Dear Aunty B,
I have just expanded from six staff to 15 in the last year. I have always had an open-door policy. Lately the interruptions have got so out of hand (and so trivial) that I feel like I cannot get any work done until everyone has gone home for the day. Then of course I am in trouble with the wife, whether I work back or take work home. Is it time to shut the door?
If you haven’t already, it’s only a matter of time before you bite someone’s head off, and you’ll always come off second best. Now of course as you get bigger, you are going to have to delegate more.
But Greg, an open-door policy is all about equality in the office, the right of everyone to come and see the boss, the right for all staff to be listened to and to have informal interaction with their leader.
Does it have to be literal, to be enforced at all times? I don’t think so, unless you want to go insane. This is an issue about time management, priorities and productivity. Only you can measure whether you and your business can be more productive by literally closing the door on staff for parts of your day – and it’s highly likely that you need some balance in your day.
Work out which parts of the work day are ideally interruption-free and tell staff at the next meeting that you would like this time to yourself.
Flight Centre’s founder Graham Turner has an interesting approach. He schedules all the meetings and chats for the mornings and leaves the afternoons for other aspects of the role (call it executive “me” time if you like and everyone needs a bit of that). Before you hole up in your office for me time, get into the habit of walking around the office, do a quick check on how everyone is going before retreating to your lair and, shock, horror, closing the door [cue horror-flick sound effects] and getting on with the job.
An old boss of mine had a traffic light on his desk. Green means approach me, amber means approach with extreme caution, red means LATER! Sounds stupid, and he was a bit of a dill, but it actually worked really well and ensured staff didn’t get into the habit of always thinking they should be racking up face-time with the boss (there’s always staff who are desperate to suck up/lobby/self-promote or simply avoid sitting at their desk). The trick is to train staff not to automatically interrupt you because you are there.
If you manage eight staff or 25, a huge part of your job is managing people whether you like it or not. That means being accessible to staff so that they can do their job. It is not an extra hassle in your job, IT IS YOUR JOB. Get used to it.
A boss who constantly avoids his staff saying he/she is “too busy” is going to lose staff and lose their trust. Going too far in the other direction can be just as damaging to productivity. Duh!
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