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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.

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.

Okay, now that we got your attention, we do, in fact, mean that, but with some major caveats. Allow us to explain.

Over the last several years, both academics and those of you in the field, have talked more and more about this notion of Employee Voice. It’s a straightforward concept. Simply, it means inviting and encouraging employees to converse and engage in addressing organizational problems and challenges. There is a prevailing view out there that the more employee voice, the better, and healthier the organization. We disagree.

Perhaps the worst way to imagine employee voice is to view it as a one-way communication stream—one where employees communicate to management. That’s weak. A stronger way to conceptualize employee voice is to get some two-way communication going. Here, employees and managers speak and listen to each other in a productive, healthy, and constructive manner. However, this stage of employee voice can be especially problematic. When employees believe that managers are listening, they begin to get their hopes up. When those hopes are dashed by a lack of action or follow-thru, employee voice can quiet quickly. Morale often tanks, and cynicism usually surges. There’s a third way—a better way—to enact employee voice.

ELP can help foster a dynamic where employee voice is enacted correctly—in a way that is sustainable. First, invite employees to communicate and challenge management. More specifically, encourage them to avoid voicing about people and focusing instead on processes, procedures, or systems. Second, leaders should listen to this voice and challenge back in a professional way. But, we’d argue, that a third step is the most important step. It is the follow-thru step. Here, you set appropriate expectations and then deliver on them.

Take, for example, a client who added this third step to their communication system. Notably, this client would conduct quarterly communication meetings with all employees. Here, the General Manager would relay information. At the end of his communication, the General Manager would allow plenty of time to hear the voices of his 1100 employees. Just recently, though, they started to capture action items from this dialogue. Within about a week, the management team would send out a newsletter along with communication down through first line supervisors that would state the following—“This is what we think we heard during the communication meetings, and based on our resources, we are going to pursue answers for the following three items: a, b and c. We promise to share what we found with you at our next communication meeting.” And that’s what they do. Because of this, there are fewer “false-hopes,” expectations are clear, and the employees know and feel that their voices are heard. Even if the action items, resulting from their input, don’t result in a change of policy, they at least have the courtesy of the follow-up. They feel valued, and are likely to continue with a constructive voice.

Whatever you do, don’t ask or solicit an employee’s voice if you aren’t going to respond—either in dialogue or in action. Employees ONLY deserve a voice when managers and leaders are committed to valuing it. Without that, it is a hollow exercise. So, listen, act, and follow through on initiatives and efforts to capture the voices of your employees.

Of course, to hear the preeminent voice on employee voice, call Robin Bichy, an ELP founder and principal, at 703.999.5676 to learn more.