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Is an open door policy a good idea?

Many managers wonder whether or not an open door policy is a good idea. Before you can know if it is a good policy for your organization or not, you need a clear understanding of what it is.

What is an open door policy?
An open door policy is basically a policy that guarantees that employees can go above their boss to seek assistance from the boss's supervisor, without risking losing their job by doing so. An open door policy basically provides employee access to any manager or supervisor including the CEO, should they not get the help they need at lower level.

So when wouldn't an open door policy be a good idea?
Many people look at an open door policy as a way to bypass levels of management, strike fear in the hearts of supervisors, and undermine the chain of command. So, if your employees adopt this attitude, where they think because they can talk to any level manager about any issue at any time, their direct managers often end up having issues. These issues stem from authority of their command being unclear.

So, while in theory, any employee should be able to talk with any level of manager or any other employee about any subject at any time, there should be some processes to get there. For example, an open door policy is put in place to help people understand that they are all equal; they just have different jobs. But, it opens up issues, such as the inability of the organization to solve problems close to where the problem occurs. If, for example, a customer service representative has a problem, and takes it straight to the CEO instead of the customer service manager, the chances of it being handled effectively are lower. Why? Because they CEO has wider concerns, and the customer service manager was trained specifically to solve those problems. So, if people jump the proper channels, an open door policy renders the management side of the company ineffective.

Also, having an open door policy will mean not encouraging the development of problem solving skills by individual managers.

Another drawback of an open door policy is that often it will enable more senior managers to look good and feel good at the expense of mid-level managers. And it trains employees to bypass their supervisors and managers. This is dysfunctional and undermines the functioning of a successful organization.

However, open door policies are also very successful for some. Let's take a look at when an open door policy is a good idea:

A good open door policy enables employees to speak with more senior managers, but provides guidelines that enable problem solving at all levels of the organization, and is a policy that encourages and expects employees to address problems first with their supervisor before they move up the chain of command.

If the employee is having problems with their supervisor or manager, having an open door policy is a very effective way of retaining employees. However, if a senior manager does not allow the immediate manager a shot at solving the problem first, then they will render their organization ineffective. So, let the appropriate channels handle issues first, and when that does not work, move to the next level, and so forth.

An effective open door policy should have guidelines such as the following: when an employee wants to talk about a variety of issues, such as the company, the markets, employee needs and wants, the senior manager must listen. However, if the employee is complaining about their supervisor, the manager must ask if the employee has addressed the issue with their supervisor. Then, if the employee answers no, they must direct them to speak with their supervisor first, then they should follow up to make certain the employee does address the issue with their supervisor and that the supervisor appropriately responded.

An open door policy is a great idea if implemented in a way that enhances functionality, not cripples it.

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