Are people actually walking through your open door? As leaders we have a tendency to say our doors are always open—and our organizations may even go so far as to officially tout an open door policy that theoretically reaches all the way to the top. But how many frontline employees in your workplace feel truly empowered to approach leaders at various levels with challenges or input?
The truth is, team members have a lot of opinions. They’re the ones charged with actually implementing an organization’s strategies, keeping abreast of competitors, and producing, implementing or promoting products and services. They have distinct thoughts about the culture of the workplace and how they and their peers feel about showing up to work each day. They know how customers feel about their company and they can tell you where the gaps in service lie. Team members can pinpoint the strengths of the organization and are no strangers to the not-so-pretty aspects that may be negatively impacting productivity or even losing clients.
When an organization describes itself as having an open door policy, it’s issuing a blanket statement about its culture that may—or more often may not—reflect the reality of how team dynamics and sharing of information actually functions. Leaders who say their offices are always open are really only meeting their team members a fraction of the way, and they are likely missing out on some enormously valuable input and innovative ideas.
At Milestone Leadership, we know leaders worth following take a proactive approach. Here are three ways to actually make good on an open door assertion and start hearing more from your team:
- Walk straight through your own door, out of your office and meet your team members where they are. Make a commitment to regularly approach employees about what they’re experiencing, where they’re struggling and what they’re proud of. Initial conversations may not result in people feeling comfortable with sharing much information, but with consistency and a clearly demonstrated open mind that builds trust, feedback and ideas will start to flow both ways. Come prepared with questions that help to get people talking, and ask about specific topics you’re challenged by.
- Don’t assume the information actually shared with you paints the entire picture. Human nature dictates that people tend to be more vocal with complaints or problems—a good example is online reviews where people feel the need to get negative experiences off of their chests, but may never take the time to leave praise or offer constructive suggestions. Similarly, leaders may hear about what people are upset about but they don’t have employees coming to them with fresh ideas or possible innovations. By reinforcing a culture of ongoing communication that encourages sharing all types of information, the likelihood of getting a broader view increases exponentially.
- Think and interact with strategy in mind. As a leader, you have responsibility for the definition, communication and execution of your organization’s strategy. Many employees have roles that are more narrowly defined and they don’t necessarily think about big-picture views or overarching objectives every day. When talking with team members, reinforce the company’s strategy and how their work supports that. As they better see where their work fits into the grand scheme of things, they will become more proactive about suggesting ways to improve processes or even positively disrupt status quo.
Make sure your door really IS open—and make the sure the path goes both ways!