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IBM's Open Door Policy (Business Ethics--Ethikos Archives)
IBM's Open Door Policy (Business Ethics--Ethikos Archives) March/April 1992 - By Andrew W. Singer. Is IBM’s ‘Open Door’ still ajar?Certain management practices have an important effect on morale, efficiency, productivity, and on corporate ethical standards as well. International Business Machine Corporation’s Open Door program is arguably such a practice.Initiated back in the 1920s by the legendary Thomas Watson Sr., the Open Door is essentially a way of dealing with employee grievances. When workers can’t get satisfaction from their immediate managers—a machinist doesn’t think he is being treated fairly, for example—they can take the problem up the organizational ladder, to the chairman of the company, if necessary.Most of the Open Door complaints that reached Thomas Watson Jr. when he was IBM’s chairman from 1956 to 1971 could probably have been resolved at a lower management level. “But I listened anyway,” he recalls in his autobiography. “I learned an awful lot about the problems of the working man, and I gained a visceral sense about IBM that enabled me to hear a complaint and say, ‘Something’s wrong here.’” But recently critics have questioned whether the door really is as open as it was in the past—whether the current chairman and CEO, John F. Akers, is as prepared to “listen” as some of his predecessors. For its part, IBM asserts the Open Door program is alive and well.‘A sham’Two employee lawsuits against the company—one in Michigan, the other in New Jersey—have focused attention on the Open Door. Until now, the giant computer maker has been reticent about explaining the actual workings of the Open Door, at least for publication; it regards this as proprietary information.“The Open Door is a sham,” declares Noel A. Gage, partner in the Southfield, Michigan, law firm of Gage, Beach & Ager, who represented an IBM employee, Joseph Martin, in a race discrimination lawsuit against the company. “The IBM Open Door is the fox watching the chicken coop,” echoes Nancy Erika Smith, partner in Smith, Mullin & Kiernan, a law firm in West Orange, New Jersey.

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