I’ll tell you why. It’s management’s past actions. It’s our experience with the company or even other companies. We’ve been burned in the past and we’re not going to let it happen again.
As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.“
You’ve been stabbed in the back before because you spoke up through an open door policy. You told your manager something in confidence and it has been held against you.
You’ve provided requested improvement suggestions but nothing has ever been implemented from those suggestions.
We don’t believe management has our best interest in heart. Instead, it’s all about the almighty dollar and the company’s profit margin.
An open door policy can work
We all agree an open door policy is a good thing to have in a company. Who doesn’t want their voices to be heard; to have a say in how things run?
I want those things. You do too.
There are companies out there who have very effective open door policies. What do they do differently that makes their open door policies work so well?
Let’s take a look at some of the best practices for an effective open door policy:
Have you noticed how companies change their stances on the importance of employees in good times and bad? When it is difficult to find experienced, skilled employees, companies implement all sorts of “employee-focused’ programs.
But, when there is an abundance of prospective, talented employees, those programs go by the way side.
Shouldn’t there be a consistent focus on employees? Shouldn’t a company always want the best employees? The message isn’t consistent.
The same can be said for an open door policy. Every member of management needs to consistently express the existence of the open door policy. It can’t be said just once or twice a year. It needs to be continual.
Actual Open Doors
When you look around your office, are office doors in which management sit open or closed frequently? I expect they are closed frequently.
If there is an open door policy but the doors are closed most of the time, what does that tell the employees? It tells the employees there isn’t really an open door policy. It says, “Don’t bother us. We have more important things to do than talk with you.”
Of course, offices have doors for a reason. There are legitimate instances when doors should be closed. Such examples are during coaching sessions, phone calls, etc.
I’m guilty of keeping my door closed more than I should. I close it because I don’t want to bother others in the office when I’m on the phone. Because I use the speaker when talking on the phone, it is louder than normal. So I shut my door.
The problem is that I don’t open the door when the phone call is over. Instead, I keep working in the rarefied golden silence.
Before you read the rest of this article, watch this short four-minute video about an effective open door policy:
Let’s be honest (I hate this phrase but it’s applicable here) with ourselves. Not everyone in management should be in management. In the same vein, not everyone in management should be seen as a leader.
If you want to see a discussion on leadership versus management, click here.
Some of those in management or leadership positions are not approachable. They are either always in a bad mood, bounce so frequently between happy and grumpy you swear they are bi-polar, are legitimately mean-spirited, selfish or back-stabbing.
Those people do nothing to help create an effective open door policy. Instead, they are the main reasons open door policies don’t work.
Management has to have an approachable demeanor. Unless something is very pressing, a member of management should drop what he/she is doing when you walk to the door to the office.
Understand, though, that open door does not mean on-demand. Do-you-have-a-minute questions never take just a minute. Respect management’s time and ask about availability. Open door means a willingness to listen, not must-listen-now.
They should show legitimate concern for you, your ideas and your work.
They shouldn’t focus on other tasks, e.g., checking caller ID when the phone rings, when you are talking with them.
The best example of an effective open door policy I’ve witnessed was from a partner in my firm who took a lap around the office a couple of times each day. He spoke with just about everyone in the office during this lap.
This built a feeling of comfort with this partner that very few of the other partners could ever hope to get from employees. He took it upon himself to actively communicate with everyone in the office.
He showed no partiality between young or old, partner or staff, audit or tax. He was there to talk with, get to know and help every employee.
He became an unofficial coach or mentor to many in the office. He would listen to concerns and ideas and take those to the other partners when needed.
Another partner in another office considers himself the “Stress Reduction Partner” in his office. He wants people to enjoy their jobs and does everything he can to reduce stress so employees stay with the firm longer, enjoy their work more and live an overall better life.
Management like these two partners create an effective open door policy because they actively communicate with employees so employees feel comfortable talking with them.
Another way to actively communicate is to provide multiple modes of communication. In the technological age of today, texting and instant messaging are popular ways to communicate.
Most of my staff have my cell phone number (and I have theirs) and text me frequently. I love it. It’s not that I like being tied to my phone but I like to communicate frequently with my staff.
They know they can contact me at any time, day or night. I may not respond right away (because I keep my phone on silent most of the time) but I will respond.
We use an instant messaging service at work and it has become very popular for asking questions. We can see whether someone has been active on his/her computer in the last 5 minutes and if so, we can send a message.
This works well for quick questions that don’t require a phone call and is less disruptive to others around us.
The two partners previously mentioned built trust with the employees because they showed care and concern. Employees knew what those partners said could be believed. Whether it was career guidance or recommendations for a new restaurant those partners gave, it was trusted.
Too many people believe without merit that what they say will be trusted. That’s not the way our minds work. We need to see examples of trustworthy acts before we will trust someone.
That’s at least true for adults because we’ve been burned too many times. Children, on the other hand, are naturally trusting. If only we could be like that again.
If your employer says there is an open door policy but that is not what you witness or experience, you won’t trust your employer.
The Bible speaks of letting your yes be yes and your no be no. In essence, that means people should do what they say. When people do that repeatedly, without failing even once, trust builds.
Is your door open?
You want your company to have an open door policy so you can make your voice heard. Maybe you should lead by example.
Do you have an open door policy? Can people come to you at any time with questions or suggestions?
When asked whether you can talk, do you say yes with your voice but no with your facial expression? I know I’m guilty of this. It’s easy to fall into that. Our actions definitely mean more than our words.
Let’s say you’re a mid-level manager in your company. If you implement an open door policy for your direct and indirect reports, would could happen that could motivate company management to implement something similar?
Here is a list of several things I can think of that would start happening. Your direct and indirect reports will:
- Feel more important because they are being heard
- Bring an aura of happiness and energy to their areas
- Brag about how helpful you’ve been
- Be more productive
- Be more effective in their work
- Recruit other talented people to your area
- Work for you (and the company) longer which will reduce costs
Isn’t that a great list? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to go to management and say, “I started helping our employees by having an open door policy and all these things appear to be direct by-products of that policy”?
The more quantitative you can make the results, the better. Management always likes numbers and savings. Feelings and qualitative results are hard to measure.
What can you do?
Now we know what goes into implementing an effective open door policy as well as the resulting benefits. What can you do to help get this open door policy started?
Of course, you can implement it yourself. That’s probably the best thing to do.
You can also ask management why there isn’t an open door policy. Help get management thinking. If you ask, you may then be asked to help coordinate it.
It’s also helpful to gently force it upon management. Your co-workers may be too shy, scared or intimidated to talk with management. It’s up to you. You can begin asking for career advice (a good idea anyway), providing suggestions for improvement, etc.
Will it help?
Very few programs will be a huge success at the moment of implementation. An open door policy will be no different. It will take time to become effective.
Most importantly, it takes the concerted effort and support of ALL members of management. The importance of such a policy must come from the top and it must be heard and witnessed continually.
If it is, an open door policy will help you, your co-workers and the company. If done correctly, productivity, happiness and profit will increase.
My door is open to you
I have an open door policy as well. I want to hear from you; to know what you want, like, dislike and need. I want to get to know you.
My door is always open (figuratively, of course) to you. Please contact me and let me know how I can help you. I want to help you advance in your career, enjoy your career and lead a more fulfilled life.
Question: If the CEO of your company had an open door policy, what is the one thing you would want to ask or share?