Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

We know. We have a flair for the dramatic. How can anyone argue against an OPEN DOOR policy that’s been the staple of organizational life for the better half of four decades? We can, and we will.

Several years ago, one senior manager proudly boasted how many employees used his OPEN DOOR policy. Clearly, we weren’t impressed, and he could sense that. We talked. So, here’s our stance...

We apply a correlational logic here that is tough to argue against. We’ve found that when an OPEN DOOR policy is in high use, organizational health is down. The reason for this is the second, important correlation. When an OPEN DOOR policy is in high use, the strength of the chain-of-command weakens. The reasoning is rather straightforward—when employees find that they can get answers to their problems and get those answers quickly, their need for the direct supervisor wanes in importance. The thinking goes—why should I waste time with my direct supervisor when I can go straight to the top? Of course, this further weakens the chain-of-command because the direct supervisor is now left out of the informational loop; employees aren’t sharing their concerns or problems with them, they are sharing only at the top. Pulling this thread of logic to its natural end, we arrive at a sad conclusion—emphasizing (and the heavy use that follows) an OPEN DOOR policy erodes or neuters the power of first line supervisors and above. Even initiated with the best of intentions, this policy can irreparably harm lower levels of leadership and organizational functioning.

What’s one to do, then? We aren’t advocating the absolution of this sacred cow. However, we do stand for modifying it. After all, there is a reason for an OPEN DOOR policy, and contrary to the dominant logic, it is not to fix employee problems at their level. Rather, the essence of OPEN DOOR policies, especially in high-hazard organizations, is that employees can raise safety or ethics concerns where there is a legitimate lack of confidence or responsiveness or a fear of reprisal from the immediate chain of supervision. Only rarely should operational or employee-centric problems be raised during an OPEN DOOR session. Knowing this is important, and fixing this becomes easy. The next time that an employee walks through your OPEN DOOR, the first question a leader should ask is—have you raised this with your direct supervisor? If NO is the reply—unless the concern is the exception mentioned above—that is the end of the conversation; the dictum should be for the employee to engage her supervision. If the answer is YES, and there was a lack of satisfactory follow-up, we recommend that the leader probe into the next level of hierarchy—have you raised this with your supervisor’s boss? Only after those two questions are satisfactorily answered, do we recommend, engaging in a dialogue with the employee.

Many view the rationale of OPEN DOOR policies to enhance the approachability and accessibility of senior leaders. This is a superficial reason; it isn’t good enough. Especially, in high-risk/high-hazard organizations, efforts should always be made to strengthen—never weaken—the chain-of-command. Think about this the next time we boast about the frequency of use of our OPEN DOOR policy. Far from a good thing, it is a sign that organizational leadership is weakening.

By the way, our DOOR is always OPEN. For more leadership tips that are guaranteed to unlock tremendous value, please knock on Robin Bichy’s door. The best way to do that is at robin@elpadvantage.com.

Ahhhh. The calling card of any manufacturing facility, power plant, or energy concern—the ROOT CAUSE EVALUATION (RCE). The dreaded. The expensive. The resource sapping. The RCE. We lead this Leadership In Action piece by challenging a long-held assumption. Namely, are we using RCEs correctly? Our thinking suggests that we could be a whole lot better here. Let us explain via story.

Two months ago, we sat in on a monthly safety meeting with a major manufacturer. After many months of sub-par safety performance, they were able to rattle off two months of ‘best-in-class’ or ‘best-in-history’ safety performance. Leaders and managers, alike, smiled and even clapped. They started talking about a Safety Celebration. We weren’t buying it, so one of our ELP Leaders raised his hand and asked, “Where’s the RCE?” The Plant Manager quickly shot back, even a bit agitated, “Didn’t you hear? We just had our two best months ever! We only do RCEs when we’ve fallen short of a standard. Here, we surpassed any safety metric we’ve ever had.” Our ELP Leader was not deterred, “Well, how do you explain that? You went from 5 sub-par, even horrible safety months, to two of your best. How do you explain that? How do we replicate that? What caused that? What is different or better that drove those results?” The Plant Manager quieted and a slow smile started. He got it.

Most organizations employ RCEs when things go bad and when operations go off-track. Pioneering, top-performing organizations do the unthinkable—they do RCEs when they get a string of good performance. Bad RCEs involve ‘circling bullet holes’. In other words, its postmortem and the damage is already done; it is a reactive—not proactive—exercise. Good RCEs mean learning from what we are doing well and applying it to other parts of the organization. As an aside, this is tough to do and requires discipline, as we don’t tend to question our successes, we only tend to question our failures. For instance, we’ve got one client who is nearing a record of on-line performance—a breaker-to-breaker run—a feat done only once in their history of refueling outages. We’ve prodded them to ask the why question. What is the organization doing that has caused this uptick in sustainable performance so a) we can continue to exhibit those behaviors or execute those principles, and b) we can transfer some of these practices to other parts of the organization. Lady luck cannot be the answer on why performance has improved. There is a reason. Finding it is the hard part. How can we possibly know how to continue great performance, if we don’t know the recipe? Applying the principles of RCEs to good performance allows us to arrive at and then follow that recipe.

Ray Kniphuisen knows a thing or two or three about RCEs. Reach out to Ray to learn more about how you can leverage RCEs for entirely different reasons—to sustain revolutionary performance rather than just learning from mistakes. His email is ray@elpadvantage.com.

How much internal communication is enough? From an employee perspective, some need more information than others. Additionally, the desired communication medium varies a great deal from one employee to another—and from one leader to another. Some want face-to-face, others are ok with an email blast.

Regardless how much communication and the amount of information provided, some people will complain they don't get enough. Conversely, some leaders will complain that all they do is communicate... "If people don't know what is going on in our company it is their own fault."

Why bother? A well-informed organization is more nimble, and more responsive to customer and market fluctuations. Some would argue it is more focused on the job at hand, though, due to fewer distractions.

One CEO's perspective was that 85% of his job is communicating the strategy internally to the organization. He starts every meeting, every ‘all-hands' meeting, with a review of the strategy and goals. This makes sense, since some research suggests that 95% of a typical workforce does not understand its organization's strategy.

How much is enough, how much is too much, and what do employees NEED to know? We suggest multiple approaches using multiple mediums. Some internal communication approaches might include:

  1. Newsletter—Send a quarterly company newsletter to employees' homes celebrating a few individual and organizational accomplishments, benefit information changes, etc. Sending to the home engages the employee's entire family.
  2. Town Hall meetings—Take the message to the satellite properties and locations.
  3. Fireside Chat—Webinars & conference calls allowing Q & A.
  4. Monthly Leadership Meetings/Conference Calls—Allow leaders at all levels to stay current with the clear directive to share this message with their teams.

As for the content of these communications, try three categories:

  1. WIIFM? (What's In It For Me?) - People need to know about things that will impact them personally. Benefit changes typically top the list, which normally comes up in Q4 when people have to make elections. People want to feel safe about the things that impact them personally.
  2. They also need to know where the organization is going, and in general terms, how will we get there. People want a view of a positive future. This offers hope.
  3. Employees should be aware of customers' expectations, and how to better meet them. This will link with strategy and provide the "WHY" we do what we do.

To be sure, it takes multiple iterations, multiple methods, and sticking to a communication effort to create and sustain a well-informed organization.

Of course, to learn even more about communication, call Robin Bichy, an ELP founder and principal, at 703.999.5676 to learn more.