Time to Shut the “Open-Door” Policy

Mike Leigh
by Mike Leigh

One of the biggest complaints I hear from leaders and other professionals is their inability to get things done because of interruptions.  Email notifications, phone calls, and text messages are some of the sources.  Fortunately, we can close our email and shut off our phones when we need to concentrate.  But many of the interruptions occur when a colleague or employee stops by the office for a “quick question”, or to raise a complaint.  After all, you have an open-door policy that encourages open communication within your organization.

The original intention behind the open-door policy was to improve transparency and communications between management and labor.  All leaders, including the CEO, are supposed to keep their door open to allow any employee to approach and have a discussion.  However, too many organizations take this policy too literally.  Some organizations do not allow leaders to shut their door unless a private conversation is being held.  This is a bad policy for two reasons.

First, a leader (or any other staff member) must have uninterrupted time to be productive.  Planning, goal-setting, and project work are just a few examples when uninterrupted thought is needed.  Highly productive people schedule “do not disturb” time to focus on important tasks.  Keeping the office door open does not allow that to happen.

Second, if a leader is not already open to employee feedback, or has created an atmosphere of mistrust, an open door isn’t going to magically fix it.

It’s important for leaders to be accessible, and an open-door policy is meant to do that.  But it’s just as important for leaders to control their time, and not let it be controlled by others.  I encourage my clients to schedule blocks of time in their calendars for uninterrupted work and to shut off all distractions, including drop-in visitors.  That means closing the door.  Do others still knock and interrupt?  Then find a conference room to hide in, or if necessary, leave the building.  You can still be accessible to others by having open door hours or by scheduling appointments with those who want to speak with you.  But it should be your time to control.  Besides, the best way to be more accessible is to spend more time visiting employees in their work areas and getting out of your office.

Do you believe that shutting your door and blocking all interruptions is not possible because you MUST be accessible at all times?  Then you have other leadership challenges to overcome, and that’s a discussion for another day.  Schedule uninterrupted time when you need it, and shut your door.

This article was published in Virginia Business Front Magazine.

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