Momentum Podcast: 265
Open Door Will Kill You
by Alex Charfen
There is a difference between open communication with your team and an open door policy. An open door policy with a small team can work but will hurt you as you start to grow bigger.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen and this is the Momentum Podcast. Made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat, because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future, and instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution and we always will be.
Open door will kill you. A few weeks ago I had a post on facebook that discussed having open communication with your team and making sure that your team knows that they can get in touch with you, that they can communicate with you when they need to, so that they always can resolve something that's going on and that they have an open communication policy. And underneath that post an entrepreneur put. "I love this. I totally agree. I have an open door policy with my team." And as soon as I saw that I made one very correct assumption. He has a small team. I actually replied and asked, "How big is your team?" He said, "Six people." And I said, "That makes sense because as soon as your team starts growing to any substantial size, an open door policy will kill you."
And I mean it will kill you. Because here's the challenge with growing the team. When we have an open door policy, we actually set the expectation that when one of our team needs something from us or has a question or wants clarity, that they should come to us. And here's the fact: you do not want to set that precedent in your company. Because what it does is it creates the expectation that if somebody needs something, they have a question, they can come to you. And here's what will happen to you as a CEO. "Got a minute?"s and questions and interruptions will destroy you.
See, I've run teams of hundreds of people before and there's this progression that you go through as a CEO. When you have under 10 people on your team, you will find that you're occasionally dealing with human resources issues. When you get to 10, 20, 30, 40, you'll find that you're dealing with human resources issues often. When you get to 100, 150, 200, 300 with contractors, maybe they got topped up to three or 400, you will find that you are always in crisis. You have a human resources crisis almost 100 percent of the time, where there's a crisis somewhere in the business 100 percent of the time.
Because growth creates complexity and when done in a way that isn't scheduled and clear and planned ahead, which a lot of growth isn't even in my organizations, growth creates complication and it can create crisis. And the challenge is as the CEO, if you have an open door policy, every time a crisis erupts, everyone will come to you. And the issue is with an open door policy is that the very fact that it's there gives people the impression that the right thing to do when there's any type of ambiguity or question is to come to you.
And here's the issue. If you haven't run a team of any size, if you haven't been over 10, 20 or 30 people, let me be the first to tell you that if you have an open door policy and you grow any size team, it is going to be the policy that takes down your company or drives you absolutely insane. Because as the business grows, you can't be the person that everyone goes to. You can't allow yourself to continuously be interrupted. You can't have an open door policy where you're available to your team all the time.
Here's what you should do. You should have an open communication policy, where every member of your team has a way to get in touch with you, where every member of your team can get in front of you if they need to, if there's an issue, if there's a reason that is valid for them to do so. Your team should be able to get a hold of you via email. And in the companies we coach and the companies I run, every member of our team fills out a weekly report that gets pushed to their leadership and if they need to, they can tag me in it. They can make a comment. So I'll go look at their weekly report. I can see exactly what's going on with that person and understand what's happening.
So we have a wide open communication policy, but I do not have an open door policy. In fact, as a CEO, what I value is being able to get together with my team, go through our cadence, do the planning that we need to do, understand where we're going, and then get out of their way. I'm available if they need me, I'm available in the predetermined times that they know that they can get in touch with me, but if my team has to continuously be asking me questions, then our team collectively failed somewhere in the setup. And if I have to have an open door policy in my company, that means we don't have the right type of a communication structure and the right type of communication cadence.
Because if people have to come to me sporadically, if they have to come to me on the in-betweens, if I'm the place where they have to come to resolve what's going on, we have an even bigger problem. Because the more your team is coming to you, the less you have process and procedure in place to take care of things. Every time a member of your team has to come to you and use that open door policy, it is a failure of your infrastructure is somewhere that they didn't have the answer ahead of time. And so the more you drive away an open door policy, the more you drive a clear cadence where everyone knows exactly when they're going to communicate and what's expected, and the more you drive your team members to cover what they need to know, to understand what they need to know, to take responsibility and accountability for their positions, the more your organization will grow and the less you will have to be involved on a step by step basis.
But if you're one of those CEOs, here's where this really happens, normally ... What happens is an inexperienced CEO, and this may be you, so don't worry about it if it is ... You hear about at a mastermind or you read in a book somewhere, usually either at the mastermind or in the book from a person who really hasn't run a substantial team, and they say something that I would call patently disturbing, like "You should always be available to your team and they should be able to get in touch with you whenever they need to. You're the most important person in the building. It will make them feel secure if they know they can talk to you." And to all of that I say complete BS.
It's a joke. That's not real. Your team doesn't need to talk to you all the time. Your team doesn't need to be connected to you. In fact, if you start running a business with those thoughts in mind, you will never build the infrastructure you should have. In fact, the reality is your team should know what they're doing. They should understand what's expected. They should have clarity around what they're doing on a day to day basis. They should know what they're accountable to and they should have a clear idea of where they are in perspective because they have clear scoreboards. None of those require them to get in touch with, contact, or interrupt you in any way.
So if you're growing a team right now and if you're growing your business right now, one thing you should never do is state to your entire team that you have an open door policy. I can't tell you how many CEOs I've helped walk back their open door policy, because they went to the mastermind or the event, came back and said, "Hey everyone, my door's open and I want to hear from you,: and then they realized what type of expectation that created, just how much their team stopped doing because they know that they can always get ahold of them, and how much laziness it encourages on the part of your team.
Because you're literally telling them, "Hey, if you ever don't know what's going on, just come to me." That gives them very little motivation to figure out what's going on and to maintain that understanding moving forward. So if you're growing your team and you've kicked out an open door policy, consider pulling it back and letting people know you need uninterrupted time. Letting people know you need the same space they do to get their work done, and letting them know that they have an open communication policy and they can get in touch with you, but you don't want to be interrupted.
Because here's the fact about you as the CEO of your company, as the founder of your company, as the person who's running it: you are the most important person in the building, and we shouldn't let the most important person in the building be at everyone's beck and call whenever they decide they want to talk to you. In fact, we should create protection and support around you so you're doing what you should when you should, and you can create ultimate productivity and move the business forward. Because if you're not moving forward, no one in the building is. And if you're stalled, so as the entire organization. And if you're distracted from getting your work done, everyone in the organization is going to feel it. So open door policies will kill you. Open communication policies will save you.
Rather than telling your team they can get ahold of you at anytime for any reason, let them know that they can communicate with you, but you need time to yourself so that you can create the productivity of your company, and so do they.
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