Make your “Open Door Policy” a two-way street

“When the boss says “my door is always open” – it’s a cop-out, not an invitation. ” So says the authors of It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work, Jason fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. The authors are partners (Fried is CEO) in Basecamp, a leading project management and team communications software product.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work is their third book, together. Their clear language,  transparency around their company operations, and practical insights, has consistently impressed me.

Open Door Policy?

Saying you have an ‘open door policy’ are words. They don’t automatically translate to caring. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson cut to the chase:

“When the boss says “my door is always open” – it’s a cop-out, not an invitation. One that puts the onus of speaking up entirely on the employees.

The only time such an empty gesture serves any purpose is after the shit has already hit the fan. Then it can be dragged out of the drawer with “why didn’t you just come and tell me?” and “I told you if you ever had an issue with anything that you should come talk to me.” Eyeroll. 

If the boss really wants to know what’s going on, the answer is embarrassingly obvious. They have to ask! Not vague, self-congratulatory bullshit questions like “what can we do even better?” but the hard ones like “what’s something nobody dares to talk about?” or “are you afraid of anything at work?” or “is there anything you worked on recently that you wish you could do over?” or even more specific ones like “what do you think we could have done differently to help Jane succeed?” or “what advice would you give before we start on the big website redesign project?”

The fact is the higher you go in an organization, the less you’ll know what its really like. It might seem perverse, both the CEO is usually the last to know. With great power comes great ignorance”

Reach out

It’s fine to have an ‘open door policy’. Even better is an honest ‘invitation’. Invitation is a way of ‘reaching out’.

Reaching out is making the first move. Reaching out builds bridges. Reaching out deescalates conflict.

Reaching out is constructive behaviour. Constructive behaviours should be what any organization wants more of.

Yes – have an ‘open door policy’. Just make it a two-way street.

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