Is Your Open Door Policy Killing You?

My executive clients often tell me they have great difficulty with strategy time. The issue usually presents itself like this: “I can’t find the time to think when I’m constantly being interrupted.” OK, why are you constantly being interrupted? “We have an Open Door Policy, and people stop by constantly to talk with me.”

What does your Open Door policy actually say? What is its intent? Is it to let all employees know that, if they are unsatisfied with how they are being treated, they can take their concern up the chain of command without concern of reprisal (in other words, that “all doors are open” to them)?

OR does it say, “You can walk into anyone’s office, at any time, regardless of your issue, and interrupt what that person is doing”? Does the policy say, “By virtue of this policy, YOU can determine the priorities and schedule of the president of the company, because ‘the policy says’ their door must – literally – be open at all times”?

The latter is what many people think Open Door Policy means. Thinking is a legitimate and important responsibility of top leaders and requires uninterrupted time. Conversation, also a legitimate and important responsibility of leaders, needs to occur. But these two activities are sometimes mutually exclusive.

  1. Just as you schedule meetings, you should schedule time to think, strategize, design, and plan. Open door policy or not, you can close your door when you are trying to concentrate on what they pay you to do.
  2. Manage your accessibility – the real issue in an open door policy – by declaring specific hours of operation. If your best thinking/strategizing time is in the morning, you might say, “I am not available for meetings before 10:30 AM.” Or you can say, “I have set aside from 1 to 3 every day for unscheduled meetings. My door is wide open between those hours.”
  3. Finally, enforce your boundaries. If your Closed Door time is prior to 10:30, and Suzie sticks her head in because she wants to talk to you, you need to say, “Suzie, now’s not a good time. I’m happy to speak with you at 11 today. Will that work for you?” And unless it’s an emergency, she’ll likely say yes. You both win – she gets access and you get to operate as a strategic-thinking leader.

P.S. these tips works for parents, co-workers, or even if your boss stops by. Just Say No does not mean you can’t talk… it simply means that you say, “I have this boundary, and I ask that you honor it just now.”

Remember: Leadership is not about a title. Anyone can be a leader who manages priorities by learning to Just Say No in a way that allows time for their Thinking work, yet leaves room time for Conversation with others.



Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at