I recently asked a group of professionals to differentiate between “Open Door” and “All Access.” “There’s a difference?” one person asked. Many people, striving for quality service and positive relationships, confuse “Open Door” with “Constant Availability.” They forget that the Open Door Policy (ODP) is a philosophy, not a description of a permanent physical arrangement.
Once upon a time, businesses believed that the few should govern the many. The leader was the “head” (officed at “headquarters”), the front-line workers the “hands.” Communication flowed downward…orders given, then carried out. Feedback from the “hands” was not well-received. Over time, managers became fewer and more enlightened as organizations downsized. They realized they needed information from everyone, shared with everyone, to remain successful. They stopped “hiding behind closed doors.” Their newly-opened doors signified greater transparency and approachability.
Today the Open Door Policy is an attitude that welcomes ideas, troubles and concerns from everyone. It’s about being available, yes, but also being willing to help. A physically open door conveys this message but it’s not the only way. Unfortunately, that perpetually open door (or phone) invites abuse from those who believe that their supervisors and coworkers are at their beck and call.
Training People How to Treat Us
When we apply the ODP literally all the time, our productivity plummets. We become an interruption magnet, drawing to us every low-priority, non-urgent remark or question possible. In our efforts to demonstrate openness, we unwittingly send the message that our time is not valuable. Eventually, we may feel put-upon and besieged by coworkers and clients. But they are not to blame. We train others how to treat us. If people regularly interrupt us unnecessarily and we allow it, we teach them to disrespect our time. They intend no harm but may hurt our productivity anyway. We hesitate to speak up because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings—although there are many ways to set limits tactfully. We also hesitate because of all-or-nothing thinking. We see only two options: Have an open door all the time (and be at the mercy of others) or close the door (and fail to get valuable information in a timely manner). Surely there’s some gray between that black and white!
See Part 2 for solutions.