What are the benefits of an open-door policy?
There’s two ways to operate as a leader in an organisation, you can rule with an open hand, or a closed fist. To be completely honest with you, there’s not necessarily a right and a wrong way to do things, as every organisation is different, and sometimes an approach that one leader would take would be completely inappropriate in the context of another.
At the base of what we’re talking about today sits a handful of essential principles in business: removing the hierarchy in your organisation, empowering your staff and having empathy to their sensibilities. There’s a host of psychological benefits on offer here, as well as the potential to streamline your operations when you tear down the bureaucratic walls that do little but slow down the rate of decision making – and progress – in the organisation. Quite simply, having an open-door policy in my organisation, I believe, has helped in a number of ways, so today we’re going to be putting it under the microscope.
One of the first and most important things to cover in the context of an open door policy is the fact that small challenges turn into big problems when left unaddressed for a long period of time. For whatever reason, it may be intimidation, or the fact that an employee doesn’t feel able to approach a manager of the CEO, a small, easily-solved issue can mutate into a massive problem for the organisation. It’s important to remember that these staff members are effectively your eyes and ears on the ground. They’ve got invaluable knowledge about your day to day operations, and the ability to spot a trend or issue before it becomes prevalent. In acknowledgment of this simple fact, I believe it’s important to welcome those people into your office and address issues from the ground up, before they grow into an existential problem for the organisation.
Something that comes to mind in the context of empowering your staff with an open door policy is a quote from Bob Nelson, who says that “an open door doesn’t do much for a closed mind,” and this takes into account both the mind of the leader and the employee. As I’ve written about recently, there’s a fine art to listening effectively, and those that have mastered the art will get more value out of every interaction they find themselves in. In reference to Bob Nelson’s aforementioned quote, it’s one thing to have your door open, and another completely separate issue to have your ears and your mind open when an employee walks into the office.
Now, moving onto another essential piece of the puzzle: empowering staff. Having an open-door policy in your organisation empowers your staff, whether or not that is apparent to them. It’s more so that the reverse is true- when an individual working in an office with an open door policy moves to a more rigid framework, they’ll feel less empowered to do their job and communicate. We’ll discuss the hierarchical aspects of this in a minute, but for now, let’s think about what constitutes empathy in the context of an organisation. If you can recognise the fact that as humans, we’re social creatures, would you appreciate a gesture like your manager having an open door, and the subsequent approachability that comes with it?
The research conducted on the topic says yes, and from anecdotal evidence as I’ve done business, I’ve found that when my staff know they’re able to approach my desk with any concern, they’re better able to tackle the tasks in front of them, rather than get bogged down on a single project because they’re unsure of how to execute. More often than not, showing an employee how to deal with one situation will help them deal with similar problems. Some of the concerns I’ve heard from other leaders is that with an open door policy, they’ll be flooded by menial requests where their time can be better spent on high-level tasks. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, there’s no absolute right and wrong way to approach this topic, but it’s worth considering whether the benefits outweigh the other side of the equation.
There’s also the elements of transformative leadership that are important to consider: the ability of a leader, or anyone in the organisation really, to transform the way in which they interact with others. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages are at the base of this means of better connecting with the people you work with, and an effective transformational leader is able to respond to and communicate in a way that is most responsive to the love language of the person or people they’re talking to.
One of the more common love languages I’ve seen in the context of business are words of affirmation and quality time, both of which fall perfectly into the concept of having an open door in your office. It is through this removal of boundaries and the hierarchy that you can better connect with the people that you work with, and you can also act to streamline the speed in which decisions are made in your operations. If business as usual stipulates that a team member raises their concerns every quarterly meeting, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to tackle issues before they arise, and implement new ways to operate to reduce risks and negate the chance your customers will feel violated.
In short, there’s a number of reasons why your office door should remain open, and a small number of arguments against it. If you’re concerned about being flooded by menial requests and conversations, perhaps it’s time to become more of a transformative leader and a better communicator with your staff. From my experience, this has been one of the most effective ways to encourage productivity in my staff members and increase the speed in which we get things done.