Open Door Policy Has Nothing To Do With The Door

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
A bit frustrated. My role dictates longer time span strategic projects, but I continue to get pulled into tactical issues on smaller pieces of that project, or tactical issue on other people’s projects. I find myself often saying “what does our process say the next step should be?” or pointing back to our documentation to find the facts. I have to stop, interrupting focus on my own project segments. How does one balance these interruptions without coming across as “that’s not my job” to address tactical daily activities?

Response:
Two things necessary. First, you have an interruption problem. Second, as a manager, you have a coaching problem.

1. Interruption problems. Do you remember when you were a student in school and had to take that final test on Friday morning? So, late Thursday night, you settled down to study for the test? You know, right after Thursday Night Football? Because you procrastinated to the last minute, you had to make sure you got in some quality cram time. And you did some things that you can adapt to today’s situation.

  • You asked your roommates to take the keg of beer down to the other end of the dorm so you would not be tempted.
  • You told your other roommate to take a hike.
  • You took your phone off the hook (remember when phones had hooks).
  • You hung a shoe on your doorknob, a signal to all that you were busy and not to be disturbed (usually a signal for other activities beside studying, but a signal nonetheless).
  • You went to the library because no one would ever think to find you there.

These same strategies can be adapted to make sure you capture large (enough) blocks of uninterrupted time.

  • Put a sign on your door that you are in a meeting, not to be disturbed.
  • Communicate with your team that they need to cover all phone calls and visitors for the next three hours.
  • Relocate, find a spot where no one will find you (temporary, of course).

You might think that might communicate your inaccessibility (it does), but remember that an open door policy has nothing to do with the door.

2. Which brings me to your second problem, coaching. In a managerial role, it comes with the territory, get over it. And, yes, you can manage it. Set aside specific blocks of time for “office hours,” and specific appointments for 1-1s for each of your team members. This dedicated time can be controlled by you to prevent interruptions when you are working on your projects.

It may seem painful to help a team member walk through documentation, but it won’t take long before the team member knows how to walk through the documentation without you. This is not a “not my job” attitude, this is mandatory for all managers to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. And you don’t bring that value by providing all the answers. You bring that value by asking effective questions.

Now, close your door and get back to work.

3 thoughts on “Open Door Policy Has Nothing To Do With The Door

  1. Edi Holderman

    Years ago when I started out as a manager, my boss would say “What would you do if I wasn’t here?” The person he asked that of would answer and most often they knew what to do and he would say “You go it now go do it” After a while we all started asking ourselves first what would we do if Pete wasn’t here and became much more productive, confident in our decision making skills and interrupted Pete less often.

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  2. Rick Wallace

    Right on! Only one more simple thing that will make it perfect — you hit a bit on it but I will expand as it works wonders. Put a sign up that says No Questions – in other words whe you come to my office don’t ask a question tell me the issue and tell me what you intend to do. I will either say ok or we will discuss if I think it necessary. People come to you mindlessly and ask questions, you answer them thinking you are helping, they leave your office without taking ownership of the results – you told me to do this….- they learn nothing and they feel you want them to come to you with all questions because you don’t trust them to do the right thing. It is a viscous cycle , feeding cocaine to an addict. Simply don’t answer anymore questions – still come to me if you are unsure but come to me with your solution or I intend to …… They have to think before they walk in ( they learn) , they get reinforcement from you every time you say ok, they come to you less often, they are accountable for the results of their actions.

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