Once I worked at a company with a very reclusive president. He sparked my contribution to the corporate culture.

I invented “Mort Zalk Day,” wherein Mort comes out of his office, sees his shadow, and we have six months more of budget cuts and layoffs. And if you see Mort on Mort Zalk Day, you’re fired.

We enjoyed a laugh at his expense, and he never knew …

I’ve heard a number of leaders cite their “open door policy” to show they weren’t like Mort. “People can come into my office at any time and tell me what’s on their minds,” they say with pride.

Until I ask them how many times this really happens. And when it does, do employees bring important beefs or promising new ideas? They usually struggle to remember the last time something good came of this.

Why Your People Don’t Want to Walk through Your Door

Here are just a few reasons:

  1. They don’t believe it’s for real. Maybe this has nothing to do with you, but with a bad experience they had in another organization. Or they’re heard someone complain about a poor experience at your company. All of us hesitate to walk through a door when we’re not sure what’s waiting on the other side.
  2. They’ve been told to follow the chain of command. Many are the supervisors who don’t feel comfortable with employees going over their heads – for fear of looking bad themselves. You may even have some unscrupulous folks who are ready to steal someone else’s idea. This is guaranteed to shut up your people – no matter how many times you tell them they’re welcome.
  3. They’re afraid. Maybe they fear looking stupid. Or that you only want to hear good news. Or that you’ll think they’re brown nosing. Or complaining. They may think that not calling attention to themselves is safer than any of these things.

It all comes down to trust. How many times in your own career did you take a company policy at face value, only to discover it was just lip service? You never made that mistake again!

Your Door Needs to Swing Both Ways

You have a choice. You can be the person who sits behind his or her desk and says, “Anyone is welcome in my office!”

Or you can be the person who walks through other people’s doors and asks them what problems they’re seeing. What missed opportunities they’re noticing. What processes, policies or procedures are getting in their way rather than helping them. What ideas they have to improve what their department is doing.

Or just be human. Ask them about their families. Their latest vacation. How they feel about the local baseball/football/hockey teams are doing.

Smart got you to where you are. But it’s not enough. You also need to have heart. Your people must see you walking around and being interested in their thoughts and lives. That inspires them to share more with you, so you can work together to make your company better.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised if they’re sarcastically naming a day after you.