The Key to Being An Approachable Manager

by Denny Strigl

Frank Swiatek and I participated in an ExecuNet chat session this week.  After speaking several minutes about the lessons presented in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?, we answered a number of questions from ExecuNet members who had joined the call.  I would like to share one of the questions and our answer with you.

If managers want people to know they are approachable, how do they do it?  The question arises from a discussion on the ExecuNet call (and in the book) in which Frank and I talked about the importance of letting the people who work for you know you expect them to tell you about issues and problems they may be experiencing.  Unlike managers who put their heads in the sand, good managers let the people they work with know they don’t want to hear only good news; they want to hear the bad news too.

The answer to the question lies in a manager’s ability to consistently demonstrate that he or she is “open” to hearing from any employee about any issue. The best managers I have known operate in an open work environment.  In an open work environment employees can speak their minds without fear of reprisal.  In fact in a truly open work environment employees are encouraged to speak their minds.

  1. One of the techniques I have used to create an open work environment is what I call the obligation of constructive dissent.  I have told my employees if they disagree with something, it is their obligation to say so.  This technique is discussed at length in the book so I won’t discuss the details here except to say that constructive dissent doesn’t mean an employee who exercises their obligation of constructive dissent is free to obstruct a decision, or not fulfill a work requirement, simply because he or she expressed disagreement.  On the contrary, the employee also has the obligation, after all dissent is heard, to accept a final decision, rally behind it and support it to its conclusion.
  2. Another helpful technique to demonstrate a manager is approachable is the “open door policy.”  Managers who have an “open door” tell their employees the door to their office is always open and encourage employees to drop by to discuss any issues or problems they may be experiencing.  A couple words of caution are necessary when implementing an open door policy.  First, when managers say they have an open door, they really have to mean it.  It is very important that they really do keep their doors open, and they really are willing spend a few minutes with employees who stop by to discuss a problem.  If managers say they have an open door, but really don’t or if they are selective in whom they are willing to talk to, word travels quickly throughout the organization that the open door policy is a sham.   Second, because managers have an open door policy doesn’t mean it is necessary for them to accept responsibility for fixing every problem they hear, or fix every gripe that comes their way.  Often, I used the open door policy to give advice such as suggesting who in the organization an employee should talk to or work with to get an issue resolved.

The key to demonstrating you are an approachable manager is to being with your people, working through issues, training them, answering their questions, as much as you possibly can be.  And of course, honest and open communication is essential to building trust.  When your employees trust you, they will feel comfortable approaching you.

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