This is probably the one statement that is most often recited to employees when they begin a new job with a new supervisor. “My door is always open!” We’ve all heard it many times over the course of our careers, and if we’re supervisors, we’ve all made sure to include it in our closing comments as we complete the welcome and orientation process.
It’s been my experience, however, that most leaders do not really understand what such a statement implies. They don’t understand two very important things about an “open door”:
- That their office isn’t the only destination place for the door to be used.
- That the door sometimes has to be opened first by the leader.
Regarding the first, a leader needs to understand that the open door can be provided in many ways. It can be a greeting as you’re walking down the hallway, a simple smile of acknowledgment, a “thank you” note, a potluck lunch, an informal meeting, an annual appraisal; in short, any activity that provides an opportunity for the leader to make themselves available on a continuous basis for employee access.
Regarding the second, the responsibility for making that open door available rests more with the leader than it does with the follower. If the cultural mindset of the leader is focused more upon the employee than on the process, then the open door becomes a continuous seeking out of issues and concerns.
Truth be told, it means always showing up in unexpected places to ensure that access is invited by proximity rather than by convenience.