The proverb, “I have an open-door policy” is a cliché! If you are a leader, you should be examining yourself on this daily. It is not a matter of whether you think you have an open-door policy; it is a matter of whether your subordinates think you do.
Before you were in a leadership profile did your boss have an open door policy? Was/is their door open more than private? Did/does an open door feel like an offer or an intangible barrier? If you went to them at any time with something valuable would they welcome you?
Take a second and ask yourself; do you, welcome people, in, make time for them? Are you available or do you sit behind a closed door? Do those you lead feel like they surround you anytime without fear of being ignored? How do you know; have you summoned them?
The greatest leaders I have had let me do what they picked me for and knew that when I called them or came to their office, it was because I wanted them and they were always accessible. In contrast, the not so prominent leaders I have had not only sat behind their closed office door but also evaded any personal contact were unresponsive to emails, voicemails and left me thinking as if I was on an island to defend for myself.
So how do they do it? Here are some suggestions.
- Establish Expectations: Don’t think that people know what it means to have an open door. Rarely go private in office, but when you do, your employees must know that you are either on a conference call or tugging on something that requires your undivided attention. Even then, if it is important, they know they can interfere.
- Make yourself visible: When is the last time you walked through your department and said hello to everyone, even those that don’t report to you? When is the last time your leader did this? Although I am in before some of my employees, I always say good morning, even to those who work around us. For those who come in later, when I step out of my office for any reason and pass by them I do the same. It is a pure declaration of their behavior and helps set the tone for the day. In contrast, I have had and know of leaders that will go out of their way to get to their office hidden to avoid any interaction with their employees or others, and this sends an even more powerful message to employees about their value.
- Be accessible: As I stated above, I make myself accessible, but I also let those around me know that they can reach out at any time, for any reason, day or night. Whenever needed they can come to my office, email me, call me, text me, whatever they need to do to get me if they need me. In return, they do the same for me.
- Be responsive: To be responsive, you have to be actively involved. Just because you are physically there, have email, voicemail, or text it doesn’t mean you are present. Even if you cannot give a specific answer, talk at that moment or address the need, an acknowledgment of some kind is a response. How often have you queried if someone got your text, email, or voicemail? Or worse yet, they blew you off in person? Sometimes I am busy, I can’t answer without giving it thought or negotiating with others, but I always try my best to provide some acknowledgment.