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Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Open-Door Policy?


Recently, I sat down with an associate analyst (AA) in state government to talk “shop.” Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: What are you passionate about?

AA: I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about it, but I do have something that’s on my mind quite a bit.

Me: What’s that?

AA: The whole “open-door policy” thing.

Me: You mean the thing where you can walk into someone’s office whenever you need something?

AA: Yeah. I can do that with my boss. I can even do that with my boss’ boss. Somewhat. But, if you try to go any higher than that, you won’t get anywhere. And, if you go outside of your area, you get the same response…

Me: “Did you check with your supervisor?”

AA: Yep. “Did you check with your supervisor?”

Me: Why do you think that is?

AA: Accountability. No one wants to be accountable for their job.

Me: So they aren’t doing their due diligence when they say that. They’re “passing the buck.”

AA: Exactly.

Me: So how do you fix that?

AA: I don’t know. I think it starts with the tone at the top.

Me: You mean the executives or the directors or the chiefs?

AA: Yes. Take, for instance, where I work. We have a director. The director reports directly to the governor. Reporting to the director are four…uh

Me: Chiefs?

AA: I was going to say cronies. No, not chiefs. Deputy directors. These five individuals have 2,000 people reporting to them. Once a year, they put out juice and cookies and allot one hour for a meet and greet. One hour. For 2,000 people.

Me: I’m no math guy.

AA: That’s the point. Not everyone ever gets to meet those higher ups. And even when they do…even when they do, those people stand there with their fake smiles and plain handshakes. Don’t get me wrong. It gets better as you come back down. You mentioned chiefs. My chief helps with our Christmas party every year. The chief shows up and helps us celebrate the holidays.

Me: That’s nice.

AA: Below our chief is my boss’ boss. I see him on almost a daily basis. I know he likes camping with his family. He and his family go camping at least a half dozen times a year.

Me: Good to know.

AA: And then there’s my boss.

Me: So you have five levels of leadership above you?

AA: Yeah. I guess so.

Our associate analyst was essentially venting about leadership and communication. It may not seem like it, but there was a tone of optimism in our analyst’s voice. The hope is that this scenario does not play out in other workplaces. I was able to assure our analyst that there is at least one environment where it does not play out.

Just the other day, I was able to use a communication vehicle to send a message to our CEO. That’s not to say that I don’t see him every day in the halls of the building. I want to highlight what I call “The Bat Phone.” We have a direct line to our CEO that guarantees that we have his attention. Also, I had to leverage my chief’s clout the other day. I was able to walk down to her office, take a seat, and provide the scenario requiring her assistance. Again, just to clarify, I see her on an almost daily basis. It’s just comforting to know that I can call or stop by her office on occasion. I was particularly proud on this day because it had been over a year since I needed to get her involved to problem solve.

Check in with your employees. Do their stories sound like our associate analyst’s story?

TS Hamilton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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