Pitfalls Of An Open-Door Policy (And What To Do Instead)

If you’re a manager, you may tell your employees, “My door is always open.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t always work. Saying you have an open-door policy may lead to a false sense of connection, notes Ben Brearley, the founder of Thoughtful Leader. You may think you know what’s going on, but you may not. That’s because your employees need to feel safe coming to you.

Another downside of an open-door policy is getting interrupted when you need to focus. You want to give your team members easy access to you, but this can prevent you from getting things done. As a result, you may feel distracted when employees come to you.

Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid the problems of a traditional open-door policy. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share some of Brearley’s suggestions on how to make this leadership concept work for your team.

Maintain your regular one-on-one meetings. When you tell your team members you have an open-door policy and they’re always welcome to talk with you, it can be appealing to cancel your one-on-ones with people. However, just having an open-door policy isn’t enough to understand what’s going on within your team, says Brearley. You shouldn’t expect your employees to just drop in with ideas or issues. That’s what one-on-one discussions are for. Instead of eliminating those meetings, keep them on the calendar while still keeping yourself open to communication whenever your employees need to talk.

Protect your own time. Sometimes, an open-door policy can make it hard for you to focus on your own work. With people dropping into your office or messaging you on Slack, you may spend your workday addressing your employees’ ideas instead of getting things done. Brearley says it’s important to safeguard your time, well-being and mental health if you want to create an environment where everyone can do well. He suggests blocking out your own focus time and alerting your colleagues when you are unavailable. You could get away from your usual work location, turn off your email or chat systems or block your calendar for a set amount of time. Remember that you’re not being selfish by safeguarding your time, he adds. It’s important to find a balance of keeping the communication lines open while still having time for your own priorities.

Lay down some ground rules. For an open-door policy to be effective, your employees shouldn’t run to you for every little thing and stop trying to handle their own issues. Brearley says this can position you as a bottleneck, needing to be available all the time to keep things flowing in your team. If you want to empower your team members, let them make decisions first and then let you know instead of asking you first, recommends Brearley. You could also require that your employees try solving an issue before asking you for assistance. Over time, your team will develop the confidence to try new approaches and problem-solve on their own. You’ll be there to help if they need it.

An open-door policy can help communication flow more freely. However, this practice has drawbacks. You can help avoid any pitfalls by keeping up with your one-on-one meetings, blocking off uninterrupted time for your own work and establishing some ground rules.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Ben Brearley is the founder of Thoughtful Leader and is an experienced leader, AIPC and PRINT® certified coach and MBA passionate about developing thoughtful and effective leaders.

filed under September 2021
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