Six ways to show you really mean open door
During my many years of investigating discrimination complaints, Complainants often tell me they filed their complaint because there was no other way to be heard. Isn’t that what an “open door” policy is supposed to be about –the opportunity to be heard? Open door, by basic definition, means all leaders from the CEO down open their door for any employee to approach them with job-related issues and not fear any ramifications. Every organizational workplace that I have visited insists they have an open door policy. The problem often times, is that no one believes it.
There are a few things organizations can do to move toward an open door policy that is believable:
1) Make sure employees know and believe you really do want to hear from them and your open door policy is not just a smoke screen to hide the true policy of “don’t bother me.” What will matter most for believability is how leaders set the tone and demonstrate their willingness to listen to employee concerns. Leaders should not just wait for someone to come to them but actively reach out and show that they are approachable by walking the floor to hear concerns.
2) Make sure every team member is on the same page and have an organizational understanding of what “open door” means. Don’t leave it to guess that everyone will figure it out correctly.
3) Give employees multiple access points to be heard. An employee might be having a problem with their direct supervisor/manager and don’t want to go to more senior management for fear of making things worse. Give this employee safe harbor options. These options could include other workplace leaders, formal mentors, human resources representatives, union representatives, employee assistance practitioners, ethics officers, conflict management coordinators, ombudspersons, equal employment opportunity personnel and the list could go on. Sometimes, depending on the issue, their role as an access point representative may be to simply listen and allow the employee to be heard. Other times, if there is a more serious issue, it may entail a legal obligation to go further.
4) Make sure the likely first points of contact are approachable and they have great listening skills. Do they smile? Do they go out of their way to help resolve an issue and get an answer?
Are they considered trustworthy by the employees? Are they considered the “go to” person?
5) Keep office doors open as a rule and not the exception. Occasionally doors will need to be closed for private meetings and that is understandable. But when closed office doors become more the rule than exception, a message is being sent and the open door policy is no longer believable. The closed door becomes the escape. If you are a person who has lots of private meetings, set time aside where you keep your calendar open for drop ins –say after lunch. Make sure you allow time to be available to talk.
6) Lastly –do something. Let employees know you are listening and let others know as well. Speak about outcomes when open door practices with collaboration are working.
Keep in mind the open door does not mean you only hear troubling concerns but that you also are open to hear great ideas. If an employee does want to discuss troubling concerns wouldn’t you rather they believe they can be heard from the inside and not chart off to file a complaint because they cannot. And don’t forget, employees also have the option of going on the internet anonymously to publicly complain about the organization. Think about it.
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Sharon E. Harrington