“My door is always open.”
In the business world we often hear this phrase shouted out from bosses to their employees. It’s an attempt to connect – to convey a culture of equality and sharing where all employees can feel comfortable approaching The Boss.
Some bosses really mean it; others don’t. But regardless of the sincerity of intent, one of the problems with simply stating “My door is always open” is just how few employees actually take that sentiment to heart!
Jason Fried, co-founder of Chicago software company 37signals puts it this way:
It’s a cop-out. It makes the boss feel good but the onus entirely on the employees. You might as well say, “You find the problems and then take all the risk of interrupting my day and confronting me about them.” How many people have taken you up on that offer?
Fried makes a great point. As an employee, how likely would you be to take your boss up on that offer? If most of you are saying “not very likely,” that gets us to the root of the issue: how can bosses build an Open Door Policy that actually works, and fosters a culture of learning and engagement that benefits everyone?
Most importantly, bosses can take the onus of gaining information, insights, and opinions off of their employees and place that responsibility on their own shoulders. “You need to make it safe to speak up,” says Fried, “People don’t volunteer information – they release it.”
Rather than proudly announcing that your door is ajar, get out of your office and knock on your employees’ doors instead. And understand that a reluctance to speak up is totally reasonable. Who knows? Maybe you have staff members who were reprimanded at, or even fired from, a previous job for speaking up without being asked.
As a boss himself, Fried’s got the right idea. It’s easy to be a boss without also being a leader. Creating your desired culture takes active – not passive – leadership. It requires modeling that desired culture for your employees, rather than just expecting them to create it for you. You must walk the talk.
So get out there bosses, managers, supervisors, and foremen – lead from the front by seeking out those insights and opinions of your employees. If you don’t, who will?