Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beware the Open Door Policy

"I have an open door policy. Come on in any time the door's open." Is this enlightened leadership or another example of mediocre modern management philosophy? The problem with the majority of managers that have an "open door" policy is twofold. First, there's not just a physical door between the manager and her staff, but also a figurative one. Doors, even when they are open, create a separation and an isolation that is more perceived than seen. Often, the employee that wants to share an idea, complain or just talk to the manager won't go anywhere near the door to even see if it's open or not.

The second problem involves relationships and geography. The manager that doesn't spend time away from his office and the meeting room is like a king sitting in his throne room. He can't establish a relationship of open communication if he isn't making an effort himself. If a manager sits in his office most of the day, and nobody comes to visit, should he assume that no one has anything important to say to him?

The enlightened leader (EL) doesn't have an open door policy. ELs don't give their employees a reason to seek them out. The EL is seeking out opportunities to communicate with employees on a regular basis. The EL goes to the where the work is being done and interacting with the people that do the work. Without going to the places where the company's products and services are being produced, a manager cannot expect to have meaningful sharing of important information. By making an effort to understand what's happening outside the walls of her own office, the enlightened leader creates:

1. Improved trust
2. Higher morale
3. A better understanding of her business
4. Better follow-through on agreements
5. Higher productivity and quality
6. Faster problem resolution

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of HP, are credited with bringing the concept of Management by Walking Around to American management. In the Lean Enterprise world, we call the concept the Gemba Walk (gemba is a japanese word that means the real thing at the real place). Whatever you call it, it is important that it is done with the right intentions and methods; that the leader isn't wandering around, just to be seen, without any interaction with the people or the processes. By making an effort to seek knowledge in the right location, even if there are some early stumbles, a business leader can take their misguided open door policy and stick it where it belongs: in the past.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this article because of just how true it is. A very small percentage of employees are willing to force a 1 on 1 interaction with their boss unless/until the issue becomes so great that it is the paramount thing for that employee. Of course when that happens, the issue has often festered to the point that it is no longer solvable in a satisfactory manner for the employee. Everytime I walk the factory floor with the intent of talking to my operators I am presented with a multitude of questions that would go unanswered otherwise.