How Open Should I Be To Complaints?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how open should a manager be  to complaints:

I spoke with you a few weeks back about becoming a new manager over my peers. I inadvertently misplaced the website to ask future questions so I’m emailing you directly, if you don’t mind. I’m a new manager and would like to employ an open door policy, however; I need a bit of advice as to just how open I should be in regards to complaints. In the past our previous manager would listen to and comment on problems that employees brought to him and make changes based on the conversation without having first spoken to the immediate supervisor to verify the complaints. Do I simply tell them that I’m open to listen to them and then let them know that I will not be able to make any comments until I’ve spoken with the supervisor or all parties involved? Do I address the complaint with all parties separately and then collectively?May I have the name of the website for future reference?

Signed, New At This

Dear New At This:

Hello, our site can be accessed by typing in Ask The Workplace Doctors or What you do when taking on the role of a new manager can depend on how effective and liked was the one you are replacing.  Sociologist Theodore Caplow in How To Run Any Organization posits that a new manager advanced from within a company should lie low if the previous manager was strong and, if she/he was weak, the new manager could take a new broom to emphasize changes in policy.

Following this rule of thumb, from what you say your previous manager faired quite well even though he acted on complaints without a thorough investigation. Had his actions resulted in complaints about how he handled complaints, then if you do as you propose, you probably won’t be criticized if you “simply tell them that I’m open to listen to them and then let them know that I will not be able to make any comments until I’ve spoken with the supervisor or all parties involved.”That seems to be a sensible, yet not a major change from policy and practice of your predecessor.

A complaint that is interpersonal will entail getting a story straight and that might best be handled by interviewing the parties involved separately and also parties who observed an incident, especially if it is a she said-he said kind of complaint. Major matters might also entail consultation with your own superior and/or Human Resources. Minor complaints might be handled by bringing together the employees in conflict and collaboratively problem solving, and if that doesn’t work, handling the decision your self. Usually it is not good to place blame publicly.

You don’t mention whether your old manager had a practice of regular team meetings and, if so, if these were skull sessions that encouraged collaborative planning and review of how well they were performing as a team. You might find it helpful to review some of our Q&As in the section on teams in the Archives. My best to you. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. When working with teams, I recommend being addressed as Coach. Of course that depends on your workplace culture. Please keep us posted on what lessons you learn as a new manager.

William Gorden