Open door policy is the key success for manager

Dear Joan:
I was recently promoted to a supervisory position over my unit. There really isn't much of a supervisory training program at my company so I've been teaching myself through books and the like. 

One thing that I know is very important is to keep an "open door" policy. The problem I have with this idea is that every manager I have had in the past has said he had it but no one ever used it. People were hesitant to approach the boss with problems or just to talk because of some of the problems it caused.  

I have a good relationship with my unit after having worked with them for seven years as their peer and then the back-up supervisor. They seemed to feel good about coming to me then but I'm concerned that the open communication will soon end as I take over as their boss. Do you have any suggestions?  

I can see why you were promoted. You care about the right things! One of the most important jobs of a supervisor is to stay close to his or her employees. Managers who lose touch lose out- in low productivity, morale problems and lack of commitment among workers.

Employees don't listen to what their manager says, they watch what their manager does. An "Open Door Policy" is only as good as the manager behind the door.

You have a good history with your work unit but that doesn't mean they aren't watching you like a hawk for any changes in your leadership style. They know you have always been under someone else's wing and now your own personal style will finally emerge.

Here are some ideas to consider:  
  • When an employee comes to you with a complaint, spend more time listening than talking. Ask the employee many questions about why he or she is concerned and how this is negatively affecting them. Ask what they have done to try to resolve the issue. Then ask "How can I help you?" If you feel that your intervention is important and essential, discuss how you might help.  
Be careful, however, that you aren't jumping in where you shouldn't. Often, employees will test a new boss to see where the new line is drawn. Don't take their problems on your shoulders if they haven't done all they can to try to solve the problem on their own first. For example, don't get trapped into playing dad or mom when employees complain to you about some work issue involving their co-workers. Encourage them to discuss conflicts with each other individually or in team meetings.
  • When an employee comes to you with a personal problem, stay objective. There is a fine line between being empathetic and being sympathetic. If, for example, an employee is going through a divorce and she is telling you messy details, don't commiserate or offer advice. Instead, listen empathetically and respond with comments such as, "That must have been really tough for you." Avoid making judgments such as, "He really is a rat. I couldn't stand being married to someone like that. If I were you..." You never know how your words will be repeated and to whom.
You open yourself to other problems when you get too deeply involved in someone else's personal life. For example, the employee who is going through a divorce may expect you to "understand" when she starts having an attendance problem.  
  • Keep confidences. Nothing will slam that "open door" faster than betraying a promise. For example, if an employee has a problem with another manager in a different department and he comes to you for confidential advice, don't jump the gun by calling that manager and explaining the whole situation. Stay out of it and coach your employee to take some action on his own first. 
However, if an employee reveals something to you that you know you must act on, be honest about what you must do and why.  
  • If you find out that an employee has made a serious mistake, don't explode. Chances are, the employee feels as horrible as you do and doesn't need a finger wagged in his face. Instead, call the employee in and ask him what happened and why. Ask him what he is going to do about solving the problem. Resist the urge to solve it yourself. If you snatch the project away from your employee, you'll demoralize him and punish him instead of treating him as he should be treated-like an adult who needs to solve his own problems. 
Crisis situations are where you'll show your true style. Employees will study and remember how you react in these situations and will forget everything else. If you blow someone's head off, don't be surprised if they treat you as if you always have a loaded gun...behind a closed door. 

All of these ideas have a common theme. Treat your employees as independent adults who may need coaching and a friendly ear but not a parent or a psychologist. If you do, your door will never be a barrier to open, honest communication.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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