How’s Your Open Door?

In my last posting “So You Think You Have an Open Door”, I reviewed a few comments that I have heard from employees and managers over the years that tell me that the Door may not be as Open as many leaders intend.

Step back and review the comments from that post. If you are hearing any of those, or have a gut feeling they may be true, you may be asking what you can do to ensure that your Open Door Policy is achieving what it was intended to. Here are a few suggestions.

  • You may want to re-define what you intended when you put the Open Door Policy in place, or at least, what you intend going forward.
    • You likely wanted to create an environment of openness, honesty, transparency and trust, where employee problems can be resolved, issues and concerns addressed, and where employees can feel safe and fully engaged in their work.
    • You may have understood that no manager can be all things to all employees all the time. Since it is possible, (even probable) for a manager to miss it from time to time with any particular employee, you may have wanted to provide an Open Door to ensure that employees have a place to turn so their issues or concerns can be appropriately addressed.
    • You may have understood that every manager needs a coach from time to time, someone who can see and hear things from a different perspective. You wanted to be a team of resources to help managers grow in their effectiveness, learn to listen better, to understand various ways they are perceived, to improve their communication skills, and to look for solutions that may well be out of their realm of experience or out or their comfort zone.
  • Clearly communicate your policy and vision for it.
    • Communicate it over and over. It should be reiterated at every employee meeting and in newsletters, or in the various other means of communications you have. An effective Open Door may be your best tool at your disposal for increasing retention and growing better leaders, so don’t short- change it.
    • Post it in every way and every where possible.
    • Ensure that everyone clearly understands the vision for it until they are encouraging each other to act on it.
  • Train your employees how to use the policy.
    • Ask them to start by trying to address their concern directly with their manager.
    • Then, if that fails, or for some reason seems untenable to them, encourage them to address it with their manager’s supervisor or another trusted member of management.
    • Help them understand that unresolved issues are not good for them or the organization.
    • Ask for their feedback along the way to learn how it is working.
  • Ensure your employees understand what to expect when they use the Open Door.
    • They need to know that the Open Door is not an “I get it my way” process, but is a means of being heard, being taken seriously, ensuring their concerns are adequately understood and thoroughly investigated and addressed.
    • They also need to know that just because they raise a concern, the issue may not be resolved just the way they envision it, or as quickly as they may have hoped.
    • They need to understand that even if their perceptions are correct, there are confidentiality and respect issues that may prevent you from telling them exactly how the issue is being dealt with.
    • Always follow up with the employee who brought you their concern to see how they are doing and to let them know what you can about the progress of their issue.
    • Be sure to let employees know that there is no retaliation, and they are to let you or another member of management know if they believe they are being retaliated against.
      • However, as badly as I don’t want to say this, they need to know that sometimes subtle forms of retaliation exist and are difficult to prove.
      • Thank them for the courage to speak up and do what is right.
  • Train your managers to make the Open Door one of their best friends.
    • Help them understand that they cannot possibly hit strikes 100% of the time, and when they miss it, they need someone to be their back up, for their sake, for the sake of the employee/s with concerns, and for the health of the organization.
    • Train them how to be open to feedback
      • Whether the employee’s perspective is accurate or simply a misperception, it is the reality they are living in.
      • If it is accurate and requires adjustment, help them identify the resources to make the change.
      • If it is inaccurate and a misperception, help them to catch it out to the side rather than right between the eyes, where they tend to take it too personally and defensively.
    • Let them know that even a hint of retaliation can and is likely to cost them their job as a leader in your organization.
    • Let them know that you expect them to promote the Open Door policy, and invite their employees use it should they feel uncomfortable or unsafe talking to them.
    • Teach them how to respond should an employee come to them using the open door about a concern.
      • Help them to listen
      • Have them ask what happened when the employee approached their own manager with their concern. If they haven’t approached them with it ask them what is preventing them from doing so. If it is a lack of skills, teach them how to have these crucial conversations.
      • Have them ask the employee, “What is it that you need or want from me at this time?”
        • Frequently employees just want someone to listen to them, or coach them on how to deal with their manager or concern.
        • However, help them be aware, that if they are reporting an ethical violation or a violation such as sexual harassment, you must proceed to investigate, even if the employee does not want you to.
  • Circle back with the direct reports of your managers to see what kind of environment they are creating.
    • The Open Door culture is your responsibility. Own it.
    • As much as you want to believe that you have great managers who treat their people well, you cannot know whether that is the case unless you create an Open the Door for these employees to tell you what is actually going on with them.
    • I have seen too many highly talented people leave companies because of their manager, because they felt like no one else cared, or because they believed the senior manager would side with their manager and their efforts would fall on deaf ears.
    • The truth is, your managers may “feel” like they are doing great, and be missing it completely.
    • Then there are those managers who have made threats that communication up the chain is unacceptable, or will be viewed harshly.
    • Checking in and giving the direct reports of your managers a platform for being heard is the only way you will help your managers get better, and improve the engagement culture of your organization.

There are probably more things you can do to ensure that your Open Door is actually open. If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

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