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Who really steals all our time?

hr best practices hr department hr for small business hr leadership hr management May 15, 2023

I was recently in a shop and saw a t-shirt hanging in a manager’s window that read “Let me stop everything and work on your problem." I couldn’t help but laugh. Isn’t it the way we all feel when employees appear at our office door? I have to constantly remind human resources managers and business leaders that an open door policy doesn’t mean “walk in whenever you want and I’m here for you." An open door policy should mean, "Send me an email, let’s make an appointment and have a great conversation when it works for both of us."

There are certainly advantages to an open door policy. Meeting employees is a great way for new managers to get up to speed quickly with employees. Leaders today have to be in a role where they encourage employee interaction. I actually have a client that has the opposite idea…his office door is locked all day long! The message he sends to his team is, "Don’t bother me," and the impact is that turnover in his organization is well over 100%. No one in today’s environment wants to work with someone like that.

There is an impactful quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” Isn’t that the truth!  The issue in HR is not the amount of time we have, but the way we allow others to use it.  You will need to own your time, and be protective of it. You always want to be sending a message to your team that you are open to their ideas, and value constructive conversation. Set an expectation that you too are busy, but would love to see up and appointment to meet them.  Ask what they’d like to discuss so that you are ready for them.  That way, you have focused time for conversation.

I often use the example from Harvard Business Review’s article about the monkey on your back, only to realize I have dated myself and many leaders today have no idea what I am talking about! The premise is that an employee can’t come to your office with a problem (and no solution!) – and just put it on your back. In business, we should expect our employees to come forward with a few ideas that would solve the issue at hand. As leaders, it is our job to guide them into making the right decision, or explain why their desired outcome just isn’t possible. It’s not your job to solve everyone else’s problems.

Next time an employee appears at your door and starts a sentence with “Can you,” or “There’s a problem,” turn the situation around. Explain to them that you would love to help, but you trust their decision and you are just swamped at the moment with things that must be completed. Then remind them if they’d like to set a time to meet later,  you’d be happy to spend a few minutes discussing their concern or issue.

Use open door conversations to empower your team and provide them both the trust and support they need to move your operation forward.

Thanks for reading!

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