Yeah, I used to say it all the time “I have an open door policy”….but I did not really mean it. I’m being honest and sure coming out with this admittance 12 years later doesn’t seem like a huge mea culpa…it nonetheless isn’t an anomaly. There are many corporate leaders out there (some of you are reading this post) feel the same way I did but thought it was the “RIGHT” thing to say in trying to develop rapport with employees. Let me just say up front it’s awful if you are “Lucy” encouraging “Charlie Brown” to kick the football…only to pull it back before he goes to kick it. The very idea of open communication seems too idealistic, and in many cases people don’t adhere to it. Then there’s the political questions surrounding open communication on how much should I share? Do I really want to risk my career being transparent? Creating an environment where communication is sincerely “Open” is not easy. It takes time, trust, effort and most importantly courage. Who’s going to just prance down the hallway and knock on the door of the CEO? Most likely NOBODY….and you may get body slammed by the executive assistant. Most people who know me know that I hate “Ambiguity” and I’ve written a whitepaper on that insidious communicative disease, and the “Open Door Policy” is a classic ambiguity marker. We all agree that open communication is absolutely necessary in today’s business climate, but the behavior from such a policy is not clear and it leads to a lot of problems. An organization that voices the “Open Door Policy” but behaves in secrecy is the ambiguity I’m referring to and it breeds an untrusting culture that’s toxic. In the corporate world there’s so much talk about how you keep employees motivated (by the way I hate the word “motivated”) or inspired, and every leadership book out there has a recipe on the “can’t miss” way of getting employees to smile every day at work. Recipes range from paying more money to free dry cleaning and yet…..most people just want to talk to someone openly. I once had an exit interview with an employee who decided out of nowhere to leave the company and he was an “A-Player”. The #1 reason why he decided to leave wasn’t about money, his boss or job….he felt he couldn’t talk to someone about a personal matter he was experiencing. I was of course floored and ashamed all at once because we voiced the token “Open Door Policy” but he knew we really didn’t mean it and was afraid of the outcome if he shared his personal information. You see, promoting something that doesn’t match the behavior is just plastic words that melt in ambiguity. I decided to write this article because as we move closer to the middle of the business calendar year you are starting to see many doors close in….when they should be opening wider.
“Open Door Policy Behavior”
I’m big on “behavior” because it’s the truth serum that tells you just about everything you need to know about an individual or for that matter company. Effective corporate communication results from an environment that practices routinely the behavior and execution of transparent communication. When people know their feelings, opinions and ideas are respected and listened too they’re more apt to believe in the “Open Door Policy”. For a company to foster such an environment, corporate leaders have to make a conscious effort to establish vehicles, methods, and processes for open communication (this is the “Behavior” of the company). Valuing feelings, opinions and ideas of employees let’s face it is not often high on the P&L spreadsheet yet most companies understand that an engaging employee makes for a profitable company. Let’s be clear NO company can afford or even set aside time for a “kumbayah” fire side chat every day at the office to ensure employees are happy, but there are ways to demonstrate behavior that an “Open Door Policy” will be a sincere and enforced policy:
- Build communication strategies into your business plans. What type of information sharing and feedback do you need to accomplish corporate goals?
- Review and analyze how your company currently communicates. Is it like a spider web, where there are too many communication points with ambiguous direction?
- Communicate with employees about….communication. Ask people how the current communication system helps them perform their jobs. Discuss your current communication culture and whether or how it should be changed. This is a GREAT way to encourage involvement in the process and demonstrate “behavior” that this will be a sincere effort.
- With your employees develop a communication philosophy that EVERYONE will be held accountable too. Every person in the organization will understand and be able to explain the corporate’s communication mission and goals.
- Develop corporate advocacy where there’s governance around contributing ideas and knowledge is a part of everyone’s job, regardless of function or level of responsibility.
- Build an environment where ideas from EVERY level, from the CEO to the parking lot attendant are captured and importantly followed through on.
- To reiterate, build “Follow up” mechanisms that respond to all feedback, and ideas. Employees should feel that they’re being heard and that their correspondence isn’t placed in a black hole.
- Finally, as a company leader be receptive to the ideas you hear….even the ones that are several feet “out of the box”. Showing a willingness to hear about an idea demonstrates once again the “behavior” of practicing “Open Door Policy”, and importantly doesn’t shut off the flow of potentially great ideas.
Companies who set up processes and ultimately an environment where interaction is open and direct have very little ambiguity. Warren Bennis an American scholar and organizational consultant noted in his research that effective leaders/companies are consistent and predictable. He found that those companies that had infrastructures where interacting with others openly and directly helped to build stronger internal relationships. Importantly, he uncovered once there was a predictability that ALL communication would be open and direct….there was profound respect between employers and employees. In an environment of open communication where “Open Door Policy” is an integral part of the culture, people feel reasonably comfortable sharing any and all information whether it’s good or bad news, agreement/disagreement. To have the most flexible culture, most effective problem solving, and most adaptable workforce, the open sharing of ideas and thoughts are critical. Without a safe environment that encourages transparency, people will monitor their communication, judge whether it is safe to say something, and perhaps withhold contrary or different ideas when those very ideas and “out of the box” approaches is exactly what’s needed. It also encourages “Silo” behavior.
No longer should we as leaders just espouse an “Open Door Policy” we should be about an “Open Door Policy” not only through our words but in our “BEHAVIOR”. The reality is that the employee who works several floors underneath you will never just pop up at your office door unexpected, but if he/she does please have a pleasant welcoming smile….that may be all they are expecting.
“OPEN DOOR POLICY”….that’s half closed
Take a look at our whitepaper: “Value Proposition”….addressing customer outcomes
AH2 & Beyond Consulting