Hackernoon logoOpen Door Policy: The Laziest and Most Incomplete Answer to Company Culture by@khor

Open Door Policy: The Laziest and Most Incomplete Answer to Company Culture

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@khorSoon Hin Khor, Ph.D.

Go to any event, and ask the CEO of any company “What is your company culture?”, and most will struggle for an answer. As a last ditch attempt to dispel negligence, she/he will begin hand-waving on “open-door policy” .

“Open-door policy” itself is not a company culture. It is merely a best practice to encourage constant honest communication between management and their employees.

In fact, any CEO who declares “open-door policy” as a company culture, is indicating that she/he has not figured out the company culture, with the likely reason, in order of increasing negligence to company culture, being:

  1. Believes in company culture but does not know how to get it going
  2. Constantly neglects mid-term goals (company culture) in favor of short-term ones (pseudo-culture (foosball table, free lunches, anyone?), immediate sales, etc.)
  3. Is willing to listen to employee feedback, but wants unquestionable authority to ignore, or act on them based on her/his sole discretion
  4. Does not believe that company culture contributes significantly to the success of the company

Fortunately, thinking about “open-door policy” is a right start because it is a great core value, and core values are the basic building blocks of company culture (as defined by Alfred Lin (Sequioa Venture Capitalist, http://startupclass.samaltman.com/courses/lec10/).

To kick on from here, the CEO has to overcome negligence in building company culture by tackling the above list in reverse order, i.e., starting with the most severe issue first.

Believe that company culture accelerates company success in the mid/long-term

To instill this believe in everyone, declare it in a company-wide meeting (internal) and website (external). For starters, this implies embracing at least one core value. “Open-door policy”, in fact, is a good fundamental core value to start with as it encourages iterative development of company culture through honest and contact feedback.

Relinquish authority by virtue of position but regain it by championing company culture

Management often wields unbridled authority to decide on issues raised by employees. This is hardly a reassuring endorsement for impartiality. Worse still, the interpretation of fairness among different managers is inconsistent resulting in a fragmented company culture.

Formally declaring the company culture (the previous step) is an act of the management relinquishing unbridled power; if anyone, regardless of position, has an issue which is aligned with the company culture, she/he can be 100% assured that she/he will receive unequivocal support all round to resolve it. The formalized company culture, which is consistent, becomes the law, not any manager, who is easily swayed by whims and politics.

A CEO who champions company culture demonstrates that he is not afraid to be bound to the same company culture as everyone, and will be revered as a true authority.

Drop everything when an company culture related issue arises

A technical CEO is inclined to be product-focus, while a sales one will be revenue-driven. Focusing on getting a feature out or a sales in is gratifying; they can be done on a shorter time-frame, and the results are tangible, i.e., a usable feature or a bump in the sales chart, compared to company culture, which is abstract, with returns that will not be realized until the company grows bigger.

To overcome this natural inclination to focus on shorter-term gains, it is imperative that if a company culture issue is raised, everyone will drop everything they’re doing, and resolve it before resuming their daily grind.

Discover your culture

If you are already sold on company culture, willing to designate company culture as the law in your company, and prepared to commit resource to build it, the next step is discovering your company culture. This seems the most daunting among all the items in the above list. On the contrary, it is probably the easiest, the hurdle to get started stems from the belief that your company culture is unique, and it is set in stone once decided; neither of which is true. You can easily get started on company culture by adopting them from successful companies, and tweak it iteratively. This gives your early employees a voice to build a culture based on the companies early success.


To back up our statement that company culture is not truly unique, we did a study of 80 companies, and the most common focus areas for core values are:

You can see that a lot of companies craft their core values around ‘people’, which is truly understandable since ‘people’ are the companies’ best asset.

The top 5 people-oriented core values are centered around:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Challenge
  3. Efficiency
  4. Honesty
  5. Humility

Some example of core values revolving around ‘Responsibility’ are:

  • Be the one
  • You break it, you bought it
  • Shared Responsibility, Independent Action
  • Pride At Work
  • Own It

The ball is now in your court to build your company culture. I would love to hear from you what you think or how I can help.


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