We’re always told that open door policies are the way to go when it comes to management.
The underpinning framework behind an open door policy is that any employee is free to talk to any manager at any time. In addition, they are able to meet and chat with senior leadership. Open door policies are praised for their ability to increase trust levels in a workplace, as well as the ability to build strong relationships at every level within a company. Having managers available encourages feedback and better communication, and increases overall transparency within an organisation. Furthermore, they’re a great way for senior management to better understand their staff and what drives them. Open door policies are taken so seriously that they are often included in employee handbooks or company guidelines.
However, they can lead to a lack of productivity if not implemented correctly. Employees can get the idea that they should report any and every concern to the CEO. Furthermore, it can instill a lack of problem-solving among peers, and undermine the leadership ability of department managers. So how exactly do you implement an open door policy that works?
Steps to implementing an effective open door policy
If an employee schedules a meeting or requests a chat, an open door policy dictates that the manager or member of the leadership team needs to accept the request. The employee should be encouraged to share what they have to say without fear of punishment. Once the employee has shared what they have to say, the manager should take a moment to assess the information. If the issue is indeed one that requires senior management to step in, appropriate action should always be taken.
However, if the employee expresses concerns that could very well be handled by their direct team manager, the senior leadership executive should bring this up with the employee. They should ask the employee if he or she has brought this issue up with the head of their own department. In some cases, the employee might have already done this and seen no action taken to rectify the problem. In other cases, they skipped ahead of this step.
Because employees spend far more time with their department heads (or immediate managers) they can sometimes find it awkward to raise issues with them. Because an open door policy is in place, they take all their issues to CEOs, which can wreak havoc on productivity as well as team dynamics. This is why it is crucial for those in senior leadership to always check with the employee that this issue has been raised with the department head first. This should be done before executives take steps to solve the problem. Otherwise, the leadership and problem-solving abilities of the department head are being undermined.
What to do if the complaint is about a direct manager
There may be cases where an employee has approached management because their problem is directly regarding their department head. It is an important requirement that employees feel they can discuss perceived failings of a direct manager with senior leadership. In this scenario, senior management should work out a way to facilitate communication between the manager and employee. This is one of the key outcomes of an open door policy.
A few more helpful tips for open door policies
Set definitions around the ‘open door’
An open door policy needs to leave management available for meaningful discussions with employees about relevant issues. However, you can’t allow it to turn management staff into counsellors or micromanagers. Hence, it’s good to outline for staff some parameters for the ‘open door’, for example:
- Stop by for a chat about workplace issues only when the door is open. If it’s closed, book an appointment.
- If there’s an emergency, knock on the door if it’s closed.
- Before consulting senior management with a workplace issue, consider if you could address is with your direct manager. Furthermore, be prepared to detail the issue properly – who else does it affect, how long has it been going on, what departments, ideas for solutions etc?
If setting parameters doesn’t seem to streamline this process, you could try scheduling fortnightly meetings with every staff member for them to raise issues at that time.
Always listen carefully and act straight away
Workplace issues won’t get solved if managers are only half-listening to employees. Whenever an employee utilises the open door policy, give them and their issue your full attention for the duration of the meeting. Don’t answer phone calls and emails. Do your best to solve the issue then and there. This demonstrates good leadership skills but also ensures issues get solved quickly, as opposed to lingering for weeks.
Open door policies are an important tool to encourage communication and feedback within workplaces. However, management must be careful that the policy isn’t being implemented in a way that reduces productivity and undermines department managers.