Open doors and closed minds

I am not making this up. A network admin in a class I taught was complaining that she can't focus on her work because it's so noisy at her desk. Her office is right next to the main conference room, so there's a lot of traffic and noise from the meetings held there. Moreover, the company president has decreed an open door policy -- to the point that no one (at least at her level) is allowed to close their doors. Ever. And people don't like to close the door to the conference room either.

She asked the president if she could close her door. No.

She asked if she could wear headphones. No.

She asked if she could work at another desk. No.

She asked if she could close the conference room door. Yes, but it's politically difficult for her to ask execs to close the door because it's too noisy.

I repeat: I am not making this up.

Consider the organizational culture that would not only allow this situation to happen, but would make it difficult or impossible to improve it. I mean, who really thinks that an open door policy means that a door must be open *all* the time? That's insane.

This situation reminds me of the problems that companies have when they adopt 5S or other lean concepts. Management adopts the tools without understanding the problems they're intended to solve, so they end up with LAME instead of lean. (Or see my piece on Kyocera's pathetic 5S implementation.)

At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, an open door policy does not actually require everyone's door to be open all the time. It's a mindset, an attitude, and a culture. It's not the physical position of a piece of wood. Any organization that is willing to sacrifice not only the productivity but the well-being of a worker, has a lot to learn about the oft-forgotten pillar of lean -- respect for people.

I won't bother listing all the possible ways a company can maintain an open-door mind-set without critically undermining people's ability to concentrate and focus on their work. (But if you're interested, feel free to contact me.)

But I would love to know: where do people come up with these moronic ideas?