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The Door Is Open So Come On In

January 30, 2011

How many times have you hear the boss say “my door is always open”?  After recent conversations with some of my students, apparently less often than I thought.

Not too long ago as staff member and I took some students to a regional conference.  As a result of the trip, the students were required to share their experiences with the entire Student Union student staff at the Spring training.  One of the students said something that just shocked me…”Not everyone has an open door policy like we do here and we should not take this for granted.”

So what I thought to be a pretty standard policy, especially within student affairs and for our students, I guess I was wrong.  What a shame, because so many great things come from a true Open Door Policy.  I have built so many wonderful and lasting relationships with my students and staff because of this.

Here are my thoughts on the benefits of an Open Door Policy (ODP) and how to cultivate one into action.

First, there are two reasons people take advantage of an ODP:

  1. To openly share feedback about the company or department
  2. To share personal information and build a relationship

It is important to understand that both of these exist and each has different benefits to the employee, the supervisor and the company.

Benefits of an Open Door Policy:

  1. The staff feel safe and more connected to the boss and the department.
  2. The boss will be seen as more human as opposed to the mysterious person at the top.
  3. Hearing about problems directly from the staff is the best way to find ways to address the issues and helps the staff understand the rationale behind your decisions.
  4. Relationships can build into a mentor / mentee relationship.
  5. Staff will be more trusting of the boss and more willing to work towards the boss’s goals / expectations / vision.

So now you see all the great things that can come from an ODP, you must be asking yourself, “how can I make this happen?”  Glad you asked, here are a few pointers:

Cultivating an Open Door Policy:

  1. Talk about it, reiterate it and be sure to tell your staff who understand first-hand to spread the word.
  2. Actions speak louder than words (it’s a cliché for a reason)…the more you practice an ODP and show the staff the benefits, the more they (and others) will take advantage of it.
  3. Go out of your way to solicit feedback, both positive and negative, from the staff.
  4. Invite the staff into your office for lunch (no meeting, no agenda, just good food and good company).
  5. Get to know your staff on a personal level, find out their interests…this not only builds trust, but also gives you a glimpse into what motivates them (and can help you in many other areas of the department).
  6. Share personal info and stories as examples.  This is especially helpful when the staff come to share personal issues they are having difficulty working through.
  7. Always have their backs, especially when they come bearing bad news.

There are some rules that should always be made understood and followed with an ODP so boundaries are not overstepped (how far the line is will depend on how comfortable you are sharing personal info and learning about your staff).

Rules to adhere to in an Open Door Policy:

  1. If the door is literally closed (maybe you’re in a meeting, or working on a very important/sensitive project) then staff should not disturb you.
  2. If the door is literally open, but you are having a meeting with someone else, the staff should not disturb you.  These first two may seem common sense, but I say from first-hand experience with students, it’s not always the case (this is when helping them understand where the line is becomes important).
  3. If you are busy working on something when a staff member comes in, unless is it super time sensitive, stop and take 5-10 minutes to give them your undivided attention.  Be sure to tell them you only have 5-10 minutes and then you must get back to the project.  Taking this time with them and showing they are valued will go light years for you.
  4. If you are busy and really cannot take time for them right then, be sure to tell them and to coordinate in making some one-on-one time later.
  5. You must find and maintain a balance of personal information from your staff and the line of Too Much Information.  This line will vary for everyone so be sure to know where yours is and share it early.

So there you have it, a guide to developing an Open Door Policy with your staff.  If you think you have one, I suggest you check with your staff on the actual perception, the door may not be as open as you would like.  If you do not have one, I challenge you to question why not…what could it hurt?

Do you have an Open Door Policy with your staff?  What benefits have you seen as a  direct result of this?  What other ideas do you have for cultivating an Open Door Policy?

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