How to make an Open Door Policy actually work.
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How Open is YOUR
Open Door Policy?

A lot of leaders claim to have an open door policy. They might solicit feedback, keep a “comments” box, or even occasionally hold one-on-one meetings with staff. But is it all a charade? Are they truly open to new ideas or ways of thinking?

Unfortunately, many of them are not.

I’ve worked with several leadership teams that go through the motions of collecting feedback or surveys and even hold annual reviews for their staff, but in the end, little changes. Policies and procedures remain the same, new ideas are shuffled to the side, and the leadership continues to run the company exactly how it sees fit.

This way of doing things is not only flawed, it can potentially harm the company on its most basic level. The success of the company rides on the people who make it run. If employees feel that they are undervalued or unappreciated, they will likely either leave the organization, or stay and add to the toxic environment that is created when too many people are discontent.

The solution? Don’t let your company’s open door policy be a hollow promise. Let it be the first step on a road toward action, problem-solving, and company-wide improvement.

How can you, as a leader, make good on your company’s open door commitment?

1. Practice Active Listening

Pay attention when a staff member gives you a new idea or suggestion. Listen when he airs a grievance about a specific policy or co-worker. Ask questions and start a dialogue; carefully—and openly!—consider any solution options he may surface. Genuinely listening and absorbing what your staff has to say is the first step to making productive change.

2. Be Empathetic

Remember, you’re working with people, not machines. They have feelings, families, and frustrations. When you talk with your staff, show a sincere interest in them and whatever they have to say. Be sensitive to your employees’ needs and show them that they are a valuable part of your organization.

3. Make Time

It’s easy to continuously push back one-on-one meetings because they don’t often seem like high-priority items. This kind of mentality demonstrates a lack of consideration for staff and makes their ideas or concerns seem invalid. Instead, set aside open office hours each week and commit to the one-on-one meetings you line up.

4. Build Trust

It’s great to listen and be empathetic, but in the end, you have to act. If you find out that several staff members are displeased because of X, Y, and Z, don’t just ignore the problem; figure out how to change X, Y, and Z. By taking action based on employee feedback, you are demonstrating that you care about and respect your staff. This kind of leadership encourages active employee participation, creative problem-solving, and a culture of contentment.

How open is YOUR company’s open door policy? Maybe it’s time to open the door a little wider.

"An open door policy doesn't do much for a closed mind." 
-Bob Nelson, President of Nelson Motivation, Inc.
Juli Geske-Peer is the President and principal consultant of Peer Performance Solutions, a company dedicated to enhancing individual and organizational performance.
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