Ah, the “open door” policy. If I think of it as an equation, here’s what it looks like to me:

Stated “Open Door” + Manager repeats it often (It’s a policy so it’s mandated) / # of times employee is conflicted about going in + Strength of stink-eye given by Manager / Cost to replace the good employee who saw the conflict between the policy and the stink-eye = Screw that Open Door Policy

That equation won’t hold stand up to a math professor but it was fun to create.

A policy is essentially a rule. Organizations define the rules and processes they want, need, or believe they must have, and put them in a document. Often employees are required to sign said document. Many aspects of organizational functioning benefit from having policies; they create consistency, they can create efficiency, they can promote compliance in necessary areas of business, and they often guide behavior and decision making.

But policies can go too far, like mandating that I speak up to my boss.

That is nuts. It puts all the onus on the employee (who is, no matter what philosophies are espoused, lower in the power dynamic than the boss), and it implies that the boss has only to sit and receive. “My door is always open!” the boss exclaims proudly. But then what?

“I’m too busy with my own projects, figure it out.”

“I don’t know what to tell ya.”

“I think you’re being overly sensitive.”

“Go work it out, I’m not holding everyone’s hand.”

“That came down from the top and we all have to just buck up.”

I’ve got a million of ’em. Why? Because I’ve coached over 2,000 people at all levels and this is what they tell me happens when they speak up.

Really, people, relying on a “policy” to prove you’re approachable is a bunch of horse pucky. I’d call it “bullshit” but it’s still hard for me to use that level of profanity in a professional setting.

Instead of leaning on a policy, how about building a working relationship? Here are some tips:

You come to them sometimes, with friendliness, not just expecting them to come to you. You ask them if they have a moment to do some problem solving or discuss an issue. You ask yourself, “How can I make this person’s job easier instead of getting in the way?” You inquire about them as humans not just cogs in the wheel.

You manage your reactions. When people ask questions or propose ideas, do you listen without judgment or have a reaction? Even if you don’t use words to judge, a raised eyebrow, a frown, a shake of the head all subtly say, “Shut up.” Build your listening skills and work to understand what people are saying before you agree or disagree with it. Check understanding before launching your opinions. Never bark or cut people off.

You invite people to your office to give positive feedback and acknowledge accomplishments, not just to criticize or point out what isn’t done. If you call a meeting and everyone looks panicked, there’s your sign. You pay people to do a good job, correct? And yet the overwhelming majority of people I have worked with say very little effort is made to mark it. That is messed up. I do 142 things right but the only thing I hear from my boss is the one thing that negatively got his attention. If there’s a big problem, have a dialogue and make a plan, but for Pete’s sake, don’t make that the only conversation you have!

Rant complete.

I can teach the managers in your organization how to get good results without leaving a wake of death and destruction. Call me. 831-588-6191

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