Should You Have An Open Door Policy?

approachability business growth communication company culture engagement expectations female founders interaction guidelines leadership leadership development leadership strategies leadership style open door policy physical space remote work small businesses social interaction team availability team building team communication team dynamics team engagement team management virtual meetings virtual team Feb 26, 2024


In this episode of Leadership is Feminine, Kris Plachy challenges the notion of open door policies and their effectiveness in leadership. With her signature wisdom, Kris dives into why simply declaring an open door policy isn't enough to make team members feel truly comfortable approaching you. She emphasizes the importance of being intentional and prescriptive in creating opportunities for engagement with your team.

Kris illustrates the concept by likening an open door policy to inviting someone into your home and how you can best make someone feel welcomed. She urges leaders to provide specific avenues for communication, such as scheduled one-on-one meetings, team lunches, or virtual office hours. Emphasizing the need for proactive engagement, Kris encourages leaders to initiate interactions, particularly with team members they might not know well.

The episode emphasizes that the responsibility of creating a welcoming and approachable environment falls on the leader. Kris discusses the need for leaders to set boundaries and expectations while still being accessible and engaging. She highlights the importance of making team members feel comfortable and valued, ultimately shaping a healthy and productive workplace culture.

There's a mantra that says ‘You first’. And I really think that's true for leaders. You have to go first. You have to initiate what engagement looks like.

Key Takeaways From This Episode

  1. Open Door Policy Misconceptions: Exploring the reasons why open door policies may not be effective

  2. Creating Welcoming and Effective Communication Structures: Specific examples of ways to engage with team members

  3. Communication Strategies Leaders Can Use With Team Members: Suggestions for remote or virtual team engagement

  4. Encouraging Leaders to Take the Initiative In Engagement: Taking a look at how leaders can be more approachable

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Welcome to Leadership Is Feminine and I'm Kris. It's nice to have you here today to chat with about this very interesting topic. Open door policies don't exist and they don't work. How's that for radical leadership wisdom? I know I'm so provocative, but I do want to talk to you about it because I hear it all the time, right?

"I have an open door policy. I mean, anybody can come in anytime they want. I want my team to know that I am available for them. Right? So it's really, I have an open door policy and I tell everybody I have an open door policy."

First of all, you lie. You really don't want people to tell you anything, whatever they want. You don't want them to just walk in and plop in front of you and chat. I know that you don't. But you could say it. It's cute. But I do think I know what, which is, you don't want people to be afraid of you. Which, let's be honest, a lot of people are. A lot of people.

If you run a big team, there's a lot of people who are intimidated by you and you don't understand why because listen, I get it. I used to be like, "Are you kidding?" People would say to me, "Kris, you're so intimidating." Like, have we met? I don't understand. But I was, so it's true to them, right?

You don't want them to feel scared. You want them to know that you want to know. You want them to feel comfortable like around you, approaching you, talking to you about things, addressing things with you. Like, all of that is important to you. I know that's true. So you say you have an open door policy. Right. But it doesn't work.

Why doesn't it work? Why don't people, I mean, maybe you have one or two, if you have a relatively large team, you have one or two people who will pop in. And they're usually the ones you've known longest, right? They have a relationship with you. It's not the people that are new who don't really know you. They're probably not popping in. Yeah. And I, I don't blame them. Right. I think a lot of us are very awkward with that.

So I want you to be thoughtful about what you're really saying, right? What are you really saying? When you say I have an open door policy, what are you really saying? You're saying I'm here. I do want to know you. I do want to understand what you do. I do want to help you. I do want to be available to you, but you probably have some expectations for that, right? And this is building a little bit off of last week's podcast. So if you didn't listen to the last week, you probably want to listen to the last week, because we talked a little bit about what is it that we really want? How do we really want to engage with our team members? And what do we want those conversations to look like?

And so what I want you to do is instead is be more prescriptive. This was something someone taught me somewhere. So I forgive myself because I don't remember who it was. And please forgive me if you listen to this and you're like, "Oh, that was me". So if that was you, hi, I'm sorry. But I've always remembered this analogy when it comes to sales and marketing, which I think there's some overlap here. Right.

And so like, imagine if someone just walked into your house and you'd invited them over, but they just walked into your house and you had to go, you know, I don't know, take care of the baby for 15 minutes. And so they were sitting in your living room. They don't know you very well, but you had invited them over maybe for your first little chat or whatever, right?

And they come in and they sit, you say, "Hey, listen, I got to go take care of the baby for 15 minutes. Go ahead and have a seat. And if you want anything, help yourself, just feel free. Just the pantry's there. The fridge is there. Just help yourself." How many people are just going to, new in your house and just go to your fridge?

It's making me laugh just thinking about it. Just go to your fridge or open. Oh, my God, my podcast producers are gonna, I don't know what you're gonna do. You might have to edit this out. I'm laughing. I'm totally crying. I'm laughing. They open up. They open up your pantry. They whip out a bag of cookies

and they come out. You come out after taking care of the baby. They're siting on your couch, gnawing on your Oreos. Oh, I'm sorry. This is silly. I'm all alone having the best time ever. Oh my God. That's so funny. Okay. Like that's just not going to happen, right? Unless you really lack social grace. Most of those people are just not going to open up their, your fridge or your pantry and eat, right?

