Open Door Policy Guides
This repository contains a pair of manuals you can use to supplement the open door policy your organization may already have.
Why These Guides Exist
Open door policies are remarkably generic, uninformative documents that do a decent but lawyerly job of explaining to the curious employee that they exist. They typically enumerate a basic employee right ("you can go talk to a manager if you've got a problem") and are sometimes paired with a non-retaliation policy or clause ("you won't get punished for doing so.") That's it.
The author of these guides was tasked with explaining to employees how a boilerplate open door policy worked. The initial design brief involved making a few charts to include in that policy. Once they spoke to a few people about this project, they realized that the problem they needed to resolve was less "what are the steps?" and more "how do we get everybody to an equal place in terms of their confidence that when they use the steps they'll get a good outcome?"
Company leadership emphasis on an open-door, non-retaliatory culture is important, but people have concerns beyond retaliation that matter, too, and these came out in interviews during early design:
- Will my manager place the burden on me to fix the problem once they hear me out?
- Is my manager attuned to the idea of discriminatory behavior that flies below the radar of outright bigotry? (microaggressions, which are not universally understood to be "real")
- Is my manager attuned to the idea that bringing my concerns to them sometimes feels like I might be marking myself as a troublemaker/"difficult," if not to them then others. (confidentiality as a cardinal component of the process)
- How will I know what's going on with my issue once I bring it to someone?
- How can I know I'm not going to inadvertently bring a hammer down on someone?
That's 20 percent "process" and 80 percent human factors.
This kind of people stuff is hard, and managerial teams are often coming from a lot of different places and backgrounds.
Any open door policy is ultimately a big loop governing child loops of employee/manager interactions. If we want to optimize in favor of employees, we need to accept that it's desirable for interactions to fail fast so we can break out of that child loop and spawn a new one. Even HR teams will agree to that in principle, because it means at the end of a fraught series of interactions, companies can at least say they exhausted multiple avenues before they ended up in court (be it one of law or public opinion).
So the author ended up writing two guides:
The first is for employees. It's written to strongly suggest company values around the process of escalation. The language is about "expectations," and you could think of it as a bill of rights that compels certain behaviors from managers. The language is meant to be supportive and affirming. It's made clear that if those expectations aren't met, the company considers the interaction to be in trouble and the employee can bail on it, escalating to the next level.
The second is for managers. Structurally, it closely parallels the employee guide, but the language is less on the "supportive and affirming" end of the spectrum than it is quite imperative.
The employee guide references the manager guide a few times, not to avoid repetition and certainly not as a requirement to understand the employee guide, but to accentuate things we're telling employees: "We told you to expect this behavior, and here is where we're telling managers, in imperative language, to do exactly what we told you to expect. If you observe your manager not doing these things, you can see right there in the manual we wrote just for them that they're supposed to be doing those things."
The author asked their sources if all this seemed like too many words or too much reading, and they all said something along the lines of, "no such thing ... if I'm weighing escalating a situation, I'm going to read every word very closely and I'm going to want as much information as possible to help me make my decision and know I'm doing it right."
How to Use These Guides
These two documents are a matched set. They depend on each other because they encourage employees and managers to understand the expectations placed on everybody by linking back and forth to each other. They're meant to work with the sorts of generic open door policies you can find in most companies without requiring any particular change because they're less about articulating the existence of the policy than they are explaining how to behave within it.
If you'd like to use them for your own company, we recommend a few activities to make them ready for use:
Review them closely, and edit to suit your situation after interviewing a number of people within the company. These documents were written by a manager who very deliberately drew on the experiences and insight of people who felt the company needed to do more to foster a useful open-door culture. They were written in a spirit of listening and openness, not top-down prescription.
Personalize them to your company so that they don't read, as most open door policies do, like some boilerplate you downloaded.
Fix the links to suit your publishing needs. Every intranet is a little different and has different ways to link to content. When the text references a link to the corresponding section of the other document, try to create a direct link to that part of the content, so that the reader can easily move back and forth between the guides.
Train your management team in small groups where discussion is encouraged. Some of the ideas in these guides are new to managers, and some managers engage in behavior these guides explicitly forbid. In particular, these guides emphasize consent and confidentiality, and they tell managers they may not engage in the "friendly heads up," among other behaviors that erode trust and discourage employees from turning to them for help.