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3 Easy Steps to Establishing an Open Door Policy That Really Works


We all know that employees join great companies and leave poor managers. How can you be that manager everyone wants to work for? A good start is a well-defined open door policy.

First, a definition: An open door policy is one that encourages employees to come to their managers with questions, concerns and for discussion about issues. The policy is supposed to promote transparency, productivity and faster communication. So, what can go wrong?

Many pitfalls exist when either managers or employees misuse an open door policy:

  • If managers are rarely available or highly distracted while employees are trying to talk, leaders may appear uninterested in what’s really going on with their team.
  • If left uncontrolled, oversharing and too much socializing between managers and employees can occur, leading to the perception of favoritism.
  • If employees rely too heavily on their managers, they don’t learn to problem-solve on their own, leading to a loss of productivity.
  • If information is shared inappropriately or unevenly among employees, the company loses the chance for the entire team to operate at peak efficiency.

How do you, as a manager, reap the benefits of frequent, open communication, while effectively managing the potential downsides? Follow these three key steps.

1. Set parameters around the open door

Your goal as a manager should be to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s really going on with your team. So, how do you make yourself accessible for meaningful discussions without turning yourself into a counselor or micromanager?

Clear communication lays the first building block to creating a successful open door policy. Examples might include:

  • If the door is open, feel free to stop by with workplace issues. If the door is closed, please find a time on my calendar and make an appointment.
  • If there’s an emergency, such as a chemical spill on the production floor, knock on my door if it’s closed or come find me immediately if I’m not in.
  • Before you come to me with an issue, think it through and be ready to answer these questions: Does this issue affect just you, several team members, other departments? What are 2-3 options to solve the problem?

Even managers who encourage frequent, informal conversations through “walk around management” may need to establish set office hours, say before and after team meetings. Set office hours may also help supervisors who find it difficult to carve out time to be available for their team.

If daily interruptions and vent sessions are limiting your productivity as a manager, another option might be to schedule weekly one-on-one meetings with each team member.

2. Always listen intently 

The next step in a successful open door policy requires that you listen intently to what an employee has to say. Let the person “speak their truth,” without interruption from phones, email or other people.

Recap what you heard the person say in order to make sure you fully understand the problem. Beware of being dismissive of an employee’s vent because a genuine issue may be lurking behind their frustration.

If the employee brings a recurring issue to you, there’s likely a root cause that needs to be addressed. You might say, “I notice there’s a pattern here. What do you think the solution is?”

By driving the conversation toward solutions, you discourage endless venting and encourage employees to come up with their own solutions.

Remember, not every person thinks in terms of solutions or problem-solving. Walking such employees through decision-making processes teaches them to rely on their own abilities.

3. Understand the value of time

Time, yours and your employees, remains a key component to maintaining a well-oiled open door. After all, endless interruptions compromise your ability to lead your team and your team’s productivity.

Managers should try to solve any issue the first time, within the parameters of what’s functionally achievable. By slaying problems as quickly as possible, you set up your team for maximum success, particularly when you involve them in the decision-making process. Things could get worse if you and your team fail to act.

Other tips for keeping your open door efficient include:

  • Express concern, but get human resources involved if an employee needs significant personal support.
  • Keep appearances in mind. Frequent closed-door meetings with the same employee can generate gossip or perceptions of favoritism.
  • Remember, your productivity counts, too. If a quick update reveals the need for in-depth discussion, suggest a follow-up meeting rather than letting your day get off track.

Ultimately, an open door policy is a function of necessity. The days of managers sitting at polished walnut desks behind closed doors are long gone. Today’s companies need fully engaged managers who know their teams and what’s behind their productivity or lack of it. Open doors and caring managers encourage employees to reveal their roadblocks and help find solutions.

What other skills could help you better manage and lead your team?

Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management, Issue 2, and discover how building better relationships with your employees can impact your bottom line.