Open Door Policy Just Doesn’t Work

As more and more companies move to modern methods of management and words like empowerment, coaching, and meaning float around there is also a popular concept of “open door policy”. Many managers and HR departments would subscribe and even advertise the notion that the company is trying to create an open and transparent environment and everyone should always feel free to raise their voice and point out issues. But does it actually work? And what steps you as a leader need to take to make sure your team really comes to you with concerns and ideas?

Open door policy

In its essence, open door policy is a way of communication in which a manager leaves his virtual “office door” open to employees. The idea is to encourage informal, open, and transparent communication between the company and the employees. Anyone can at any point approach the manager and suggest improvement, come up with concern or provide feedback. It sounds great and something one should strive for but it has its downsides. How many of your employees actually do come to you on their own? Chances are that not too many. Why? There are numerous reasons. It can be that they don’t really trust you and are afraid to provide feedback. Doing it anonymously would be preferable. Or they feel that if you want to know something you will ask. Or they believe you probably thought of the idea yourself so why to bring it up. Or they are introverted. Or they simply don’t know how to breach the subject.

There are also other aspects of the open door policy that can create a rather messy working environment. If people cannot talk to their boss, he is not around or doesn’t care they may talk to others. That is what open door policy encourages. Go and talk to HR, or do a skip level meeting with your bosses boss, and since that person does not have enough context it is a great opportunity to play some politics.

In short, open door policy does not work unless the manager puts enough effort into making it work.

Management by walking around

It is your role and responsibility to reach out and build relationships. Some time ago, I wrote an article Management By Walking And Sitting Around where I talked about the importance of being “with the team”. It is a great way to start building relationships with your employees and to remove some of the worries they may have with approaching you. So let me sum up the basics as described in the article above:

  • Walk – be on the floor with your team every single day to create opportunities for people to talk to you and for them to know you are there for them.
  • Talk – talk about them, life, hobbies, family, business, what they work on, what issues they have, reinforce the goals and acknowledge the job well done.
  • Remember – get to know your team, remember the things important to them, or even the small things you can follow up on later on to show you care.
  • Follow up – if you promised to do something during your walk then make sure you follow up, do the action items and get back to the person with results.
  • Make a habit of it – do it and do it often since there is nothing more important than leading your team.
  • Sit – sit with the team to understand their daily problems and struggles. It is a great to understand how the work is being done and what you can do to help.
  • Show – when you sit with your team, you should be at your best behavior. This is a unique opportunity to show how you expect the team to work without even talking about it.

Open floor policy

Open floor policy goes a step beyond the management by walking around. It is not only about you being visible and having good relationship with your employees. It is about regularly seeking feedback and closing loops on any open issues.

So let us expand our management by walking around by three more steps:

  • Seek – seek feedback on what can be done better by you and by the team. It does not have to be a big conversation about huge issues the company has. If done on daily basis chances are that it will be small things that can be easily adjusted to and the team can quickly see results. If they see you are listening to what they are saying it will encourage them to say more.
  • Find – ask for problems even when no proposed solutions exists. It is a corporate mantra “bring me solutions, not problems” and there are situations where it really should work that way. It always looks better when you come to your boss pointing out a problem and at the same time propose a way to fix it. This is definitely true when the solutions to the problems are within your competence and sphere of influence. However, if you create environment like this then you are also saying “if you don’t have a solution don’t come to me at all”. And that is not particularly healthy situation and can lead to people not raising their concerns. In your walk around the office make sure people understand that they can bring you problems and you will work on solutions together.
  • Close – close loops and ensure that when feedback is provided to you the employees also see what actions were taken base on this feedback. When it comes to feedback the surest way to discourage it is to ignore it. People will tell you once, twice, maybe three times and then they just stop. If they believe you will ignore what they say, then why make the effort and say anything? It is the same as with any surveys. You may fill in the survey and answer bunch of questions but if you do not see any results of this effort. If no one communicates what was done with your feedback, then chances are you will not participate the second time.

When you do these things then you pretty much eliminate any negative aspects of the open door policy and only the good is left. The team simply has enough trust in you that they will come to you with any issues they may have and you have a truly open and transparent environment. And if the team does talk to people several levels above or to HR there are no surprises. You and your team are aligned.

Keep in mind that it will not work from day one. Since it is issue of trust you first need to show to the team that you are trustworthy. You can find some thoughts on this one in You Can’t Lead Without Values And Principles. Over time with some small wins the team will be more and more open, feedback will start flowing, and the truly open and transparent communication kicks in.

 

What are your thoughts on open door policy? Does it work? And what about management by walking around? Do you practice it and what is your experience with it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

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