My Door is Always Open – and It Leads to the Exit

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ford ignored the warnings of its engineers regarding the dangers of rollovers on the Ford Explorer. (They got this news from Bloomberg. Here’s a link)  
It’s not just Ford; when will we ever learn? Of course, we should be leery of buying a Ford SUV, but don’t think for a minute that they are the only company ignoring good advice. It is common for organizations to proclaim how open they are. “My door is always open – and it leads to the exit.” Corporate (and non-profit, government and church) leaders wake up. There are usually people around you who would like to tell you the truth. And that truth can save you. It’s the ethical thing to do, lets you make better decisions, keeps your reputation clean in the eyes of your public, and keeps you out of court. Those are all good things.

For starters, here’s some things you could do:
1. Let everyone know that you are serious about hearing bad news. Keep repeating that message.
2. When someone does tell you that the emperor really isn’t dressed properly, hold a party. Let him or her know that you appreciate what they have to say. If appropriate, go public. Let others know what you heard, and what you plan to do about it.
3. Protect those who tell the truth. Make sure they keep their jobs and don’t get sent off to your plant in some town nobody can pronounce. Don’t roll your eyes, it happens every day.
4. Ask for bad news. “What are we missing?” “What could go wrong that we may be missing?”
5. People below you will filter out bad news. It goes with the territory. Warn them once, and then get rid of them if they continue to hide critical information.
6. Make sure that you are making it safe for your managers to tell you what’s going on. You could be the major problem in all of this. I have seen managers warn new hires to never criticize the boss in a meeting. That message is powerful and has a very long shelf life.

That should keep you busy. Good luck.