A lot of companies these days have open-door policies between management and employees. However, people often have different interpretations of what “open-door” policies actually entail. What does an open door mean to you?
Consider the story of a woman who was working with a Strategic Programs, Inc. consultant: Our consultant asked the woman what accomplishment she was most proud of, and without hesitation she answered that she was most proud of the iron she uses to prop her door open. She considered the iron a symbol of her full commitment to an open-door policy. Imagine her surprise when she received written feedback through a 360 process that her direct reports thought she was unavailable and difficult to reach.
She was upset by the feedback, but decided to get more information to learn more about perceptions that prompted the remarks. What she and her coach discovered was that even though she had her iron propping the door open, she sat behind a giant computer monitor and was constantly on the phone or getting up and leaving her desk. While her door was open, she wasn’t showing her employees that she was open to meeting with them and hearing them. Making a few small changes, like rearranging her desk so she was more visible, and having specific office hours where she would stay at her desk and work on projects that could be easily interrupted made a big difference in the perceptions her team had of her availability and willingness to listen to them.
If you have an open-door policy, make sure you really mean it through the actions you convey. Do you appear approachable? Do you ignore your phone and emails when someone is in your office, or are you distracted and trying to multitask? If most of your interactions with your team are over the phone, it’s just as important to commit your attention 100% to the person on the other end of the line. If it’s possible, turn off other phone ringers or other distracting noises, and show the person that you’re listening by repeating back what they’re saying.
An employee’s engagement can be greatly affected by whether or not they feel like they’re being listened to. By fully committing to an open-door policy, making yourself available, and listening and participating in conversations with your team, you can make a difference in their perceptions of you and overall perceptions of the company, which can affect their job satisfaction and their likelihood to stay.