The power of an open house.Business can reap obvious and not-so-obvious benefits from holding an open house. Such events can make customers burned by Web operators comfortable that you have a brick-and-mortar reality, broaden your employees' perspectives, gain buy-in from your employees' families, an even intimidate the opposition. If open houses are good enough for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, they are good enough for you.
I recently went on a public tour of an aircraft carrier during Navy Week in Los Angeles. Tens of thousands attended, and every generation was represented. I'm pretty sure that the Navy brass, evaluating the event by public relations metrics, said "Mission accomplished!" As I drove home, still awestruck from walking the deck of that marvelous ship, I couldn't help wondering, "Why don't more companies hold 'open house' events?"
The benefits of a commercial open house are obvious and not so obvious.
On its most basic level, an open house tells the world that the company has a brick-and-mortar facility. This can have a reassuring effect on existing and potential customers who have been frustrated when dealing with "dot.com" representations in the virtual reality of cyberspace. A company that opens its doors to the public for a behind-the-scenes tour exhibits a degree of confidence that can transfuse into the customer; after all, an organization with slipshod operations would not let in the light of day.
An open house is also a great way to reach out to the "other half" of the workforce: employees' families. This kind of outreach can benefit the company in a number of ways. The employee's spouse, once acquainted with the actual workplace and its managers, is brought "on board." He or she can become a kind of unofficial advocate for the company, willing to forgive the times when the employee must work overtime and less apt to push the employee toward another, higher-paying job. The spouse might also take a greater interest in the work of the employee, give encouragement during times of stress, and even offer admonition if the employee is tempted to call in sick after a night of revelry.
The "other half" of the employee force also includes the children, who get to see exactly what Mom or Dad does. Every organization with a long-term vision should pursue "second generation" employees--the sons and daughters of current workers. The core values of a corporate culture are best perpetuated and protected by those brought up under the sheltering wings of the organization.
An open house not only educates the existing and potential customer, it educates the current employee who, afflicted with the tunnel vision that results from being sequestered in one's own department year after year, now has a chance to see the big picture. Operational awareness on the part of the rank and file is not to be taken for granted or even assumed. Many employees, working and socializing in little fiefdoms, have no idea what is happening in other departments. Indeed, they may view other departments as competitors for much needed corporate resources. Once the entire perspective is grasped, however, employees are more appreciative of the problems faced by those in other departments and more aware of how they can contribute to overall efficiency.
Open houses permit major potential customers to view the organization discretely, without the sales pressure associated with formal tours. They get a chance, firsthand, to see the layout of the organization and to see something of the morale and intelligence of the workers--in short, they get a visceral sense of the company with which they may choose to do business.
Of course, competitors also can do a little reconnaissance under the radar. But this fact does not discourage the Navy from allowing the general public onto its ships. On the contrary, an open house is a not so subtle way of flexing one's muscles to the world at large--and of influencing competitors to recognize the impossibility of their ambitions so they willingly accept a smaller market share.
Dan Carrison, a business writer and consultant, has authored or co-authored four management books: Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way, Deadline! How Premier Organizations Win the Race against Time, Business Under Fire and From the Bureau to the Boardroom. Carrison is a general partner of Semper Fi Consulting and founder of www.ghostwritersihthesky.com. He also teaches corporate communication for the University of La Verne. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.