14 August 2022 |

Open Door Policies are the worst.


Open Door Policies don’t work because most people are terrified of their boss.

They would rather go under the radar than bring unnoticed problems to the surface.

Their goal is to go to work, collect a check, and make it home safely.

I once worked with a founder who thought everyone on his team was comfortable bringing him problems.

“I have an open door policy. If there’s ever a problem, my team can bring it to my attention at any time,” he said.

After observing, I found a small handful of people would jump into his office daily, but the majority of the team avoided him at all costs.

I asked him about the silent employees, and he told me that they were really good at running their business, and he was proud to have developed a team of leaders.

But…his employees had a much different perspective. 

Of the five I talked to, one said he was actively looking for another job because he was overwhelmed with the workload, two said they had no idea how to get his attention when they had a problem, and two said they were struggling with their work and just made the most of each day.

This story is not uncommon.

Open door policies are reactive and put the burden on your team to bring you bad news.

Being an effective leader means creating systems that allow everyone to be heard.

Moral: Leadership is proactive.

Let’s dive in deeper…

I hate open door policies.

I understand the intention. 

You want feedback to flow organically and to create a utopia of freely shared information.

You want trust and open communication.

These are all great goals. As a leader, you should want these in your organization.

The problem is an open door policy will not deliver them.

Open door policies try to give a voice to everyone in the organization, but the opposite happens.

Organizations that rely solely on this policy for feedback will see a few outliers who constantly drop by with problems and complaints. But the leaders will likely not hear from 90% of the staff.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing no news is good news. Silence does not equal commitment.

You cannot know what silence means until you take the time to seek feedback and listen proactively.

If you are waiting for people to bring you feedback, you aren’t hearing from the people who don’t yet trust you or the organization.

Trust is a feeling that is developed over time when a person’s manager shows they are competent and have character. 

Open door policies also Requires Your Team Provide Unsolicited Feedback

This might be especially challenging for founders who have never had a boss to understand, but walking into your manager’s office with bad news or critical feedback is not something most employees would include in their job description. 

Providing feedback to a leader can be uncomfortable for many people. But it is especially challenging when this feedback is unsolicited.

Your team might be concerned with how you or their manager will react. They also might not care enough to bring the problems to your attention.. 

Don’t assume everyone on your team is comfortable giving you feedback.

Pay attention to those who you don’t hear from. Find time for one-on-one conversations and opportunities for anonymous feedback.

An Open Door Does Not Equal a Welcome Office

As a founder, you have a lot on your plate and are dealing with a lot of stress.

It’s not reasonable for you or leaders in your organization to be expected to maintain inviting body language at all times.

You have people on your team who will interpret your mood at that moment as an indication of whether or not you are happy to see them.

You’ll be able to give yourself time to prepare yourself to be an engaged listener by scheduling time to meet with your team as groups and individuals consistently.

Use this time to be curious about what is working and what needs to change. 

Making time to show you are genuinely interested in supporting the people around you will save you hundreds of hours (and a lot of money) because it will give you insight into the problems your team is struggling with while they are still easy to fix. 

Do the digging. Find the weeds before they take over your garden.

Open door policies prevent you from doing deep work

For those who lead virtual teams, this isn’t as much of a problem.

But the idea that people should be able to rush into your office, announced, is insane.

Open door policies can make it really hard to get meaningful work done. 

Taking time to engage with your team proactively will allow you to block out time to shut your door and dive into your top priorities while still being a boss seen as supportive and engaged in the success of your team.