Is open door policy a productive approach?
A discussion between a manager and an employee
An open door policy is very rarely practiced in Sri Lanka. As I
explained in my previous column in the last week certain managers do not
wish to entertain their own employees into their rooms as they are
always seated under lock and key while attending to their work. They do
always pretend that they are busy in their rooms.
Open Door Policy means that every manager's door is open to every
employee. The purpose of this policy is to encourage open communication,
feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee
or to the company. When a company has an open door policy, employees are
free to talk with any manager at any time.
Some companies however adopt an open door policy to develop employee
trust and to ensure that important information and feedback reach
managers who can utilize these information to make changes in the
There is no question; theoretically all employees should be able to
talk with any level of manager or any other employee about any subject
at any time other than gossiping. Philosophically as well as
psychologically it is my belief that all employees irrespective of their
designations are equal.
May be we just have different jobs. But, there are some contradictory
views with regard to open door policies, because it is commonly
interpreted as this policy will fail to build the ability of the
organization to solve problems close to where the problem occurs. But in
my view, this is a myth as the problem solving method is completely a
different approach which needs another article to explain the difference
between the open door policy and the problems solving technique.
Think of every new leader’s speech you have ever heard. They will all
include “I have an open door policy.” Does every leader truly practice
this statement? They talk only. They do not practice what they say. This
is my experience.
The open door is both literal and symbolic. If you tell employees
they can come to talk with you any time but when you work with your door
closed, you are sending a mixed message. Sometimes, you could see the
doors are open, but the manager is not in the seat.
For the sake of telling they say that anyone can come to the room
without making interruptions. But it is not being practiced by most of
the managers. Most people see closed doors as stop signs. From
childhood, as per our culture, we are trained not to enter closed rooms
It is a good habit but even after knocking the door, there were
instances I have seen no proper response is received from the room
Sometimes managers close doors out of habit or to block distractions.
But are you blocking distractions for you or for others who might see or
hear what you are doing? And what constitutes a distraction?
Conversation? People walking past? The noises of a busy work group?
Ringing telephones? An employee's question? It is difficult to define
Even if you truly want people to just open the door and come in, many
will be reluctant to do so. Unless you are working on something that
requires privacy, leave your door open. The only way people know you
have an open door policy is when only your door truly is open. Consider
the following example.
When I became the Manager Finance and Administration of a very large
textile factory two decades ago, I established an effective open-door
policy. I would see any employee about any matter - as long as the
employee has a genuine requirement to see me. If at all, I believed no
one would come to see me if he does not have a genuine reason.
I discouraged the scheduling appointments through the secretary
because I thought it is the employees’ right to see the head of the
organization at any given time for whatever the reason it may be.
The only problem I encountered was that of many employees trying to
enter the room at once. I just hanged a board on the door stating ‘One
at a time’ only for three months and employees got the message.
Employees welcomed my approach and as others expected it did not
become a nuisance to me as the people were disciplined to not to trouble
me unnecessarily. The previous manager I understood only talked to
people who were in some sort of trouble and kept group meetings focused
on discussions of work tasks. In contrast, my doors seemed amazingly
What is a closed door policy?
Now you are aware very well that open door policy is required to
motivate people. However, can you make yourself accessible and available
to your team for their leisure? Think about it: when was the last time
someone popped their head in the door with a question, interrupting your
thinking and flow of work, with a question that was truly an emergency?
How many of those questions could wait 15 minutes, two hours or until
The closed door policy is more like the office hours of a university
professor. You knew when they were available and so you planned to meet
with them, ask your questions and get your coaching during those times.
This approach certainly made the professor more productive - and you
The closed door policy is about putting some discipline and
intentionality into your work day for the purpose of creating better
control of your time and sky-rocketing your productivity.
Whether you use office hours, a planned time to meet with team
members, or devise some other approach - the goal of the closed door
policy is to create space for everyone to have greater productivity
because there are fewer avoidable interruptions.
It is obvious that no manager does not wish to face interruption and
distractions; most of the top leaders like to keep their doors open for
the subordinates mainly to have a proper relationship in the
organization. Let me be clear - the intention behind an 'open door
policy' is fine, admirable, and important. In theory, this idea is to
provide access to information, ideas, wisdom and help.
Unfortunately, in practice this isn’t what happens. The unintended
consequences that surface in a lack of time control and reduced
productivity far outweigh the advantages.
Should leaders be accessible, available and open to conversations?
Should they feedback and provide coaching? Of course they should - and
if they do not, their effectiveness and value as a leader is severely
limited. These goals can be reached - and in most cases reached more
effectively - with a more realistic, structured and clear plan and
approach. This approach is that sometimes includes a closed door policy.
Whatever said and done, in my view in a company, open communication
through open door policy is one of the keys to success beating the close
door policy. When people are able to express their wants and needs, the
morale of such people will be high. This will apply even in the playing
field. However, in terms of an open door policy, some businesses may
find that there are some pros and cons to this arrangement that should
be taken into consideration very carefully before deciding to implement
it in the workplace.
Successful open door policies
The effective open door policy provides the expectation that
employees will address problems first with their supervisor.
This solution is simple. Senior managers can enable and allow access
for all employees, within an open door policy. Once they have determined
the reason for the employee's visit, however, they have choices they
need to make.
Employees seek help from senior managers with a variety of issues.
But a common issue is that the employee is having problems with their
supervisor or superiors. The manager in charge, who seeks to solve this
problem, without enabling the superior or supervisor in question to
solve the problem first, creates a dysfunctional organization.
When an employee wants to talk about a variety of issues, such as the
company, the markets, employee needs and wants, the manager in charge
must listen. This provides substance to the open door policy. But, if
the employee is complaining about their supervisor, the manager must ask
if the employee has addressed the issue with their supervisor.If the
answer is “no,” the manager must redirect the employee to first address
the issue with his or her immediate supervisor. Many factors affect this
recommendation. Maybe the supervisor is difficult to talk with,
disrespects the employee’s point of view, or disagrees with the
Consequently, the senior manager must follow up to make certain the
employee does address the issue with their supervisor and that the
supervisor appropriately responded. If not, the senior manager needs to
bring the employee and supervisor together to assess the situation. As
with any other kind of conflict, the conflict, left unaddressed, will
fester and hurt relationships and the organization.
In an open door policy, once an employee has sought out a senior
manager, the manager should not always solve the problem, and indeed, in
these circumstances - never solve the problem - but he or she must
monitor that the problem is solved or responded to by the appropriate
When the open door policy is effectively supported, the open door
policy is honored, the chain of command is honored, the manager’s
problem solving skills are enhanced, the employee’s personal courage,
conflict resolution, and problem solving skills are enhanced, the
organization benefits from shared information and feedback, and high
employee trust is generated from a successful experience with