Unlocked Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

Lois M. LeMenager is happy to have an open-door policy. However, that means she sometimes has to take her work home with her as founder, chairman and CEO of Marketing Innovators International Inc.

But LeMenager doesn’t mind doing that because the open-door policy creates a positive work culture at the people performance management and measurement organization, which posted approximately $200 million in 2008 revenue.

“You are working at night, and I don’t think there is a good CEO that doesn’t,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with LeMenager about how to use an open-door policy and how to talk to employees.

Q. How do you communicate that you have an open-door policy?

I think it trickles down from the management. They realize that the managers can come in and be comfortable. I don’t think I’d like anything more than to have a suggestion box full of suggestions from everybody in the company because those people are the people that know their jobs. Maybe we are overlooking what should be done or what should be improved.

In this company, we have pretty much a feeling that everybody knows they can say something and they are heard.

Q. What advice would you have to establish an open-door policy?

You need to have some corporate meetings. You need to bring in the people that are the worker bees. I think you need a good HR understanding and share the corporate goals all the time — you keep them informed about that. We have corporate meetings, and we have celebrations once a month, and we (bring) people in once a month with anniversaries and birthdays. They are all in the same room and talk. You make sure they realize that this is kind of a relaxed situation in here, where they can say things, and you know what, they do.

Q. How do you get employees to open up?

You need to be a walking-around CEO. You have to show yourself, make yourself present, make sure you attend all the affairs, participate and make sure that they know that you believe in them and you are concerned about them.

The first thing is to make them feel comfortable. Ask about their family or, ‘How are you doing? What are you doing? Glad to have you.’ If they are new employees, ‘What can we do to help you be comfortable? Do you need training?’ I think that’s a big thing. We should make sure that we know what they need.

We offer them training … and that we are sensitive to their family affairs, if they needed time off to attend school meetings. We are pretty flexible, and I think you have to do it that way. Of course, you never, ever want to be stuck up with your employees.

Q. What is a pitfall to avoid when trying to show an open-door policy?

If (you) are going to keep an open-door policy, always have time to stop and listen when they come in if they want to see you. No matter how busy you are, unless you are on a conference call you can’t interrupt, and they would know better than that. But, you have to make time for them. That’s the big deal. That’s when you are going to show them that you care.

Sometimes, I can put off a call or do something if there is something dramatically wrong or when I know there is a situation that needs to be handled. Then other times, I’ll say, ‘OK, come back in five minutes. I’ll be finished here, and I will see you here before I leave.’

Q. How do you motivate people to share feedback?

That has to start from the management team really. The management team has to accept the executive team and interface with them [so] that the management and their people want to interface. So, we have to show them how to do it. We have to make sure that they see that that way. We want to hear from these people.

Q. With this kind of culture, how do you find the best people to fit in?

You have to make the best effort you can. You have to look at their backgrounds, and we like to (see) that they have so much college education. I’m kind of perplexed with that because I only finished high school. If you have self-learners and self-starters, sometimes you have to give those people a chance. But we need to have people that are happy with themselves.

They have to be somebody that has a good attitude, that can learn, that can be trained, and not just somebody that comes in at 8 o’clock and flies out the door at 5. You pretty much, in the first month, can tell who those people are.

Q. How do you tell that you have the right fit during an interview?

I don’t think you can absolutely make sure. When we are looking for somebody, we have two or three people interview them, and they get together and they (say), ‘What did you find? What did you think? What do you think?’ Somebody interviews tremendously well, and then they are a flop. Some people are a flop at the interview and are marvelous people. You have to take your chance — get the gut feeling, take the chance, and then in 90 days, you are going to know.

How to reach: Marketing Innovators International Inc., (800) 543-7373 or www.marketinginnovators.com