As a trainer and consultant I commonly hear leaders and managers expressing that they maintain an "open door" canon for their collaborators to come in and converse about discomforts, complaints or grievances they may be going through or simply to request specific information. They sometimes also comment with astonishment that people rarely use this possibility even if they emphasize it at the end of each meeting.
Seemingly, I also hear collaborators commenting that even so their manager keeps on saying that their door is "always open" it is in fact physically closed and this puts them off from knocking as they perceive it as a contradictory message!
It is not only a question of a closed door that signals the contradiction. But it is a strong signal.
People are also put off when entering the boss's office and being acknowledged with comments such as"not now, I am too busy". The leader's facial expressions and sighting, most probably unconscious, may also be a sign indicating "OK, talk but be brief"
What a real "open door" policy means:
- A physically opened door. If noise disturbs you, learn some concentration techniques or use some other space in your company for non-disturbing periods.
- Setting specific, short, blocks of time for your door to be really closed. Open door blocks should be much longer than closed door ones.
- Establishing a clear strategy for â€œemergenciesâ€ during closed door blocks.
- Conducting meetings with real bidirectional communication. Motivating people to express opinions and disagreements. Allowing mistakes or opposed views to be respectfully exposed. Â Consider training in communication skills.
- Not waiting for people to come to you. Do go out and ask things and comment your own worries. Call people to your office from time to time and ask things related to projects, personal life and working environment. Do this specially with people that may be shy, resentful, or not used to trustful managers.
- Standing up and talking with no desk in-between when people come in. Using an adjacent round table is advisable. Have a peopleâ€™s friendly office.
- Setting concretely another moment to talk when there is a very strong reason for not attending the person right away. Say good â€œNOsâ€ with immediate alternatives.
- Remembering that you are a leader because you lead people and processes. Processes are carried out by People and People need real support to feel well and to do their job at their best.
- Training to improve concentration, time management skills, patience and reactivity control. Even if autonomy is promoted, people still need to feel proximity to their managers.
If you as a leader find yourself thinking or saying "Even if my door is closed they know they can come to me anytime they wantâ" Well, they may not see it like that and they won't approach you if they perceive that these words are shallow, only to keep up appearances or just to cover the basic minimums of support.
Social support is a human biological need and an evolutionary condition as well as a fundamental facet in influential, caring leadership. An open doors policy can be a relevant fragment of this need and the basis for effective and healthy leadership which is made up of small concrete details, and relatively easy efforts. An open door, as a facilitator of connection with followers, is one of these details.