Why Have an Open-Door Policy?

Every business owner should know how important their employees are to their business. Despite that, many entrepreneurs and owners are reluctant to fully trust the judgement of their employees. For many, business is an exclusively top-down relationship: I tell you to do this, you get it done.

Genuine, sustainable success requires more nuance than this. As an owner, you hire employees to handle tasks within their area of expertise. You don’t have the time, expertise and specific experience to handle absolutely every side of your business: that’s why you hired your staff. 

Essentially, if your team members don’t understand their specific departments to a greater extent than you do, there’s a serious issue. Having that top-down approach means that you’re missing out on many of the benefits offered by your staff’s personal talents, while creating a less attractive workplace.

Giving your employees opportunities for honest feedback and discussion means approaching problems from new perspectives, while making it clear to your employees that their opinions and approaches matter to the business. 

Establishing an open-door policy is an important step for entrepreneurs, giving employees the chance to talk through key tasks, approaches, and potential issues. As a way to improve self-actualization and job satisfaction, open-door policies are nearly unmatched, while typically offering businesses some real operational improvements.

How to Implement an Open-Door Policy

While the phrase ‘open-door policy’ was originally very literal, there are several different ways in which the policy can be implemented. Being accessible to any employee at more or less any time isn’t always going to be a good choice for you. Here’s a few ways to implement an open-door policy without any kind of negative impact:

Level 10 Meetings: Designed as a way for all your key team members to understand and discuss everything going on within the business, Level 10 meetings give employees the opportunity to bring up any points they want to discuss. Essentially, Level 10 meetings create an ‘open every door’ policy: as all key members are present, they can bring up any points they wish to discuss with the rest of the team.

Departmental Open-Door Policies: In some cases, opening the doors to absolutely every employee is counterproductive. Particularly within larger companies, the sheer scale of feedback possible with a completely open-door policy can become overwhelming, limiting possibilities across the board. Having a tiered open-door approach can benefit everyone – let employees give feedback to high level managers, and encourage those high-level employees to come to you.

Designated Discussion Times: Setting a specific time for when your team can discuss ideas and issues can allow for a best-of-both-worlds outcome. Being able to designate specific timeslots for discussion and feedback gives your employees the ability to approach you without any risk of impacting your daily work. Of course, this sacrifices some of the flexibility that typically characterizes an open-door approach, but this may be a worthwhile tradeoff depending on your specific situation.

Potential Problems with Open-Door Policies

Just deciding to have an open-door policy doesn’t mean that everything will work smoothly. Companies introducing open-door policies for the first time can find themselves running into several recurrent issues, such as the following:

Failure to Implement Solutions: There’s absolutely no point in having an open-door if you don’t agree on any changes or differences. If you get feedback and then consistently ignore it, you may as well not have the policy in the first place. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should immediately change everything – it just means that you should use at least some of the feedback you receive.

Taking Feedback Personally: Being told that you are doing something wrong isn’t necessarily a positive experience. Implementing an open-door policy inherently exposes high-level employees (including yourself) to otherwise-absent feedback. For some, this can come across as overly personal, creating resentment within the team. Getting the best out of an open door policy often requires a cultural change for your business, allowing people to provide feedback without anything being interpreted as personal critique. 

Maintaining Responsibility: Establishing a real chain of responsibility is a crucial part of operations for companies at any level. However, introducing an open-door policy can create some fairly obvious issues with your hierarchy, with traditional structures being difficult to maintain. It may be necessary to recenter your company’s hierarchy while implementing your open-door approach.

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