Your Open-Door Policy Doesn’t Have To Be A Productivity Killer

July 6, 2016

An open-door policy is supposed to invite engagement, promote trusting relationships between boss and employee, as well as provide the opportunity to identify and solve problems before they get out of hand. The big challenge for most leaders is not letting the open door become a revolving door, where employees take advantage of your good nature by complaining, gossiping or finger pointing. 

Five signs that your open door has become a revolving door:

  • You have to work overtime to get your paperwork done
  • You are starting to resent the interruptions
  • The conversations are about who is to blame
  • Employees are relying on you to do their thinking
  • You are often caught in the middle of arguments and turf wars

Course correction
As a leader, you have to set the appropriate expectations and boundaries around your open-door policy, and promote empowerment versus dependency. Let’s talk about both parts to this course-correction.

Part 1: Setting boundaries
Most leaders do not need to be available around the clock. You can still maintain easy access while setting open-door office hours and closing the door several hours a day to do scheduling, planning and strategic work.  If you decide to take this option, you should first make a formal announcement about the changes so no one is caught off guard.  You must also be willing to face the discomfort of sticking to those boundaries.  Changing patterns is easy in a workshop or in an article, but in real life you will feel some discomfort. Your employees may criticize you or challenge your new rule. Unless it’s an emergency (and you may have to define that), you need to prove that you mean business.

Part 2: Promote empowerment versus dependency
Pay attention to the conversations you have with employees. If you are constantly listening to petty arguments, blaming, or gossip about what others are doing, it’s time to stop playing into the victim mentality where you are the hero who fixes everything. There’s a method I teach in my leadership retreats that I call “Coaching to Empowerment.” Instead of keeping secrets, or giving advice, you must learn how to ask good questions. Two you can start with are “What do you want?” and “What choices do you have?” When employees see their choices, they can become responsible.
The best example you can show as a leader is how to take charge of your life. There’s no better teaching ground than taking charge of your open door and turning a revolving door of complaints into a door of opportunity, where you promote empowerment through choice and personal responsibility. Learn how to coach employees to empowerment rather than solving all their problems for them. Asking the two questions I mentioned earlier will make them put on their thinking caps so they start using their own brains instead of yours.

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About The Author

Marlene Chism is an executive educator, consultant, and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley, 2011) and No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion, 2015). She works with executives and high-performing leaders who want to transform culture in the workplace. She can be reached at

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    […] open-door policy is a good place to start when you’re looking to build a culture of open communication in an organization. But it […]

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