The Performance Pro

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Open Your Door and Lead

Repeatedly, I hear employees grumbling about the things going on in their workplace. They cite examples which always include a variety of issues, culminating in low morale. Then the clincher comes. “Our President is always in his office with his door closed. There’s really very little interaction. We never see him.” This is a typical symptom of the workplace performance crises that can occur with the practice we call Closed Door Disease.

An ad in the Wall Street Journal cited these facts regarding the position of CEO’s:
-With shorter grace periods and higher performance bars, results rarely meet expectations.
-The CEO sets the tone. The personality at the top becomes the personality of the corporation.

Doesn’t it make sense that when the head is under pressure to meet quotas and increase bottom lines, that the relationships with the body (the team players) becomes crucial? Wouldn’t this be the time when high morale could parallel increased production? So what is it that the Closed Door executive just doesn’t get?

The traits of a successful company leader consists of qualities such as being action oriented, capable of innovative thinking, calculating risks and embracing change. While these leadership traits may be extraordinary, there are those leaders for whom rapport building is just not in their mix. They are not comfortable with it and see it as a waste of time. When relationship building skills are a pork chop short, gaining employment commitment and buy-in for a project can be a tortuous process that often falls short of expectations. Hence, a leader often find himself sitting behind his closed doors wondering why his people are making this so hard.

If you find yourself in this position, find a consultant that can help you develop your people reading skills and grow your rapport building backbone. We’ve found that once executive teams are educated on the different behavior styles and taken through certain exercises for discovering how to best communicate with each other, it is much easier to gain commitment, solve problems and grow effective teams--reducing down time and dollars lost. Whether it is an investment in a single session or ongoing consulting basis, honing communication skills can reap bottom line rewards. A few observations to get you started:

Don’t let your position go to your head. Stop and take a reality check. Are you the same person that got you to this position in the first place or have you become more aloof? Are you sincere in building relationships or are you seen as in-effective and insincere? Remember, it’s not how you see yourself that counts, it’s how others see you.

The problem may be that you really don’t care what the employee thinks, you know exactly how you want to run things and don’t need to waste your time listening to him. If this describes you, you need to grasp the concept that no man is an island. When morale suffers, productivity suffers, ROI falls. Is this the result you want? What could you be doing better? You may need to face some hard facts on your
management style. Is your management style “shutting down” your other players ?

If you have been guilty of the Closed Door Disease, the first thing that needs to happen, is that you need to let employees know that you value their input and that your door will be open to them. Then when one pokes his head in, stop whatever you are doing and give him or her 100% of your attention. Take the time to become a good listener and acknowledge appreciation for them sharing their ideas. And don’t drop it there. If it is something that requires follow up, follow up on it. If you use his idea, give him the recognition for it.

According to Simon Wright in his article on the subject in Smart Business, leaders need to be honest
with their people. Many people are uncomfortable in their speaking abilities; as a leader it comes down to this: Get over it! ( You cannot afford to be silent. If you are forced to have lay offs, for example, rather than just remaining silent, like you don’t care about the effect on your remaining employees, address it. Be very clear on how life is going to change. You might say something like: “We are going to have to adapt and move on if we are going to keep our results where they need to be. These are difficult times and it’s not going to be easy.” A serious statement like this is going to be received much better when it is balanced with an mutual level of previously established rapport. Be sure to thank them for their continued effort—and remind them of your open door.

Employees want to be informed of what is going on, this is how you build an employee’s sense of ownership and ultimately increase employee retention. Employees see a true Open Door policy important for a healthy work culture. In other words, this is how you achieve the best results. And for the CEO, results are a good thing.


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