A couple months ago I was visiting a client and borrowing an office.  I had a lot of work to do so I shut the door and hunkered down to get things done.  After only a few minutes, a member of the work group I was visiting opened my door, walked in and informed me that “Closed doors are not allowed here.” 

I was like, “Um…what?”

“No,” he reiterated. “It’s against the rules.  We abide by a strict open-door policy for managers.” 

“How do you ever get anything done?!” I asked.


What is an Open Door Policy?

So what the heck is an “Open Door Policy?"  Does it mean that your boss’s door is literally always open and that you're always welcome to interrupt whatever she's doing at any time?  Or does it mean that your leader is approachable and accessible and that you know you can come to him with almost any matter should you need to?

I hope it’s the latter.


Why the Open Door?

The creation of an Open Door Policy was originally about leadership.  Specifically, it was intended to address bad leadership.   It was to prevent managers from being inaccessible to their team members and to help them be more approachable.  It was to create a safe environment in which employees could voice their opinions, concerns and, yes, even complaints.

Somewhere along the way this got twisted.

At some point, some HR individual or a misguided boss said, “To ensure managers are approachable, let’s forbid them from physically closing their doors!”  Then perhaps another genius decided to take it a step further: “Let’s just get rid of the doors!"  Or better yet, "Let’s put everyone in cubicles."  You can see where this is going.

If you have managers in your organization that are seen as unapproachable, you need to provide them with training and coaching…not require them to constantly keep their door open. 

People should know that a closed door simply means “Work in Progress.”  If they have an emergency, they can knock on the door and interrupt.  Lower priorities can be taken elsewhere or wait until a more appropriate time.  It's about setting expectations.  I communicate to my team that my door will be open when I am available.  Leaders need to get things done, too, and so sometimes my door will be closed in order to limit distractions.  And, yes, when I'm done with what I'm doing I will re-open my door! 

 An "Open Door Policy" is not so much about an open door as it is about open leaders, and being approachable as a leader is about much, much more than leaving your door open.  It involves:

  • Being non-defensive when receiving feedback or suggestions.  If I get up the guts to you give you feedback about something and you punish me by being defensive, I certainly won’t do that again.  You’ve become “unapproachable.”
  • Actually asking for feedback, input, suggestions and ideas.  Because of the power differential that usually exists between employees and their leaders, most people need to be invited to share their thoughts and opinions with their boss.  If you never ask or invite them to, you are communicating that you’re not interested in what they have to say.  You’ve become “unapproachable.”
  • Reigning in your anxiety so you’re not spraying it out on everyone around you.  If you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off, constantly answering the “How are you” question with “I’m so busy!”...anyone with half a heart will learn to steer clear.  You’ve become “unapproachable.”
  • Not playing “whack-a-mole.”  If you don’t truly listen to your employees’ ideas and concerns, but instead immediately respond with, “That won’t work” or “I disagree” or “We can’t do that”...people will stop bringing their creativity to you.  You’ve become “unapproachable.”


Has your workplace replaced true approachability with an “Open Door" Policy?  If so, how’s that working out?