The big boss strolls into the big corner office. “Remember, my door is always open,” she calls out to the team. If this sounds like the start of a bad joke, that is because in a way it is. Open-door policies are usually empty gestures. If you have to tell people that you’re open and accessible, then it’s probably not true. And you have a transparency problem. The so-called open-door policy is a corporate cliché – a relic that should be left in the past.
Of course, there are times when the intention behind the cliché is sincere. But the issue is that few team members will actually take advantage of that open door. If you’re a leader in title or action, you must be the one who steps up and engages.
There’s no substitute for proactive engagement. A Gallup survey revealed that when managers don’t regularly meet with employees, only 15% of their employees feel engaged. Managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.
Saying your door is open is a triviality. You must make a real and sustained effort to demonstrate transparency, accessibility and collaboration. When you show (not tell) people they can come to you at any time, they believe it and act on it. Here’s how the best leaders foster openness and communication:
Share the plan
Most people want to know that their day-to-day tasks and to-dos are meaningful – directly contributing to the overall success of the company. To make this connection, everybody on the team needs to understand the plan for achieving the organization’s higher vision. Strong leaders openly share the plan. Doing so builds a sense of belonging and transparency.
Scheduled one-on-one meetings are great, but when something demands immediate attention, don’t wait to start a conversation. Be direct and specific with your language and your recommendations. Doing so builds trust, making it more likely for people to come to you the next time they want an honest and productive perspective.
Be curious about the actual work the team is doing, but also about attitudes toward it, difficulties and any surprising learnings along the way. Take advantage of all your means of communications — collaborative workspaces, instant messages, video chats. Be inquisitive. You won’t need an open-door policy if you go to your team with questions instead of waiting for them to come to you.
If somebody comes to you with a question or request, do you get back to them quickly? Pushing concerns to the side sends a signal that your team members need to go somewhere else for answers — that, essentially, your door is shut. Yes, everyone is busy. But being accessible and responsive lets your teammates know that you care to help.
Research shows that people are reluctant to ask for help when they have a problem. I would guess that even more stay silent when they’ve done something great. Call out strong efforts and perfect moments – those instances when somebody achieved an ideal state. The point is not to inflate egos but to provide positive feedback and let people know that their outstanding work is not going unnoticed.
Leaders gain the team’s trust by being open and approachable through actions, not empty words. Give everybody equal access, offer real feedback and show no favorites. Do that consistently and thoughtfully, and you won’t have to tell people you are accessible. No joke.
Brian de Haaff is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world's #1 product roadmap and marketing planning software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous companies were acquired by well-known public corporations. De Haaff writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life. For more information, visit aha.io.