open door policy


The End of the ‘Open Door Policy’

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“I have an open door policy.”

Managers and leaders use this phrase to convey that they are available for their people, willing to help them.

This, however, is a lazy saying.  In essence, it means, “If you come to me, I’m willing to take time out of my busy schedule to accommodate you.”  It makes an offer, but no more.  It communicates that the initiative rests with the employee.

How many managers and leaders say things like this, but fail to demonstrate it with their actions?  Even if they are available and well intended, this phrase is still passive.

And this is why we should retire it.

Instead of an open door policy, managers and leaders must cultivate a culture of conversation.  They need to live out a rhythm of intentional interactions with their people, asking good questions, and offering to help in specific ways that clear obstacles or provide advocacy.  In this way, their availability and willingness to help is demonstrated, not simply offered.

It is the difference between policy and culture.  As leaders, we should never prefer policy when it is possible to shape culture.

Don’t have an open door policy; have a culture of conversation.


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Phrases We Should Retire


Boundaries and Cultures

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We’ve all heard that leaders should have boundaries, even distance, between themselves and their followers.

Total myth.

But as our influence grows, it is likely that we will have followers with whom we interact only occasionally, perhaps only indirectly.  As a result, distance exists, or can develop, even when we intentionally try to eliminate it (and we should).

But here’s a buoying thought: that distance can be closed by the culture we create.  It doesn’t have to close as a direct result of some overture we make one person at a time, though of course that is sometimes necessary.

I went to a Christian school when I was younger, and we would often have times where teachers would solicit prayer requests from students.  I remember very vividly the most popular prayer request when I was a young teen: “Unspoken,” which basically meant that the person had something about which they wanted prayer, but weren’t willing to expose the topic in the presence of others.

Some of this, of course, was the natural angst of adolescence.  But some of it was the environment, the culture.

And cultures are created by leaders.

And cultures always win.

Most leaders claim to have an “open door policy.”  So much so that the term has very little meaning anymore.  The question is not “Do you have an open door policy?”  The question is, “What are you doing, intentionally and consistently, to create a culture in which people feel that there is less and less distance between themselves and others (including you as a leader)?”

If we can act on that, the culture we create will do some of the work for us–people will feel comfortable going to each other, and coming to us.

How much “unspoken” exists between you and your followers?  Between your followers and others?  Within your organization?

How do you know? 

More importantly, when was the last time you did something intentional to eliminate boundaries and create a “spoken” culture?