• Shayne Leslie

Shut it! - The hidden cost of an open-door policy

CEOs embracing an open-door policy for directors and staff has become a popular idea over the past 20 years. It has some merit in promoting communication, openness, and collaboration.

There are reasons you may want to rethink the open-door.

Your Time Is Valuable

You're the highest-paid employee, so, as a CEO, your time is highly valuable. Yet with a “my door is always open” standing rule, your time can be consistently interrupted and used up by your directors and staff.

A closed door can help you batch your time and protect it from interruption, which makes you more likely to be productive. You’re able to concentrate, complete tasks, begin, move along and finish complex projects, and think through issues. Luxury!

Occasionally, one of those interruptions is valuable. Mostly, they’re distractions. Conversations that result in ideas which are off-plan, hastily conceived on the run, and agreed to leading to waste of time and money.

Being in a constant state of reacting to the needs or interjections of distractions is exhausting. It creates fatigue, stress, and decreased productivity.

Interruptions during the day may compel you to stay late or work from home in the evening and weekends. You shouldn’t have to get into work at 7am just so you can ‘get some work done’.

Create a culture of when the door is open, it’s open, and when it’s not, don’t disturb. Before arriving unexpectedly to pitch an idea, ask staff to write it out with costs, and how it relates to the overall strategy. For directors, set a protocol where conversations first go through the Chair.

Here’s a script you can use; “I appreciate that this is important to you right now. Unfortunately, this task I am completing is important to the business right now… and if I don’t get it done… Could you schedule a later time to discuss?”

This has the additional side effect of forcing your board and team to more seriously consider whether the questions they are bringing to you are truly important, or if they can instead solve problems themselves sooner and without interrupting you.

Learning to Solve Problems

While an open-door policy is certainly important for your directors and staff to talk about issues or ask you questions, an over-reliance on you as the sole conflict resolution source isn’t a good use of your time.

For smaller conflict resolutions between staff members or with outside vendors or clients, staff should be given enough ownership and accountability to solve certain types of problems on their own. Challenge them to come to you with the issue and their suggested potential solution. It takes you out of a parental role and allows employees to make some day-to-day decisions autonomously or in small groups.

For directors, it’s part of the governance and leadership culture you’re creating. If a director has a problem, it needs to go through the Chair. If the Chair thinks it’s a major issue, they’ll get on the phone. Otherwise, it can wait until the weekly President-CEO meeting.

Step Out

Even if an open-door policy with the CEO exists, staff and directors can feel stressed having to initiate the conversation.

Employees report much higher instances of job satisfaction and communication when CEOs come out of their open-door offices and approached them for solicited feedback.

“My door is always open,” can be a cop-out when things do go wrong and you haven’t been told.

An open-door policy is passive; it requires employees or directors to initiate the conversation. Stepping out is active: information and ideas are more likely to be forthcoming when the CEO actively solicits.

Reduce Anxiety in Your Staff

If your door is always open, then, suddenly, it's closed, what message are your sending to your staff? When your door must be closed for confidentiality, and it usually isn't, the stress, rumours, and whispers about why it’s closed start to surface.

A closed door quickly becomes associated with unwanted news.

A regularly closed door loses negative impact over time.

Effective Meetings

An open-door policy can create ineffective meetings. Why concentrate on all the agenda items when you can grab the CEO for a long chat later? Why follow-up with minutes when you can swing by at any time?

Improving the efficiency of meetings and follow-up requirements will have a flow-on effect of management and director professionalism and their productivity. Respect of people’s time, respect of deadlines, and respect for business outcomes will improve.

Let your staff or directors know at formal meetings – this is the time you have me; use it wisely.

Test yourself

Not convinced? Keep a diary entry of all the interruptions you receive this week from your open-door policy.

  • How else could or should you have received the information or feedback?

  • Did the interruption halt the flow of your work?

  • Did it take time to get started again?

  • How much did the interruption cost the organisation?

Try closing the door, once a day for a week, for at least 2 hours’ straight with a ‘work in progress’ sign.

  • What happens when you close the door? To your work flow? To staffs’ anxiety?

  • How does it feel to balance a door-shut policy with stepping-out policy?

  • Are problems still being solved without you 'parenting' every step?

Let me know how you go!

SHAYNE LESLIE | shayne@integratedgovernance.com.au | 0412 241 773

Adapted from the article 5 Really Good Reasons You Should Re-Think Your Open Door Policy | Matthew Toren

Phone: 1300 76 22 38
ABN: 54114140251

Address: Head Office, Gosford, New South Wales, Australia

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