The overrated open door policy

Open door policy in law firm

If employees were surveyed about one of the things that they like in a boss, an open door policy would be near the top of the list for many.  For many employees, the idea of an open door policy makes sense.  It means they can ask questions whenever matters arise and have them quickly addressed.

In many businesses, something roughly resembling an open door policy might make a lot of sense.  In fact, if there wasn’t something that somewhat resembled an open door policy, it might mean that things could go wrong.  It also means that employees could go down wrong paths and not have their issues addressed.

In some law firms, a modified open door policy might still make sense.  This might be particularly true in smaller law firms or in law firms where the environment isn’t particularly fast-paced.  It can also work better in environment where employees know that they should only utilize this open door policy sparingly.

The reality, however, is that an open door policy can be problematic in many law firms.  When law firms have an unrestricted open door policy, it can be hard to get work done.  This is particularly true where an open door policy has the potential of becoming over-used or employees not taking ownership for their job duties.

Instead of individuals closing their door, taking ownership for what they do and working hard, it can result in law firm staff spending a lot of time talking — and not getting a lot of substantive work done.  An open door policy can also result in lack of ownership being taken by employees or employees not doing research and due diligence to problem solve on their own.

For management in a law office, it can result in lots of work not getting done.  It is hard, after all, to get work done when there are frequent interruptions in and out of an office.  An open door policy also assumes that the person being asked the question even has enough information (or the ability or skill) to quickly answer the question that is being asked without doing research or investigating the situation themselves.  In many instances, this is the not the case.

Instead of an absolute open door policy, a productivity schedule can work much better in most law offices (set meeting times with staff) or designated times where the door will be left open.  In other words, employees can have a set time once a week (or at some set interval) where they meet with their superior about the questions that they have — absent some emergency requiring immediate assistance.

This can encourage employees to problem solve in an effort at trying to work through their problems fairly independently.  It also results in employees taking ownership for their job duties versus trying to abdicate them by placing them on the plate of another.  It also allows others to stay on task by allowing them to get the work done that they need to complete.

Certainly, open door policies are popular in the eye of many.  The truth is that unrestricted open door policies are highly overrated in many environments.  In the end, an unrestricted open door policy can create backlogs, inefficiencies, a lack of independence/ownership and a great deal of frustration.  A productivity schedule is the better policy for most law firms.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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