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The Door is Always Open – or is it?

by Brian Ray

Across the corporate world these days, many companies have the walls of their respective locations plastered with various positive statements regarding how upstanding their values are, that their employees matter, etc.  In particular, many companies now claim to have an “Open Door” policy when it comes to issue resolution and/or the presentation of ideas.  However, in many cases this policy truly exists on a superficial level only, with the sad truth being that these so-called “empowering” programs are merely an exercise of smoke & mirrors to make operations appear better to the outside observer.

It is clearly evident in today’s business climate that many Managers & Executives have lost a significant portion of not only their listening skills, but also their inter-personal relationship skills when it comes to engaging employees.  No matter what industry the company happens to be a part of, everyone who has ever worked within the corporate environment can site multiple examples where a Manager or other leader has been utterly unapproachable due to a myriad of reasons.  These include a lack of relatability, their massive egos, lack of empathy, even a lack of awareness.  Quite bluntly, if the employees don’t find a given Manager approachable, then it doesn’t matter how “open” a company policy claims to be, because it just won’t be utilized by the people it is designed to help.

Remedying this type of situation can be extremely difficult as it requires addressing and correcting the very dynamic that permeates the workplace atmosphere.  There are many facets to this dilemma, but for now let’s take a look at two of the major components of this issue:

1. Denial

The first thing to be done is to confront the denial from leadership that the problem actually exists, without that action, any subsequent attempt at honest communication becomes nothing more than an exercise in futility.  That denial is just another manifestation of ego in that those at the upper levels of leadership simply refuse to believe that there is anything wrong with how they or any of their peers behave.  This is due to that fact that sub-consciously many of them feel that being a Manager/Leader/ Executive automatically gives them free reign to act in whatever manner they want.  The mindset ultimately becomes – “That doesn’t happen at our company!” – when in reality, it happens every day.

2. Hypocrisy

The second major problem that this generates is the hypocritical scenario that is lived day-to-day in the workplace.  Employees constantly see the barrage of “feel good” memos and corporate policies regarding open communication without fear of repercussion, yet they know from experience that this is not the case and the policy is really only an illusion.  This then brings the sense that Leadership is completely out of touch with the reality of the situation (which of course, they are) hence the hypocrisy of the policy within the environment.

• The Cost

Failure to report issues and subsequently to pursue corrective actions can lead to a vast array of problems.  These include poor employee performance due to the constant stress from unresolved issues, fearfulness on the part of the workforce to even mention, let alone address problems, and even the ultimate loss of talented staff members if they reach their breaking point before the problematic situations can be effectively resolved.  For example, just imagine trying to explain the loss of a talented employee to a competitor, or even the loss of a major customer/account due to any number of issues which could have been addressed if Management had acted accordingly.  Every professional who has been in business for a length of time has witnessed these scenarios on more than one occasion.  Not an effective way to run a business at all.

There is the old saying that “actions have consequences”, but this needs to be changed to also include that  – “lack of action” – also has consequences.   Quite bluntly, Corporate leadership needs to realize that they must back up their words with deeds – “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” as the two traditional sayings go.  Ignorance is not bliss, and it is not an acceptable excuse on any level.  All leaders must be prepared to deal with the truth of the situations that arise.  Do not brush the problems and/or questions aside or deny their existence, because the repercussions could be severe.

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