Why an Open Door Policy Needs More than an Open Door

Last week I visited the 3Pillar team in India and attempted to disrupt the status quo.

My typical visit to India includes a series of meetings – both one-on-one and with various teams. I eat meals with the management team and try to squeeze in as much time as possible to go around and talk with the teams. Unfortunately, the majority of my time is behind closed doors. There are just too many things to catch up on given that I’m only there twice per year.

This visit, I was determined to be different. I refused to pack my schedule. I agreed in advance to only schedule one meeting and one day with the press.

As I arrived, I noticed the typical sign on the corner office door. “Reserved for Mr. David DeWolf.” It was at that moment that I realized that I had little or no reason for that office because of my schedule. I made an impromptu decision that proved to be a game changer. I decided not to use it, and instead to sit at various locations with the team.

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The results were amazing.

Midway through Thursday, one of our employees approached me as I caught up on email — while sitting amongst the people.

“I wanted to come check on you. On Tuesday, when you arrived, you looked different than your normal self. I was afraid that there was something going on with the business or that our pipeline was not strong. You looked very stressed out. I figured it was my job as your teammate to check on you and see if everything is well.”

After I explained that I was simply jet lagged and had slept very poorly, I realized the power of what had just happened. Someone who had never approached me before was willing to come address me and show genuine concern — all because I made myself physically approachable. This gave me an opportunity to answer this concern directly and, more importantly, understand how I had come across.

Throughout the week, I had several examples like this. One employee invited and hosted me for dinner. Another joined our group as we toured the Taj Mahal on Saturday before our flight. Several more opened up at our annual party, and I can count at least three different 10-minute “stairway” conversations I was able to have. Through these I learned a lot about what we can improve on and how well our teams are doing.

I left for India with an open door policy that I think most people respect. I left from India having learned an important lesson. Don’t just open the door — tear down the walls. Because I did, I was able to connect with and learn more about our folks than I ever would have from within that corner office.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. JohnE says:

    So will you move out of the office in Fairfax?

    1. David DeWolf says:

      A great question. One which I have been pondering myself.

      I already spend dedicated time out of the office. I block time to simply wander the floor or sit on the sofa in the middle of the work area in order to be in the midst of the team. After my trip, I’ve realized I don’t do this enough and too often default to working in the office for it’s own sake.

      What I’ve decided to do is double down on those efforts and be more deliberate about actually working outside the office on a consistent basis vs. just socializing outside the office.

      If you are familiar with my office, it’s a very small room with a small desk and four comfortable arm chairs in a circle. This setup, which I learned from my former COO, is an inviting layout that promotes conversations and seems to draw people in. It seems like the balance of the two may be ideal. The reality is that I do need a place for confidential conversations and quiet thought every once in a while.

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