How open is your door?

My bank sends me an occasional newsletter with short articles and advice for small businesses. I don’t mind the idea of that, and yet it brings to mind the old adage, “a little knowledge is a bad thing”. In the latest edition was an article entitled “People Management: 10 tips for becoming a better leader”. It was, essentially, ten quick ideas.

The second invited readers to “encourage an ‘open door’ policy so staff members find you accessible”. Open door policies are certainly good for communication but this suggestion greatly over-simplifies the idea and perpetuates the misconception that an open door policy is simply encouraging employees to raise issues or problems at any time. It is therefore often seen as an individual leader’s style of management.

For an open door policy to really work, it needs to be fundamental to corporate culture. Every manager needs to share the values of an open door policy and feel comfortable not only that an employee may knock on their door for a chat, but that they are free to go to any other leader in the business if they feel more comfortable doing so, than going to their own manager.

Not only does this put pressure on the most senior managers, and you as the leader of the organisation, it also represents quite a challenge to direct line managers who may be the subject of the conversation that takes place.

If an open door policy is to have any meaning, you must be willing to have everyone exposed in this way. Rather than seeing people who choose to go above the head of their manager as a “tell-tale” they need to be seen as part of culture that strives for openness and continuous improvement.

An open door policy doesn’t mean an obligation to answer every question asked or disclose information when you are not ready to do so. It means listening, considering and, where necessary, investigating.

What does your open-door policy look like? How does it look to your staff? Does it tell them that they are valued by the organisation, or is it a meaningless platitude?

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