I Have an Open-Door Policy
Talk to almost any leader for long enough, and they will likely tell you that they have an open-door policy. A workplace practice designed to encourage transparency, trust, and feedback, the open-door encourages employees to stop by any leader’s office to ask questions, share suggestions, or discuss concerns, which often leads to increased retention and higher performance.
Why the Open-Door Might Need to be Closed
Despite the popularity of the open-door policy, many leaders also recognize its drawbacks. For instance, they have experienced a decline in productivity when employees use the open-door as an opportunity for long venting sessions instead of sharing a specific issue. In addition, leaders have seen a tendency among employees to use the open-door as an excuse to break the organizational hierarchy or chain of command. They have even observed long-term negative impacts, including a reduced capacity (or willingness) for employees to solve day-to-day issues independently and adoption of poorly vetted ideas when leaders quickly try to address employee concerns without discussing them with other departmental leaders.
What About a Different Approach?
You may be asking yourself, “How do we maximize the benefits of an open-door policy while minimizing the disadvantages?” A simple solution is to put boundaries around our open-door practices. For instance, we can create expectations about the topics that are appropriate for the open-door and the process that leaders will use to follow up on open-door conversations. Unfortunately, some organizations have adopted those guidelines, only to discover that people stopped walking through the open door because it no longer felt as inviting.
So, what if we tried a completely different approach? What if we adopted a “Go to the Open-Door Policy?” What if leaders routinely visited their team members in their working spaces and asked key questions such as:
- What’s going well for you today?
- What obstacles have you faced in your work today? What did you do to overcome those obstacles in the moment?
- If you could do one thing to make your day/work/job more manageable, what would it be?
- What’s one thing you wish I knew about your job?
In our opinion, this approach offers some unique advantages to the common open-door approach, including:
- Leaders will hear targeted feedback. Questions are a great way to frame a conversation around pertinent issues and concerns, and the responses often lead to coachable moments.
- Interactions will have less awkward endings. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than asking a person to leave your office because you’re busy. Instead, imagine getting to say, “I really appreciate the feedback you shared. Thanks for letting me interrupt your work for a few minutes. I better let you get back to it.”
- Conversations will be more relational. It always feels good for someone to check on us, and because people are more comfortable in their own spaces, team members will feel more like sharing how they really feel.
From Reflection to Action: What key questions would you like to ask your team members? This week, which day will you commit to going to the open-door?