How many of us know managers who proudly proclaim their open-door policy? Although I have no scientific evidence, I believe that those who claim most loudly that they have an open-door policy have employees who use it the least.
The little white truth is … to have an open door policy means information must flow freely out of that open door before information can flow into that open door.
The leader who wants to have open dialogue with his employees needs to view sharing information as an opportunity rather than a burden. Having an open door policy means fostering open dialogue with a free exchange of information, especially on the most important issues, where direct reports and people throughout the organization need to be solicited regularly for information.
The following steps will help develop a true open door policy.
1. Keep people well informed. Share appropriate information with everyone who could benefit from this knowledge. Executives love reports that deliver a scoreboard of how their responsibilities are performing. Why not share it with everyone involved? The more you can link your strategic priorities with the goals of everyone contributing to the success of those priorities, the better you create buy-in and dialogue by letting them know how performance relates to the strategic goals. Look at your manager meetings. Most manager meetings I’ve attended consisted of multiple hours of department heads defending themselves or offering excuses, reasons, or causes of falling short of expectations. Seldom does significant forward thinking information come from the leader in charge as to revisiting strategic objectives and vision sharing. Don’t be the leader that keeps people looking at the trees instead of the forest.
2. Ask how you can more effectively foster open dialogue. So often we try to make something better or more efficient for others without ever asking the others what they really want. Don’t assume you already know the answer. Actively solicit input, not just on how to create open dialogue, but rather consider it in all aspects of your organization. By requesting input, you are telling your employees without proclamation that you practice an open door policy. However, the only way you will get this input is if you create an atmosphere that supports this dialogue. Say all you want about being open to input, but when you let your actions speak for your words, there is no need to tell everyone you have an open door policy. It’s a given that you are a leader who can be approached.
3. Do not shoot the messengers of bad news when they deliver accurate information. What good is an open door if everyone is afraid of the tirade following bad news? Let’s face it - bad news is more time sensitive than good news and taking action to correct a situation is critically contingent on knowing action needs to be taken! But if employee knows if he carries a grenade into your office you will pull the pin and let it blow up in his face, do you really think he is going to ever bring back another grenade? Bad news can be good news if you get it in time to do something about it. You need your sources willing to walk into your office without fear of retribution to tell you what you need to hear. If you are a pin-puller, you will never be given the news you need to hear in a timely fashion.
4. Follow up on communications to see if they understood the intent of your message. Even the leader with the best open door policy in the history of business needs one last piece to the puzzle to ensure communication is effective: the follow up. You may be the most eloquent wordsmith that walked the earth but if the recipient isn’t tuned in to your wavelength, mistakes are going to happen. Following a sharing of information, be sure to have the listener repeat back what they heard, even if you are on the listening end. The repetition of information ensures the intended message was the received message.
An open door policy has less to do with the physical nature of your office entrance and more to do with your attitude and approachability by anyone in the workplace. Take a look in the mirror: Are you the coach, the mentor, the confidant, the leader your staff wants to support in success? Or are you the leader in need of a locksmith?
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