It’s becoming very fashionable for leaders to tout their ‘open-door policy’ as a progressive perk for new hires. The idea is that the boss makes himself available from dawn ‘til dusk so that employees can drop in whenever they please, to ask a question, share an idea or just moan about their day.
On the surface this seems like a noble policy. You’re not the stereotypical aloof and unapproachable manager – you’ve got time for everyone. But the truth is that this ‘open-door policy’ is not in the best interests of either party. The manager is left facing constant distractions of an indefinite duration. And the employee gets the thing they think they want but which is actually holding back their career development: a crutch.
I’ve always adopted the complete opposite of this: a closed-door policy. I’m not ashamed of this, however unwelcoming it might sound on the surface. Because an open-door policy is not sustainable, nor productive. And by keeping your door closed, you’re fostering a sense of responsibility, which is critical to developing young talent.
Here are the three main benefits of a closed-door policy.
1. A closed-door policy encourages employees to think for themselves.
Young people with a lot of talent often don’t need your help; they just need your trust. They need the confidence to make decisions and take responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.
If an employee can simply drop in whenever they feel like it and ask you if what they’re doing is OK, then they are using you to shirk responsibility for their actions. If you’re constantly available to confirm their thoughts, or worse, simply tell them what to do, then you’re becoming accountable for their work, not them. This is dangerous, because it conveys the message to employees that you are happy to make decisions for them. Eventually, they’ll just stop thinking altogether. Some employees – the ones who find it hardest to take responsibility – will drain hours of your time seeking validation from you instead of their results. It stifles their development because they never really take ownership of their project. It has become your project, one that they are executing.
Adopting a closed-door policy gives employees no option but to make their own decisions. It’s also empowering to them, because you’re effectively saying: “You don’t need me – I trust you to figure it out.” That’s arguably a bigger arm around the shoulder than saying: “I’m always here to help you.”
Ultimately, a closed-door policy allows your team to fail sometimes. And only through failure can anyone really reach their full potential.
2. A closed-door policy reduces interruptions.
As a leader, you need idle time in order to think, innovate and plan. And if your door is always open, you’re not going to get that time. Your productivity will tank as hard as the employees who are constantly getting up to come and see you.
Impromptu visits should be reserved for emergencies, which inevitably happen from time to time when you’re running a team or a business. If you really want to be available to speak with your employees, it’s better to set up a calendar system so that you can manage your time and stay productive.
The truth is that by inviting questions and debriefs on your employees’ terms, you are going to find that a lot of ‘drop-ins’ aren’t necessary. By adopting a closed-door policy, employees get the time to realize themselves that their question wasn’t really important. This saves everyone time.
3. A closed-door policy sets realistic expectations.
The problem with an open-door policy is that it just isn’t realistic or sustainable. You’re inviting something that you don’t have time for, and will quickly come to regret.
A lot of the time your door will end up closed anyway, because there’s an emergency or you have to take an important call. Now you’re having to ask people to come back later, which defeats the object of the policy and puts your own position of integrity on the line.
By adopting a closed-door policy, you’re setting clear and reliable expectations. You’re not always there to help, so your employees know that it’s on them to make the call.
If you want people to trust you as a leader, it’s far better to be available when you say you will be than to say you are available when you are not.
Ultimately, we need to get away from pampering our employees and treating them like children. By agreeing to hire them, giving them opportunities and committing to pay their salary, you are already helping them more than they realize. It’s time for them to take responsibility and demonstrate their value to your company.