• Mike Burke

The other day I was asked if I believe in an open-door policy.

The answer is, "Absolutely, I do."

I love honest and consistent communication.

When used correctly, an open-door policy is a fantastic technique to get your team focusing on constant improvement.

Unfortunately, no one teaches us, as managers, what an open-door policy is and isn't.

In this short discussion, I'll give you my take when it's not a great idea.

Then I’ll show you how I professionally and ethically deal with people that try to abuse your good intentions.

Imagine this scenario:

Tom lightly taps on your door.

Then he gingerly walks into your office and says, "I need your advice."

Because you have an open-door policy, you say, "sure, come on in."

Tom says, "I need help."

You're flattered and say, "what's on your mind, Tom?"

Tom says, "Tina’s not letting me off this Friday for Tommy's school play."


This situation is an example of what an open-door policy isn't and creates more problems than it solves.

So, what do you do?

You have a couple options.

You can say, "I'll check it out and get back to you."

Then you could walk into Tina's office and ask her about Tom's kid's play.

Most likely, a visibly irritated Tina will say, "he came to you with this?"

"Yes," you say, "two hours ago."

"It's part of my open-door policy," you explain.

Now Tina has a few choices:

She could say, "ok, I'll give him off."

Sounds good, problem solved, right?

But how would you feel if one of your employees did this to you?

Won’t Tina feel her authority is quashed?

Plus, what's Tom going to do in the future if he doesn't get his way.

Another response Tina could give you is to say, "here's why I said no, this Friday, I have three people off, and I don't want to make any of our customers mad."

"But if you want to overrule me overrule me."

She may or may not say it, but she’ll be thinking it.

There's plenty of other ways an open-door policy can hurt you, but let's get to some solutions to the Tom problem.

How about when Tom told you his situation, you said, "why did she say no?"

Now Tom has some choices:

He could lie and make Tina the villain.

But if he does that, his lie will be exposed when you talk to Tina.

He could tell you the real reason, such as, "we're shorthanded Friday, and I'm out of personal time."

Now here's the gold.

After years of having my open-door policy kick me in the butt, here's what I learned to say.

"Ok, Tom, I'll talk to Tina about this to get her to take, and I'll get back to you later today?"

"Is that ok with you, Tom?"

In most cases, Tom will say something like, "no, it's ok, don't do that. I'm just trying to explain how Tina is that’s all."

Then most likely, he'll say, "do me a favor, can we keep this just between us?"

So, what just happened?

You were true to your open-door policy, and you were fully transparent.

The next time Tom will think twice before he tries to hijack your open-door policy to complain about his boss.

But what if Tom wants you to talk to Tina?

Simple, you talk to Tina.

I've found that ninety percent of the time, this works to keep your open-door policy intact without undercutting anyone.

But what if Tina is wrong?

That's the other ten percent that I'll cover with you in another conversation.

Have a great day, and make a difference!


©2020 by Mike Burke Management.