Interruption or Opportunity?


Like many, I try to operate an Open Door policy.

Someone once asked me if it was successful, I said, “I don’t know, I never try to get hold of myself, or try to approach myself; you would have to ask my staff”.

What I do know is that I get a lot of approaches whilst I am in meetings, I get a lot of people dropping by my office on the off chance of catching me, and I get a lot of people who come up to me and start a conversation.

For me, an Open Door policy has nothing to do with the actual status of my office door. More often than not, my office door is closed, and yet people still knock and come in.

Having an Open Door policy is about being approachable; it’s about people feeling comfortable coming up to you and asking questions, starting conversations, or just saying hi. It’s about them feeling welcome and not being afraid of your reaction if they try to make a contact.

One time a colleague asked me, why I accepted being interrupted in a meeting when I could have asked them to wait 5 minutes until the meeting was over.

I told him, I had a defining moment when I was younger, about 14 years old. I was in Geography class at school, and about 5 minutes from the end of the lesson a pupil came into the class, looking to interrupt and to speak to the teacher.

The teacher was very cross, told the pupil that he should wait outside until the class was finished, his class was important and he didn’t like interruptions. The pupil protested, said that the matter was urgent, but the teacher just became more indignant and sent him out. Anyway at the end of the lesson, the teacher called the pupil back in and asked, in front of the entire class, “what was so urgent that you needed to interrupt my lesson” and the pupil replied, “your wife called,  and your house is on fire!”

Ever since then I have never turned away anyone who was looking to speak to me or interrupt me. They can see that I am busy, and only they know what they want to tell me or ask me, so they are in a much better position to know how urgent or important their message is.

I find most people actually approach me, only if they feel it is important, for the lesser stuff they either wait, or give it to my assistant to sort out with me later.

This approach has been very beneficial to me, I have often been approached over coffee or lunch, where people have brought ideas to me that they wouldn’t want to propose in a formal setting, either because they are unsure of their idea or are not comfortable presenting.

At one company where I worked, we ran a cost reduction program, I had many unsolicited approaches with suggestions of how we could reduce costs, in this project 40% of the savings, over $8m, came from these suggestion.

I often get an early heads up on a project that may be in trouble, which then gives me the opportunity to do something before its too late.

Like many others, my calendar is so full that if you wanted to get 30 minutes with me, it could be that you would need to book 2-3 weeks in advance.

But not all good ideas or problems can’t wait that long. Some things need to be dealt with as soon as possible, especially, if like me, you run operations.

Also, an Open Door policy significantly increases people’s engagement, they feel you are approachable, you are one of them, and there is no barrier between you and them.

Everyone knows who the boss is; they don’t need to be reminded.

With increased engagement comes increased commitment, and with increased commitment we increase our probability of success.

So why do I run an open door policy, it’s for three reasons:

1) I always want to increase the probability of success;

2) i don’t stop good ideas from being presented to me; and finally

3) if my house is on fire, I want to know immediately;


Gordon Tredgold

Leadership Principles


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