Do You Really Have an Open Door Policy?

BY Kathy Crosett
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The business world is evolving toward a more team-​based approach to product and service design and problem solving. We only have to look at the open floor plans in today’s work spaces and the flat management hierarchy organizations have moved to. But, at many companies, someone is still in charge. If that’s you, how open are you to suggestions for change from your team members? In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris point out that many managers are inadvertently closing themselves off from employee contribution.

One of the major points in the Detert and Burris discussion focuses on the open door policy. As a manager, you may be telling your employees to stop by any time and offer feedback. You might even say this to a new employee on their first day with the company. Do you honestly believe any new employee who’s counting herself lucky to have a job is going to come by your office with a suggestion on how to change things around?

An employee has to feel welcome and confident when it comes to venturing into your office. That means you should pay attention to the physical cues you’re sending. Don’t sit behind an imposing desk. Move to a seating area where both of you are positioned in chairs of equal size.

Your employees also need a sense of when you’re open to hearing feedback. Clearly, if you’ve got a Monday morning deadline to meet, you’re stressed and tense. You don’t need to hear detailed suggestions about how to improve a specific report or a product feature when you’re in a hurry. When you’re busy, close your door or post and note on the door letting folks know you’re finishing an important project. After the crisis has passed, signal your availability by keeping your door wide open.

If employees still aren’t coming to talk with you, start inviting them into your office on a regular basis. Offer coffee and snacks to create a relaxed atmosphere.

When you finally do succeed in obtaining a good suggestion from an employee, make sure everyone else knows. You don’t necessarily have to implement the suggestion exactly as it was offered but making any kind of change, and informing others of how you accepted input from a team member, shows you have an open door and an open mind.