How many times have you heard a manager or executive say, "I have an open door policy." By saying that, the manager attempts to convey a willingness to hear input and feedback from subordinates, an openness to meet with employees to discuss the issues and challenges that they are facing. While well-intentioned, I think most open door policies are highly flawed. As I tell managers frequently, "If you are waiting for bad news, dissenting opinions, or information about important risks to come walking through that open door, good luck! You are in for a rude awakening. Bad news does not often walk through open doors."
For a variety of reasons, people remain reluctant to share concerns, risks, and mistakes with those more senior in an organizational hierarchy. What then should managers do? A truly effective open door policy means that managers make the open door a two-way street. They leave their office, walk through that door, and go out to where the work is being done. They engage their employees, ask questions, and solicit dissenting views. Great managers ask, "What hidden risks could damage our business? What assumptions that we have made could be deeply flawed? What problems are bubbling beneath the surface?"
This point about open doors is especially relevant today, in the wake of the report on the GM ignition switch crisis. One can assign blame to the engineers who did not report the problems to their managers, or worse, tried to hide the issue. One can assign blame to the managers who did not act appropriately when they learned about the concern. However, pointing fingers at these people does not address a deeper issue. What about all the executives at the top who claim to not have known about this issue for the past decade? Not knowing, in a way, is just as much of a problem, as knowing and not doing the right thing. Why didn't they know? Did they go out and seek out bad news, or were they waiting for it to talk through an open door?