The End of the Open Door Policy


One of the most detrimental habits I confront when coaching executives is the “Open Door Policy”. When an executive is available to all people, for all things, at all times, the net result is always ridiculously lengthy work weeks for the executive, and less than stellar performance for their staff and students.

When questioned about this practice, most executives believe “The Open Door Policy” literally means having an open office door at all times. Predictably, this habit invites constant Office Day interruptions of the following nature: “Got a minute?” “Excuse me.” “Can I talk to you for a sec?” “Whatcha do’in?” “Is this a good time?”

Many executives even have predatory staff members who stalk them, hanging around their office door like wolves around a campfire, just waiting for an opportunity to pounce. The net result of this “policy” is that it derails the executive’s calendar, upsets the balance of power between staff and secretaries, and leaves the executive to fend for them self, spending countless nights and weekends completing their office work.

Let me restate: The “Open Door Policy” is a policy. The original intention of the policy was to encourage staff at any level of an organization to communicate with anyone else inside the organization, so long as they went through the appropriate channels to do so. The “Open Door Policy” does not mean constantly having an open door. An open door is simply an invitation to be interrupted.

Executives take note: If you want a successful career and satisfying life, close your door on your Office Days and get your work done. In order to increase the value of your time, you must make your time more scarce. Hanging out for pleasantries and chit-chat is completely appropriate on Coaching Days and I would encourage an abundance of it when you are out and about. However, if someone wants to speak with you on an Office Day, you are all business. In fact, if you really want to up the ante on the training and development of your staff, I would put the following questions to them, to be answered by them, before they ever meet with you.

  1. Who is requesting this meeting?
  2. Date meeting is requested.
  3. Time meeting requested.
  4. How much time will this meeting take?
  5. What is the purpose, intended outcomes and agenda of this meeting? Please attach.
  6. Why is this meeting a priority?
  7. Who is accountable for running this meeting?
  8. Who is accountable for the meeting starting and ending on time?
  9. What paperwork is needed for this meeting?
  10. Who is accountable for bringing, organizing and explaining the paperwork?
  11. Any additional information needed about this meeting?
  12. Do you have any requests for me regarding this meeting?
  13. Who is accountable for informing me if the meeting time changes or if this meeting gets canceled?

These questions, asked and answered before any conversation with the executive takes place, result in the following positive benefits:

  • It forces both the executive and staff to come to meetings focused and prepared.
  • It trains staff members to “bottom line it” so that they get what they want from the executive quickly, while valuing everyone’s time.
  • The executive can bring their thoughtful, undivided attention to every meeting.
  • Casual, non-urgent conversations happen when they are supposed to – on Coaching Days – significantly decreasing an executive’s Office Day interruptions.

The executive’s time is a precious resource, not to be wasted or haphazardly consumed. Executives: it’s your job to train and develop your entire organization to interact with you like that; it’s your responsibility to treat yourself as such.