But if you said, "Hey, I got to go take care of the baby. I've put a few sodas, some cookies, a couple pieces of fruit. You know, I put a few things out on the counter. Please feel free, grab a glass of water or grab a bottle of water, a soda, whatever you'd like, make yourself comfortable. And I'll be back in 15 minutes."

That's much more likely to be a more enticing offer. And less intimidating, right? It doesn't feel like I'm in walking into your pantry, like I'm in your space, right? I'm just going to grab a little cookie that's in this basket here, or I'm just going to grab a little bottle of water. That's easy. And I actually might like that because it kind of gives me something to do. Yeah. Okay.

So now let's think about the offer. "Hey, open door policy. Come on in anytime." They're not gonna. But what we could do is make the offer more clear. "Hey, you know what? I love the opportunity to meet with people on my team if they have a very specific question or they have a very specific thing they want to talk to me about related to maybe a process that you're working on and you have some solutions that you'd like to work on. So if you ever want to do that, just pop me an email or send an email to my assistant and we'll make it, we'll make sure that we get some time together and I'd be happy to do that."

Or you might have, "Hey, you know what? I love to spend time with people on the team. So once a month I host a lunch in the lunchroom - if you have a physical location - that's an opportunity for us to eat some yummy food and just get to know each other a little bit, which is super fun."

Or, I do a birthday celebration. And maybe if you're all virtual, every month, you do a birthday celebration and whoever has a birthday in that month, you do a zoom call and everybody gets to come on who's a February birthday and you have four questions that you want to ask them, right? "What do you love about it here? What could we do better? You know, what do you think about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce?" Right? Like, "What do you..." I don't know, whatever. It's just, you could chat,

But you're in the position of authority. And so the expectation is that you create the offer. It takes a tremendous amount of confidence for someone to just come to your door or assert themselves and put themselves on your calendar. And I think you identify with that. So give specifics, give people guidelines. Create opportunities that feel like there's boundaries around them that feel welcoming, that feel intentional, that feel well thought out, right?

And then, if you do have physical space, Don't just sit in your office with the door closed all day. I have so many people who say, "I have an open door policy," but they're sitting in their office with the door closed all day. They come into the building, they go into their office, they come out of the building and they go home and they say, "But I have an open door policy. Nobody ever stops by." Right?

They don't even know you. So make it a point a couple times a week, right? Like when you come in the building, hang out in the coffee room a little bit. Go talk to people. Make it a point to talk to one person every day that you don't know very well. If you're socially sort of uncomfortable, have some questions you'd like to ask. You don't have to be a canned robot, but have like a list of 10 or 15, right?

Like "What have you been doing lately that you're really proud of?" "Tell me about the best new client experience you've recently had." "I'd love to hear about a phone call that you thought went really well." Like just ask them stuff that's about what they do. "What are you learning that is fun? What can we do to help you learn more?" Right.

But your engagement, there's a mantra that says "You first". Right. And I really think that's true for leaders. You have to go first. You have to initiate what engagement looks like. What does open door communication look like? Right. It doesn't look like, come and plop down. Tell me about your bowling league. How much tequila you drank over the weekend, or maybe it does, but it certainly doesn't for me. It might for you.

But I need you to be careful because I think that gets to be a slippery slope, right? Give them some boundaries and some expectations and then follow through. If you just tell yourself you have an open door policy, nobody ever opens. That's on you. That's not on them. Don't take it personally. Just evaluate like, how could I do this better? How could I make my offer more simple, more clear and more enticing? As a leader, we go first. We help people know how to interact with us. They're going to wait for you to do that. Most of them. Not all, but most.

So I hope that gives you a little tip on how to think about what you do.

And this applies whether you have four people or 400. It's the same. Right. If you're all virtual, you don't have a door for them to walk in. Maybe it's Slack. Maybe it's you tell them, "Hey, if you have something you ever want to work with me on or talk to me about, just send me a Slack and we'll figure out when we can do that." Instead of book time on my calendar, right? Instead of stop by my office or stop by my assistant's desk or whatever, we just do it through Slack. We do it through Zoom, right? We make ourselves available.

You could even have founder office hours if you're virtual. Where you just open up a zoom call and you say, "Hey, everyone, I'm going to be online. This is the zoom link. I'm going to be on. I'm going to be available for 25 minutes on Tuesday and I would love it if you have some questions or if you have something you want to share with me about."

And give context. "The new product we just rolled out, the new system that we're working with, the new cool company shirts that we're going to get. Like, I'd love your opinion." I don't know, but give them context so they know what to expect. And then they can pop on.

And then of course, if you do that, be welcoming and happy and joyful to see them. These people are helping you achieve the dream of your business. And I think if we can't feel excited about people who work for us, then we have to be kind of wondering why we have them. Right.

All right. Thanks for tuning in today. And hey, if you didn't know, I'm doing live information meetings and they're so fun. They're really small. This is for my female founder clients who are running multiple million dollar businesses, right? You built this business. Now you got this team and maybe it's a little squirrely and you're really realizing, "Okay, I need a little help here. This isn't going the way that I want." Come to an info meeting.

Let's get to know each other. Let's find out if what I do will drop in and help you achieve what you want, right? Why don't we just find out? You've been listening to the podcast long enough, don't you think? All right, so go to All the information that you need is going to be right there.

Just click on the One Hour Leader. It's probably the best place to start and then we'll see where we go. All right. All right. Have a good afternoon or morning or night.

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