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Are you a boss with an open-door policy?

For small-business owners, being accessible creates a healthy corporate culture that encourages employees to talk about any issue, positive or negative. A welcoming environment not only leads to good ideas, it also identifies problems before they get out of control.

In recent weeks, I have been spending time with a client, sitting next to the president's office. It's been interesting to watch the dynamic between the president and the employees.

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It is clear who is the boss, and there seem to be few communication barriers. Conversations are straightforward and mature, with a lot of information and ideas exchanged.

The open-door approach taken by the president plays a key role in the company's overall tone, personality and culture. There is little sense of hierarchy so employees feel it's a relatively level playing field.

In many respects, small businesses need an open-door policy to be agile, flexible and fluid, to roll with the punches and take advantage of new opportunities when they materialize. A small business needs everyone to contribute, and an open-door policy makes it easier for all employees to get involved without having to deal with bureaucracy or management layers.

So how does a small-business owner create an open-door policy (aside from leaving the door open)?

It starts with few barriers to entry. This doesn't mean employees should be able to come into the boss' office any time, but there should be windows when an employee can ask to have a quick chat. Some of these conversations will be public while others will happen behind closed doors. Either way, employees know they can get an audience from someone open to listening.

For a boss to manage an open-door policy efficiently, there should be rules of engagement so that everyone knows when, how and why the policy exists.

At the end of the day, being open to new ideas, thoughts and problems will help a small business thrive and build a healthier, more engaged and productive culture.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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