Open door policies have long been the standard of corporate management and while the idea is certainly one with merit, in reality there are some reasons you may want to limit or altogether reconsider adopting one. The concept of an open door policy is that it promotes communication on all levels and communication is one of the most important pillars of a successful organization.
Gilbert Amelio, former President and CEO of the billion-dollar National Semiconductor Corp perhaps said it best when he explained, "Developing excellent communication skills is essential to effective leadership.”
However, what happens when your goal of open communication turns into a steady stream of interruptions? As a manager and leader within your organization, your time is highly valuable and also costly to your company’s bottom line. While open dialog with your team is certainly important, an open door that allows for constant access to you may be more than is necessary—in fact, it may be counterproductive to the team’s success overall.
Here are five reasons you may need to rethink your open door policy to increase you and your team’s productivity.
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1. Your Time Is Valuable
Your time is highly valuable to your organization. Yet with a “my door is always open” standing rule, your time can be consistently interrupted and used up by your peers and your staff. In an article for Harvard Business Review titled “Stop Wasting Valuable Time,” author Michael Mankins urged managers and executives to take a closer look at just how their time was being used and whether it was really being put to good use.
Mankins explains, “The price of misused executive time is high. Apart from the frustrations that individual managers suffer, delayed or distorted strategic decisions lead to overlooked waste and high costs, hastily conceived and harmful cost reductions, missed new product and business development opportunities, and poor long-term investments.”
Consider the cost of your lost time with your open door policy to your business and to your own personal life when interruptions during the day force you to stay late or work from home in the evening and weekends to make up for the time lost to interruptions.
How do you get around it? Consider scheduling an open-door policy that is posted somewhere public with your “door is always open” specific dates and times. This allows for communication and access between you and your staff, but during times when that activity is scheduled for and budgeted into your calendar. This has the additional side effect of forcing your team to more seriously consider whether the questions they are bringing to you during open door time are really important, or if they have to wait until the open door time, if they can instead solve problems themselves sooner and without interrupting you.
2. Fosters Collaborative Work Resolution
Something all managers understand is that there are always going to be certain members of the team who love to talk, tell stories or complain. While an open door policy is certainly important for your staff to talk about issues or ask you questions, an over-reliance on you as the sole conflict resolution source for every staff interaction isn’t a good use of your time.
For smaller conflict resolutions between staff members or with outside vendors or clients, members of your staff should be given enough ownership and accountability to solve certain types of problems on their own. In an article for Inc., best-selling author Kevin Daum encourages this kind of leadership for better employees.
He explains that providing your employees with opportunities to stretch outside their comfort zone increases their ownership of their role, the company’s success and promotes their own growth as leaders. Empowering your staff to solve some problems also takes you out of a parental role and allows employees to make some day-to-day decisions autonomously or in small groups.
How do you do it? Start delegating.
When employees come to you for decisions and conflict resolution, start to think of how and where it might be appropriate to start asking them to resolve issues on their own. Challenge them to come to you with the issue and their own suggested potential solution to present you with, then hear them out and provide feedback or adjustment, and then allow them to carry out the decision.
Start to train your employees into making their own decisions or at least coming to you with potential solutions when they need to present problems, too.
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3. Promotes Time Management
As mentioned earlier, your time is incredibly valuable. When you keep your door open all day, you’re encouraging walk-ins that can disrupt important strides in your workday. Ideas, brainstorming and thoughts tend to move in continuous streams and every distraction interrupts that productivity.
A closed door can help you batch your time and protect it from interruption, which makes you more likely to be productive and allows for better time management because you’re able to fully complete tasks, projects and idea sessions. Successful businessman and best-selling author Michael Hyatt explains the benefits of batch tasking and the problems of interruptions in an article.
He believes, “Too many of us go through our day allowing distractions to dictate our activities. We’re in a constant state of reacting to the needs or interjections of those distractions. However well-intentioned, we often allow the priorities of others to supersede our own…Working in a perpetual state of shifting tasks and refocusing attention creates fatigue, stress and decreased productivity.” Your own time management is at risk if you have a continuously open door.
How do you do it? Increase your productivity and get better time management skills by closing your door. Consider the earlier suggestion to schedule your open-door times and that allows you the flexibility to close the door during your scheduled batch tasking time for your own increased performance. It also trains your staff that when your door is shut, you’re working and shouldn’t be interrupted.
4. Step Out Instead of Inviting Others In
According to research reported in the Harvard Business Review by a team of professors from Cornell’s Johnson School, the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business and Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, an open door policy’s whole existence can be misleadingly ineffective.
The study finds that many companies report not using open door policies, even when they exist, because of the stress of having to initiate the conversation with the boss. Employees reported much higher instances of job satisfaction and communication when their managers and executives came out of their open door offices and approached them for solicited feedback.
“Our research shows these [open door policies] aren’t enough, because they’re passive; they require employees to initiate the conversation. So, not only may speaking up be dangerous or futile, workers also see that it requires effort. We and others have found that employees are much more likely to be forthcoming when their input is solicited.”
How do you do it? Having a posted open door schedule is a great way to make the option available to staff who want to use it, while preserving your own productivity and schedule, however you may also like to consider leaving your office to approach your staff. By walking out of your office, you may be able to get better feedback with your staff than by a blanket open door policy alone.
5. Reduce Anxiety in Your Staff
One final consideration in ending, or at least reducing, your open door policy is that when that door inevitably needs to shut for confidential or private meetings, your staff’s anxiety may actually go up. If your door is never shut, then during select times when your door must be closed for confidentiality, the stress, rumors and whispers about why it’s closed start to surface.
If you only close your door for meetings that are highly confidential, like layoffs, performance reprimands or other potentially stressful events for your staff, the closed door quickly becomes associated with unwanted news, stress and anxiety. According to a recent article on Mind Tools on preventing rumors and gossip in the workplace, one of the most effective ways for managers to quell these problems is to engage in what they call “Management by Walking Around.”
In other words, by getting out of your office and engaging with your staff. This happens when you leave your office and seek out the staff’s company and feedback as well as by having positive closed-door meetings so the presence of a closed door isn’t an anxiety trigger for your staff.
How do you do it? When you leave your office to work with your staff, coupled with closed doors with no negatively perceived outcomes or consequences, you can potentially reduce the stress and gossip of the workplace.