THREE ALTERNATIVES TO THE OPEN DOOR POLICY FOR ENTREPRENEURS WHO NEED TO GET STUFF DONE DURING THE DAY
The open door policy. It’s the number one business concept that made me feel like an absolute failure as a leader. I struggled for years trying to implement this strategy into my leadership style. I struggled and failed for many reasons but among all the reasons the fact I’m an introvert and extremely busy were at the top of the list.
How in the world were all these amazing leaders and business experts maintaining an open door and still getting things done in their business, like writing articles telling me how I should let my employees stroll in and out of my office at will all day. I must not be doing something right, but I just couldn’t figure out what.
Like you, I wear many hats in my day job including human resources, business development, marketing and sales so needless to say my days are full and busy. With over 50 employees, 10 of which that work in my office, trying to maintain an open door policy often meant there was always someone in my office. There was always someone voicing a concern or problem or an idea. No matter how important the issue, amazing the idea or deserving of my attention I just couldn’t strike a balance between my real life situation and keeping an open door policy. Or one that didn’t result in me working at all hours of the night or outside of the office so I could have some peace to focus.
The worst part was that my attempt to have an open door was defeating the purpose. The employee was in front of me but they didn’t have my attention. I was too preoccupied with the bid I needed to work on, the contract I needed to sign, the interviews I needed to schedule, to give my full attention to what they were saying. It just turned into a smile and nod session that ended with some type of generic response like, great idea, or I’ll follow up on that. It wasn’t working.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the open door policy, let’s define what this is before we get too far into this post. Wikipedia sums up the concept of an open door policy very nicely, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. According to Wikipedia:
An open door policy (as related to the business and corporate fields) is a communication policy in which a manager, CEO,MD, president or supervisor leaves their office door "open" in order to encourage openness and transparency with the employees of that company. As the term implies, employees are encouraged to stop by whenever they feel the need to meet and ask questions, discuss suggestions, and address problems or concerns with management. An open door policy serves to foster an environment of collaboration, high performance, and mutual respect between upper management and employees. It is a quality management practice and mechanism that serves to sustain employee empowerment and morale, while maintaining a vital effect on improving efficiency, productivity, growth, and corporate ethical standards.
Doesn’t this sound so good in theory. I can stop what I’m doing to give my employees my complete and undivided attention when ever and wherever they demanded it. While I’m doing that, all my emails magically get answered, proposals get written, sales calls get made and networking lunches get attended. Unfortunately that’s not reality, or at least not for me.
But the other reality is that we need to show up for our employees, hear them out and address work related issues. Employees should feel that they can talk to us and that we want to hear from them and most importantly that we care.
The fantastic news is that there is a way to keep the sentiment of the open door policy while having a closed door. You can be present for your employees while also being productive. Through some trial and error I figured out how. And so that you won’t have so much trial and error, I’m going to share with you the three alternatives that I use together that create balance for me while keeping me accessible in a meaningful way to my employees.
To get started in understanding why these alternatives work for me, and can work for you, let’s break down the essential components of the open door policy. This may also help you to identify some additional ways that you can increase openness and accessibility while not sacrificing your own productivity.
Elements of an Open Door Policy
After breaking this down and giving it some thought, I was certain there was a more effective means for me to accomplish these goals. I came up with three effective processes that meet each one of these objectives. These are processes that could work for any time starved business owner or manager.
Three Effective Alternatives
One-to-One Meetings- scheduling routine meetings with employees to discuss performance, projects, and other topics that are important to the employee.
Morning Huddles- a brief daily meeting with your team to start the day, discuss goals, important business matters and ideas.
Scheduled Office Hours- setting aside time for employees to meet with you privately outside of an one to one, or meeting with employees who do not directly report to you to discuss issues or problems they have at work.
Let’s explore in more detail each of these processes and I how I have used them to be a present and productive leader. You may also gain some insight on what these processes might look in your business.
What is it?
A one-to-one is a regularly scheduled meeting with each member of your team that reports directly to you. Meeting with your employees individually gives them your undivided attention. Employees can voice their concerns, share ideas, get feedback on their performance and talk about anything that’s important to them during
I typically meet with my employees weekly for about 30 minutes each meeting. If you have a lot of employees that you directly manage, it may be practical to meet bi-weekly. Whatever frequency that you choose, the most important thing is that the meeting is consistent.
The meaning has to take a priority which means you can’t cancel it, forget about it or not prepare for it. To make the most of the time and prevent constant non-urgent interruptions to your day, have your employees write down all questions, ideas and other topics they want to discuss in a log. That way these notes are easily available and ready for the meeting. If find it helpful if I do the same.
What is it?
A morning huddle is a simple gathering of your team. This meeting is informal and is really an opportunity to set the tone for the day. Your employees can ask you questions and share ideas. You can also share company news, events, and feedback on productivity. The morning huddle is whatever you and your employees make it. Huddles are brief meetings, so limit your time for these to 15-20 minutes at most.
Ideally morning huddles should be done daily. I prefer at the beginning of the day or shift. But you could just as easily do them at lunch time or anytime that works best for your team.
To get more engagement and take some of the planning away from you, engage your team. Let them take ownership of note taking, huddle topics and even leading the huddle. This is a great development tool for your employees to learn how to lead and coordinate meetings. And the more involved your team is in the planning, the more interested they will be in what you have to say.
Scheduled Office Hours
What is it?
Scheduled off hours are specific time slots that you open up during your week to have planned meetings with employees that you directly supervise or employees managed by other supervisors within your business. For example, let’s say that you have a sales manager that reports to you who supervises five sales representatives. If one of those sales representatives has a problem with their manager, an issue their manager has not resolved or they don’t feel comfortable talking to their manager about it, this employee could meet with you during scheduled office hours. Or, maybe your employee needs to discuss something with you that can’t wait for their normal one-to-one. This employee could plan to meet with you during scheduled office hours.
The wonderful thing that about scheduled office hours is that you have control over the time you make available to your staff for these conversations. It is also respectful of your employee’s time and whatever it is that they have to share.
Of course you could always use Google Calendar or Outlook to plan these office hours. However there are several services that make it easy to plan and share your available office hours with the team. In fact, you can set times and not have to manage anything after that. Consider using a service like Calendly or Doodle to set up your office hours and let employees select their appointment times.
Are you feeling better about closing that office door and getting your own work done now? I hope so. Putting these three processes into practice will make you a manager that is available to your employees but also productive. What other ideas do you have? Share them with me in the comments.
TIME OFF REQUEST FORM
NEW HIRE CHECKLIST
INTERVIEW PLANNING WORKBOOK