Opening the Door to Better Open Door Policies


of Andy's staff members weren't reluctant to speak their minds to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Others, however, held back--not because of a lack of ideas, but rather due to a reluctance to present them to him.

This reluctance is not an isolated situation. For many employees, the very notion of proactively approaching their superiors is a gulp-inducing experience. Maybe they lack self-confidence. Maybe they've had past experiences in which their ideas were shot down. Whatever their reasons, these people hold back.

Yet, people who are hesitant to present their ideas sometimes have ideas well worth hearing, as was the case in Andy's department. After one of my visits, Emily, a member of the department, sent me a lengthy email message in which she described her thoughts about transitioning to the new business model. Emily's ideas were astute, articulate, and on target. "But," she wrote in her message, "I haven't presented these ideas to Andy for the simple reason that he has never asked."

Clearly, she should have taken the initiative. But that's just the point--she should have, but she didn't, and she wouldn't. And she is just one of many people who refrain from presenting their ideas to management because, for one reason or another, they are not comfortable initiating the dialogue. Instead, they wait for an explicit invitation.

Rather than merely claiming to have an open door policy, managers who truly want to hear from their employees should consider proactive measures. For example, they might occasionally exit their office, not just to race to the next meeting, but to go out to employees to see what's on their minds. Managers can also establish fixed office hours for employees, schedule periodic one-on-ones with them, and follow up with them regarding issues raised during their conversations. And when an employee comes through their open doorway with a valid concern, they should focus their attention exclusively on that individual.

In fact, sometimes shutting the door to prevent interruptions and distractions is the best way to implement an open door policy.

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