As I work with leaders to ditch the drama and turn excuses into results, I am shocked to see the number of leaders who still tout an open door policy! I feel the urge to apologize on behalf of all of us who have ever suggested that an open door policy would lead to results—we lied, we had no research to support this notion, it just sounded good, and we are so sorry! Now please close your doors and start coaching rather than hosting a complaint desk.
Rather than helping, the practice of the open door has proven to be disastrous. The practice produces few if any real changes in the organization and often hijacks resources that could be focused on real issues. The practice actually limits the growth potential of employees who utilize the option and exhausts the leaders who practice it.
Just think about it ... those of you have proudly publicized that you have an open door ... has anyone ever come to you and asked for a moment of your time because they are concerned about THEIR OWN attitude, work ethic, recent performance, less-than-stellar results, or treatment of their co-workers?
Most always, employees come through the open door to report concerns about others, to tattle, to report their analysis and judgment of co-workers, to provide leaders with a list of things they'd like to see changed in their reality or even to provide leaders with an evaluation of the leaders' strengths, weaknesses and development needs. Rarely can a leader cite examples where an employee used the open door for self-improvement, self-reflection or self-motivated growth.
What then is the benefit of an open door? To spend hours talking about the performance of others? To focus on all the ways in which the organization is a disappointment? To spend time together "hoping" for a change? All of these activities are a colossal waste of resources, provide little if any ROI and may actually negate the work you are doing to get your employees to be personally accountable and able to succeed in their new realities.
So how do you break the feel-good habit of "my door is always open"?
Close the door and start developing your people. Rather than waiting for informants to come through your door with their complaints or concerns, consistently schedule time with each employee and use the time to talk about the situations that present the greatest challenges to them. Work on bulletproofing your people and increasing their immunity to their circumstances. Coach them to quit wishing their circumstances were better and instead to be better themselves. Be diligent about challenging their current mindsets so that they can impact their own realities, with or without you.
Or, if you must ... Keep your door open and teach the person in front of you. Use the moment to develop the employee present—focus on them solely. Make judging politically incorrect; insist that the employee stops judging and starts helping. Ask questions that refocus the employee on their part in the current outcome such as:
What did you do to help?
What are the facts of the situation?
What can you do to add value?
It is not about the door being open, but about you as a leader opening up employees' mindsets and willingness to change the way they see their circumstances rather than wishing that their circumstances were different.
Quit confusing approachability and open doors with leadership—leadership is the consistent and constant effort to conserve resources normally spent on drama and using them instead on activities that will produce results. So conserve resources and close the dang door!
Cy Wakeman is a dynamic keynote speaker advocating a revolutionary new approach to leadership. Her groundbreaking ideas are featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and SHRM.org. She is a significant thought leader with entertaining podcasts on thegurunation.com and is a favorite expert blogger on FastCompany.com. Her book, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is now available for order at all major online book retailers. For more information, visit www.cywakeman.com.