Last week I shared my thoughts on an article from Kevin Kruse (Forbes writer) about Why Successful Leaders Don't Have An Open Door Policy. This week Kevin shared part two: Close Your Open Door Policy And Do This Instead.
While his response shared many of the same thought patterns as my own, his suggestions were different. The similarities:
- People will come to you with all their problems if you don't manage expectations
- The unscheduled interruptions will sap a leaders productivity
- Chain of command issues
- The onus is on the employee to come to the leader, who may have a hard time working up the courage.
- Meet Everyone: One of the suggestions by Kevin is to hold weekly one-on-ones. While I like the concept, this can be extremely difficult with a team that is large, or for that matter not local. Today, with international teams becoming the norm in many industries, trying to schedule actual one-on-one time with everyone can become a full time job. I prefer his earlier suggestion of setting aside time for people to come to you. This is especially critical for the offsite contingent.
- Lunches: One thing I've done with teams for years, and haven't really talked about here is to go out once or twice a week with different members of your team. There are several reasons to do this.
- You need to get to know your team on a personal level. What do they like? Do they have family? Children? What do they care about? You can then use this information in future interactions to advance the relationship.
- If you are outside the office the person will be more likely to share, because there are less eyes prying and less feeling of stress. You may actually learn what is really bothering somebody!
- Don't just take out your team leads, or the same people all the time. Find the people in the forgotten places. Admins, document controllers, drafters, payroll clerks, etc. are all people that have way more information on the status of a team / project than you would give them credit for! Get beyond the leadership level.
- If your team is offsite and you go for a site visit, take 2-3 out for each lunch, and invite others to drinks after work. Without the management if possible. You have to gain the team's trust quickly because you won't always be there.
- Walk the Floor: With larger teams, I would regularly stop in at people's cubicles / offices, just to ask how things were going and if there were any issues that needed my attention. I would try to do this during times when the individual wasn't buried in work. If I saw them concentrating intently on something, I would normally just wave and walk on by. But you would be amazed what your mere presence does and how people will open up!
- Manage Expectations: I said it in the last article, but I'll say it again here: Manage the Expectations of your Team. They should know that these sessions aren't "Clear the air" sessions. They are meant to solve problems and address issues. Layout that the team should work through the chain of command when required, and should have tried a couple of solutions before bringing it to your attention.
Now, tracking back to the item I didn't catch: the onus on the employee to come to you. Items 2 and 3 should help alleviate the onus on the employees. These items make you approachable, less confrontational, and allow the team member to wait for the next time you "stop by."
Collin Powell's Leadership Lessons Number 2 is: The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is failure of leadership.
What are you doing to ensure that your team is comfortable enough to bring you their problems? What am I missing? Do you have other suggestions? I would love to learn how other leaders have addressed this problem. Thanks for sharing, and a thank you to Kevin Kruse for writing the articles!