I was recently in a shop and saw a t-shirt hanging in a manager’s window that read “Let me stop everything and work on your problem.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Isn’t it the way we all feel when employees appear at our office door? I have to constantly remind human resources managers and business leaders that an open door policy doesn’t mean “walk in whenever you want and I’m here for you.” An open door policy should mean, “Send me an email, let’s make an appointment and have a great conversation when it works for both of us.”
There are certainly advantagesto an open door policy. Forbes has 4 great tips for new managers on how to utilize open door communication to get up to speed quickly with employees. I actually have a client that has the opposite idea…his office door is locked all day long! The message he sends to his team is, “Don’t bother me,” and the impact is that turnover in his organization is well over 100%. No one in today’s environment wants to work with someone like that.
In my HR presentations, I often refer to a quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” Isn’t that the truth! Whether I am speaking to HR departments of One, Emerging Leaders or business professionals, I talk about the need to own your time, and be protective of it. You always want to be sending a message to your team that you are open to their ideas, and value constructive conversation. It’s just as professional to ask them to let you know when they want to come by and what they’d like to discuss so that you are ready for them.
I often use the example for Harvard Business Review’s article about the monkey on your back, only to realize I have dated myself and many leaders today have no idea what I am talking about. The premise is that an employee can’t come to your office with a problem – and just put it on your back. In business, we should expect our employees to come forward with a few ideas that would solve the issue at hand. As leaders, it is our job to guide them into making the right decision, or explain why their desired outcome just isn’t possible. It’s not your job to solve everyone else’s problems.
Next time an employee appears at your door and starts a sentence with “Can you,” or “There’s a problem,” turn the situation around. Explain to them that you would love to help, but you trust their decision and you are just swamped at the moment with things that must be completed. Then remind them if they’d like to set a time to meet later you’d be happy to give them the time and attention you know they and the issue deserve.
Use open door conversations to empower your team, and provide them both the trust and support they need to move your operation forward.