Can Employees Really Walk Through Your Open-door Policy?

Open Door

There’s a lot of talk about employee engagement, and for good reason. Engagement is one of the most important ingredients to a successful business.

You can strategize about vision, innovation, collaboration, even compensation. If your team is not in it to win it, however, you have a problem.

We live in truly extraordinary times. Leaders are beginning to question years of old practices and supposed conventional wisdom. Well, one with wisdom should know when it is time for a change. And the time is definitely now.

In my previous post, I discussed the topic of trust; a vital component to solidifying any team and ensuring a winning level of engagement. I urged leaders to connect with people at all levels of the business, to get up from their desks, get out of their offices and get to know their teams on a personal level.

I’d now like to take a modified perspective from my previous post because there are additional ways to build trust and increase engagement. (Of course, I have my own view but I am extremely interested to know what measures CEOs are taking to ensure employees feel comfortable talking to them. Comfortable enough to give them the straight talk about what improvements might be made.)

For years, CEOs have been isolated in ivory towers and behind mahogany desks. They’ve been feeding the notion that leaders are somehow different than the rest of the rank and file. They have held to the belief that the C-suite should keep themselves at arms length, even feared; that access is some sort of privilege. They’ve managed under the guise that expressing emotion, frustration, humor, etc. are not “CEO qualities.”

CEOS have been feeding the notion that leaders are somehow different than the rest of the rank and file

In my case, even if I wanted to behave this way, my kids wouldn’t indulge me much. Kids can be very grounding, but that is a story for another day.

The fact is that CEOs, leaders and the rest of the people in an organization are quite the same. The challenge today is to prove that humanity exists at the top. With this long standing stereotype in place, the challenge is to remind your team that you are accessible, that you listen, and that you want to hear from them directly.

The challenge today is to prove that humanity exists at the top

There can’t be enough clarity or repetition around this message. Not when we’ve been trained for years to believe otherwise.

So, are YOU “all in” when it comes to open communication? How open is your open-door policy? How comfortable is your team in talking to you?

I believe many leaders are there already. But some still tip-toe around this much-needed change. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. But leadership is about having the courage to move the needle for an entire organization despite your fears.

There are various ways to test that commitment.

I do not have an office. I sit at an open desk with various people and departments around me. Human Resources to my right, our Strategy Team to my left. No walls, doors or barriers between the team and me. Anyone can drop by and chat.

Given this organizational structure, I decided to test something. I held official “open house” hours. I cleared my calendar and sent a company wide email inviting colleagues to visit. The reaction was interesting. Some colleagues were perplexed by my request and explained how they felt that they could walk by anytime to chat. Some others showed great courage to ask questions and share concerns about the business and the changes going on around us.

I cleared my calendar and sent a company wide email inviting colleagues to visit

The feedback was very encouraging, and served as an important reminder to the team of my serious commitment to openness and transparency.

I have another story you might find interesting. On our intranet site “the Orange Grove”, I shared with the entire organization a simple post asking if there was anything about our business that our employees would like to “bitch” about. This may sound unconventional to some, but why wait for reviews and surveys to find out how your team is feeling? And will surveys actually reveal what is really happening at the water cooler?

These conversations are happening right now as you read this blog post. So why not find out directly what ticks off and aggravates your team during their day, and what you can do about it?

Strong leaders must set the tone for the team to muster up the courage to share and feel safe in doing so! So let your team in, break down the barriers and truly commit to an open-door policy, whether you take that figuratively or literally.

Getting a grasp on the true reality of your business without any filters is a huge benefit to any leader, particularly a CEO. With this, you will build openness, transparency and trust. Consequently you will experience a substantial shift in the overall engagement levels of your most prized resource – your people!


Art by: wojtar

Peter Aceto

Peter Aceto is a Globally recognized and respected business leader. He is the president and CEO of Tangerine and a change agent for leadership. Peter is the author of the bestseller book Weology: How everybody wins when WE comes before ME. Connect with Peter on Twitter or LinkedIn. For more information on Weology, visit

  • Pioneer Outfitters

    Ha! We have a “bitch-book” in the lounge and rec room. (And boy oh boy!!)


    I have an “open-door” to all of our people… and they know it. They use it. When I started it, to allow people to come to me with any concerns or issues or just to chat… all was silent. Instead of thinking it wasn’t working, I simply used what I know about my team. They like to eat. They like to play. So, I created a “Wreck-Room” (yes, the spelling was on purpose!)

    So, after the dinner hour is up, I open the Wreck-Room and the entire gang shows up, most nights. We play games, cards or dice or maybe watch a movie together… but usually, given the choice, my Team likes the round table. We’ll play games, chatting about the day, the guys ragging each other (this is where I listen), we discuss the jobs we are working on the season’s work we are preparing for, worries, lessons. We use the time for informal study too. As we are joking and relaxing, I can drill the trainees on the lessons they are (supposed to be) studying for the tests I will administer. We talk about Ethics, and regulations that are confusing.

    The most valuable part of it all? We talk. We laugh together, play together, work together, study together. The Wreck-Room was named after it’s first night. It was a popcorn night. Now? They clean up before they leave. (snort.)


  • Nat_Readerland

    I report to a CEO of an organization. My badge even says Administration. I have an executive level classification. I used to get alot done. But I am not physically in the Administrative space on the top floor,like many other executives here since the physical space behind the double door ivory tower space is limited.

    Recently they decided that everyone that does not have an actual office in the physical Administration area (regardless of who they are, their level or who they report to) has to check in at reception and can walk no further. They said it is for safety reasons. This essentially leaves many direct reports to the C Suite sitting in 4 chairs in the reception area hoping to catch their bosses or others they need walking by or hoping they return to their office and the receptionist gets a hold of them. Basically feeling demeaned and not valued.

    My office is one floor down so I can be close to my division staff (I am open door to all of them) so I too, like everyone else, am now subject to the new “closed door” policy like others like me and everyone else in the entire organization.

    Since the new policy I spent most of my time playing phone tag, having to set meeting days further down the road to review something small that could have been covered 5 minutes in person, going up and receptionist calling back to the other areas telling me that someone is not in their office (when they are two doors down from their office jawing with another administration, but the receptionist does not know that). We also have noticed that those with offices there have developed an air of superiority even to those that are peers whose office are elsewhere in the building.

    One week into the new policy I am tired of the waste and inefficiency and the perception that it has created walling off those in the area….I no longer make the effort to stop by and see the Chief Legal Officer, the CEO or any of the others who have their offices up there that I need 5 minutes of face time with to resolve a regulatory issue because it wastes too much of my time spending 20 minutes walking and standing around trying to get face time for 5 minutes. My job has slowed down taking 2 days what I used to be able to do in 1 hour.

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