Kevin Kruse recently shared an article related to Why Successful Leaders Don't Have An Open Door Policy. An interesting article, that goes into great depth, but does little to answer the over-arching problem. How do you keep your staff from abusing an "open door policy?"
Kruse should provide his recommendations for how to address the policy in his next article. I may share that article later, but for now I wanted to share a couple of thoughts, based on my own experience:
- Always Open Door: A leader cannot have an "always" open door policy. A leader needs to be approachable, but needs to enforce boundaries regarding his / her time, as well as what level of decision involvement is required. On a staff of 3-5, this may not be too big a problem, when running a team of 50+, it's impossible to do otherwise!
- Management of Information: In addition to the enforcement of boundaries for time, you also need to manage the information that is brought to you. One of my favorites is to ask the person what they have done to solve the problem before bringing it to me. I expect at least 2-3 solutions prior to my involvement. If they haven't done at least that much, I send them away to try.
- Right Now: As much as I love the Van Halen Song, not everything needs to be addressed RIGHT NOW! And just because you have an "open door policy" doesn't mean issues need to be addressed RIGHT NOW! If you are in the middle of something, you can say "I see you, can I get back to you at 1:30?" Then you get back to them at 1:30. If you allow constant interruptions to what you are working on, you will be constantly interrupted. And if you don't get back to them when you say, you will be considered unreliable, and exacerbate the issue of trust, as well as the issue they reached out for in the first place.
- Respect the Hierarchy: If you feel you have to approach the manager's manager, then you better have at least discussed the issue with your manager! If you go to the manager's manager without the discussion, then your boss will not trust you, and for that matter, your reputation at the company will probably suffer. As the leader, you should set the expectation that if your boss needs to be included, then the request goes through you, rather than around you. The challenge to identify here is that you as the leader need to be willing to go to your boss for problems that may involve you!
- Simple Solution: Perhaps one of the simplest solutions I've coached someone to use was a Red / Green system. He was constantly being asked to solve problems for the team, and it was hurting his productivity, and his team's ability to make decisions. I had him print a sign and hang a hook on his cubicle (middle managers didn't have offices). On one side was a big Red circle. On the other a big Green Circle. When he was not to be interrupted, he showed the Red, when he was free, Green. Add to this, he started asking what had they done already to solve the problem (see item 3). If they hadn't done 3 things, he sent them away to identify 2-3 solutions. The team started interrupting him less, and solving more of their own issues.