We have all heard a leader say “My door is always open.” at some point in our lives, but how many of us have walked through the proverbial door? What is an “open door” policy and why isn’t yours working if you have adopted one? An “open door” policy is, “a communication policy in which a manager, CEO, president or supervisor leaves their office door “open” in order to encourage openness and transparency with the employees of that company.” source
The idea of this policy is that leaders want to appear open, available, or accessible. In theory, this is great and some leaders do this well. But, if you are struggling to create an “open door” policy that works or need some guidance in this area, consider these tips.
Why it’s not working!
1. It is ambiguous.
The basis of the policy intends to have those in leadership—on all levels—accessible to all employees. The idea is that with accessibility comes open communication. Open communication is a great idea, but in the words or Dr. Phil, “How is that working for you in real life?”.
The problem is no one knows what YOU mean by “open door”. If you want to have an open door policy, is it clearly defined? Has it been clearly and consistently communicated over multiple channels? Does it have a measurable outcome so people will know if it is being used? Don’t assume your people know what you mean by “open door”.
The Fix: Make it clear. Write it down. Design a communication campaign not only around the details of the policy, but also the why behind the policy. Tell the story of why it’s important.
2. You secretly don’t want it to work.
Let’s be real, do you really want it to work? Leadership blogger Kevin Eikenberry asked this same question on his post on why leaders should have a closed door policy. Being open to all levels of employees could mean you are interacting with employees all… the… time. If you are really honest, you don’t want that to happen. So subconsciously, do you let the policy lie dormant? Perhaps your fear of the problems it would cause is rooted in a lack of understanding. Is it a lack of understanding around the boundaries you need to set in order to keep it real for your employees but also manageable for you?
The Fix: Set boundaries. No one can make you want something you don’t really want. Find your motivation for wanting to do this and then set boundaries so it doesn’t disrupt your creativity or productivity.
3. It is too much work…for your employees.
So, you have instituted the policy. You clearly communicated it to your team. You have set up your boundaries. Now what? Do you now wait? That’s how it usually goes. You wait for your subordinates to not only identify issues, but then muster the courage to bring you those issues. Think about the major obstacle they would have to overcome to do it. Think about the message you are communicating to you staff by expecting them to initiate the interaction with you. No matter how warm and fuzzy you are, most employees will be intimidated by you because of your position.
The Fix: Take time to get up from your office or cubicle and regularly meet with your staff. Develop a list of powerful questions designed to get useful information in a non-threatening way. Instead of asking, “What can I do to improve?”, ask open-ended, uniquely crafted questions. Jason Fried, in his article Is Your Door Really Always Open? suggests asking questions like “What have we gotten worse at over the last year?” or “What tasks are you working on that you think are ridiculous?”. The way you ask the question supports the intent of the “open door” policy. It goes a long way in establishing the trust needed to be open and honest.
An “open door” policy communicates a good intent. Your actions around the policy communicates your commitment.
“Intent without dedicated action is simply not enough.
Action without a clear intent is a waste.
It is when these two powerful forces are aligned that the energy of the universe conspires in your favor.”
Why do you think “open door” policies are not more successful? Please leave your comment below.