Shut the Dang Door!



  • How your open door policy hurts your productivity (1:25)

  • How your open door policy turns you into Alexa (2:35)

  • How to encourage and empower others to look elsewhere for answers (4:40)

  • How to close your door and still be known as a connected leader (6:30)

  • How others will get more from spending less time with you (10:05)

  • How you’ll get more from spending less time with them (10:30)

Shut the Dang Door!

Shut the door! No, I mean it, shut the dang door.

Recently, I was at an introduction for the new executive director of an organization, a woman I’ve done some work with, and I respect her to the ends of the earth. As she was introducing herself to her new team, she added, “...and I have an open door policy.”

Oh my gosh, those words just make me shudder.

You may be wondering why I would be opposed to an open door policy when it's pushed as the way to go, the way to be a “connected leader”. Well, guess what? An open door policy actually creates the opposite.

When you have an open door policy, you’re not really connected to or present for anything – you’re fractured, scattered, and frazzled. Here’s how…

With an open door policy, you lose a half hour of productivity

Did you know that when you’re humming along in the zone and are interrupted, it takes 28 minutes to get back to that intense level of productivity?

We all have those moments, right? Where you’re thinking, Oh man, I am in the zone. I am just humming on this thing; I’m doing great work. All your synapses are firing, and then...

“Hey, got a minute?”
Oh, darn it. “No, I don’t have a minute right now because I’m really in the zone. But uh, how about, I don’t know, 4 o’clock? Can you come back at four? That’d be great.”
“Oh yeah, okay. I can come back at four.”

But you’ve already lost it. You’ve come out of the zone, and it’s going to take 28 minutes of uninterrupted time, focus, and concentration to get back into your task at that level.

Twenty-eight minutes!

With an open door policy, you become the Alexa for everyone around you

The other challenge I see with the open door policy is becoming an Alexa, the gadget that stands in the room that gives you immediate answers when you call out to it—

“Hey, Alexa! How many miles is it to so-and-so?”
“Hey, Alexa! How do I fill out Form AWQZ?”
“Hey, Alexa! What’s the phone number for such-and-such office?”

When we have an open door policy, we train our staff to ask us questions rather than find answers. Actually, you don’t have to be a manager for this one. You can be training your peers in the same way. We train them to treat us like Alexa

“Hey, Beth! Do you know the name of that restaurant we went to last week? The one with the great fish and chips?”
“Hey, Beth! Do you know what day that report is due for so-and-so?”
“Hey, Beth! Do you know what time the staff meeting is today?”

It’s understandable if you’ve become an Alexa for the people around you. Most of us: A) Enjoy the stuff that happens in our brains when we feel competent and as if we have the information that will help people, and B) Automatically answer questions we know the answer to, so we don’t really think about whether to answer the question, we just answer it.

And when we do that, we are training the people around us to ask us questions instead of finding the answers themselves or holding their question until a time when we’re not 28-minutes deep in a project.

So my recommendation is: Shut the dang door!

And if you don’t have a door, get in the habit of redirecting people. It won’t take long for them to either ask someone else or look for the answers themselves.

How to encourage and empower others to look elsewhere for answers

Here are a few examples of how you can do this—

Q: “Hey Beth, what’s the name of that restaurant that we went to last week?”
A: “You know what, I’m really concentrating and focusing, so I’m not taking questions right now.”

Q: “Hey Beth, what time is that staff meeting this week?”
A: “You know what? I’m in the middle of something; why don’t you try and find that out on your own.”

Q: “Hey, Beth, I can’t quite figure out how to fill out this form.”
A: “Okay, what do you think are some ways that you might get some more information on that?”

Now, those may not sound great, and I get that. It may feel uncomfortable, and you may think, Oh my gosh, I’d rather take two seconds to answer the question than say that.

But when we jump in and give people the answers instead of redirecting them to ways to find the answers themselves, it’s that whole thing of giving someone a fish instead of teaching them how to fish. If you’re constantly catching and distributing fish to everyone around you, you’re going to be exhausted.

The time you take to redirect people, show them how to find their answers, and point them to resources is going to save you significant time over the long run. It can be as simple as replying to their question with something like, “Oh wow, that’s a great question. How do you think you might find the answer to that?” to get them thinking on their own.

How to close your door and still be known as a connected leader

Now, how does shutting the door still allow you to be known as a connected and responsive leader or manager?

To build your reputation as someone who is connected, a good listener, open to hearing ideas and suggestions, and available, be fully available to people on a scheduled basis

Schedule office hours.
Schedule your open door time. Make it known, advertise it, create it as a norm, and then make sure you’re actually there and available:

“Hey, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4 o’clock to 5 o’clock,” ­– or whatever time works for you – “my door’s going to be open, and anybody can stop by for anything they want. It’s a great time for that.”

Teach staff to prepare for their one-on-one time.
I tell new leaders all the time to have scheduled check-ins with everybody on their team on a regular basis and to tell team members to keep something on their desk to catch their questions in the meantime: a notebook, a pad of paper, or they can keep the notes on their phone – whatever works for them.

So when a question comes up that they would like to ask you, they can think, “Oh, I need to check in with Beth on this, but it can wait until the next time we sit down,” and then jot down or type in their question. Let them get in the habit of holding any questions that are not emergencies – life-threatening or revenue-threatening – until you have that scheduled time together.

Have the check-in be truly agenda-less on your part.
There may be a few pieces of information you need to share, maybe a new project you want to introduce to the person or you have some feedback to offer them on something, but otherwise, allow them to get in the habit of bringing the agenda forward.

Silence your phone (and everything else).
It’s critical – and all my executive coaching clients have heard me say this repeatedly – that your cell phone is on silent during that scheduled check-in time. There shouldn’t be any email notifications or other dinging during this time; silence your phone, close your laptop, or whatever the case may be.

Don’t multitask.
A scheduled check-in is not the time to be getting two things done, like checking-in with the person in front of you and also filling out that form from accounting that you’ve been putting off. This is a time when you’re relaxed, you’re fully present, the time is dedicated to them, and you are active listening.

So, I encourage you to think about these steps: Shut the dang door, redirect people and empower them, set one-on-one, fully present meeting time, and set your open door policy time. It’s about scheduling time to connect and committing to that schedule – it’s pretty simple.

Others will get more from spending less time with you…

And you know, there’s a body of research out there that says people who have 10 minutes a week with you when you are not distracted – when you’re not thinking about the next task, you’re not running to another meeting, or feeling pressured that you have to go somewhere – feel more fulfilled than people who get a half hour of time with you when you are distracted. So think about that.

...and you’ll get more from spending less time with them

The idea of more meetings, more check-ins, or check-ins outside of a group check-in might feel overwhelming, might feel like too much. You might be thinking, How the heck am I going to do that?

But just think: If you shut the dang door (like I keep saying), and you—

  1. Create 15- to 20-minute check-ins where you were fully present with the people on your team,

  2. Schedule open door time when they could count on you to be there and drop in with other things, and

  3. Redirect people to find their own answers and their own solutions to their questions,

I think you’ll have a lot more space – particularly a lot more headspace – and you may just feel a little less frazzled, fractured, splintered and overwhelmed.