“And if you need anything, my door is always open.”
Great bosses (or those who want to be great bosses) will often say something like this to new hires, who may or may not take them up on it. Depending on the actual culture of an organization – if they get penalized for even simple mistakes, for instance, or aren’t encouraged to experiment and take risks – employees might conclude that what the boss doesn’t know won’t hurt him (or them).
Even in a more healthy work environment, the open door policy of senior leaders might still seem like more of a one-way conversation. Staff might see walking into the boss’ office as a time to reveal what’s going on in their day, with little insight back about how the boss is working through their own challenges. There’s also only so much time a boss can spend sitting around waiting for a team member to walk through that open door. They’re most likely also dealing with customer issues, suppliers and various other stakeholders that will take them far beyond the office on any given day.
Strong communication and insight from the top is helpful in any kind of company, but it may be particularly important within small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Those who are trying to lead and grow an SMB can only wear so many hats, and they need to train and develop those around them to take on more responsibility and accountability for everything from sales to customer service. On the flip side, life at an SMB is often so fast-paced that it's unlikely the majority of employees will be able to “job shadow” the boss and see for themselves what it takes to think through some of the most critical business decisions.
Promising to keep your door open, however, should be seen as more of a metaphor for the kind of openness and transparency great leaders want to bring to their organization. They’re trying to suggest that employees collaborate with them wherever necessary. They may be willing to offer a glimpse into the SMB’s bigger picture, even if employees don’t have the courage to ask the deep questions.
When companies talk about the idea of transparency externally, they’re usually making a commitment to being more communicative about the way they make their products, their policies and other things that might change the way their customers think of them. Starting with a move towards greater transparency internally, however, may lay the groundwork for better productivity, collaboration and ultimately better results for an SMB. Bringing that same kind of transparency to the outside world will then reflect the early efforts the boss decided to make.
How do you balance between being more transparent and not losing time that you need to focus on the business itself, you ask? Read on – it’s not as hard as it might sound.
Besides the public-facing blogs that many companies (like this one) publish to customers and prospects, many organizations created internal, employee-oriented blogs where the CEO or other senior leaders provide high-level guidance and updates. This was, in many ways, just a digital evolution of the manager memos that were once printed on paper and dropped off in employee’s mailboxes. The biggest challenge for “boss bloggers” is coming up with something to write about.
SMB owners can start a journey towards greater transparency by simply passing along the wisdom they’re gaining from all the various sources they turn to for education and inspiration. Here are some examples you could draw upon every week:
Not all employees get their own weekly check-in or touchpoint with the boss, which means they may not be sure how you’re spending your time. Sharing your schedule might seem a bit scary at first, but there are many ways to communicate your whereabouts and your availability, whether it’s using a traditional calendar or internal social networking tools. If you have personal things to take care of, or something confidential, just mark that time off as “busy.”
For the rest of your calendar, though, the details of various appointments may give the team a better sense of how your use of data is driving the organization’s success. A series of meetings with a big new prospect, for instance, might reinforce the value of inputting data into tools like Sales Cloud. Same goes for attending trade shows, conferences and other events. When meetings are booked with customers soon after those gatherings, it won’t be hard for employees to make the link between CRM and the company’s good fortune.
Transparency means you’re not hiding challenges or failures under the rug but bringing them to light to the world can see how you’re dealing with them and learning from them. Social media has made this almost mandatory for many kinds of companies, since customers can now use services like Twitter and Facebook to issue their questions and complaints.
SMB owners may not be directly involved in every service issue, but they can comment about the progress being made in a way that’s helpful to employees who follow them on social media. This includes:
The most transparent bosses demonstrate a powerful combination of humility and confidence that sets the example for everyone else in the organization to follow. It’s an attitude that goes way beyond leaving your door open – it’s opening up about how you work and inviting others to work alongside you in the same way.