When an open-door policy isn't enough

When it comes to fostering clear and honest employee communication, having an open-door policy is the way to go, right?

Maybe not, actually.

The idea that employees can go to the owner or general manager at any time for any issue is terrific -- in theory. But it often breaks down in today's fast-paced business environment.

The showrooms at Motorcars Toyota and Motorcars Honda in Cleveland Heights are open seven days a week; their service bays, until 3 a.m. "There's no way we can ever get everyone together at the same time," said owner Chuck Gile.

At Don Chalmers Ford in Rio Rancho, N.M., the challenge is the same: connecting with employees when everyone is focused on the tasks at hand.

"Anyone can have an open-door policy," said Lee Butler, the store's director of performance excellence. "But some people are intimidated to just go talk to the boss."

The truth, say executives at the Best Dealerships To Work For, is that the open-door concept can be only a part of a store's overall strategy. Many managers don't just wait for employees to bring information to them. Rather, they constantly reach out to connect with their staffers, encourage feedback and make an open and honest exchange of views part of their everyday operations.

Don Chalmers Ford does that through monthly employee meetings with the general manager and a monthly report that features news -- goals, birthdays, anniversaries, kudos -- department performance reviews and continuous improvement ideas. The store implemented almost 400 employee-generated ideas in 2013 and 2014.

Butler emphasized what was noted by managers at many of the Best Dealerships: good communication starts from the top down.

"You need to draw the information out of your people," Butler explained. "The key to continuous improvement is not what the managers are doing in their offices. It's the people who are on the ground who are closest to what's going on."

You can reach Neal E. Boudette at NBoudette@crain.com -- Follow Neal E. on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nealboudette

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