In international trade, an open door policy is an agreement that a country will open trade equally to foreign governments. This can come either as open ports or as a commitment to a level playing field for foreign businesses. An open door policy means something slightly different in the business world. When organizations implement open door policies, the idea is that the office doors of managers, supervisors, or other authority figures will actually remain open. This serves as an invitation to employees to freely voice questions or concerns at any time.
The metaphor of the door has long been a popular one when discussing trade. An open door policy in a country’s trade arrangements essentially means that the country’s ports and opportunities are available to anyone. No keys or special permissions are needed.
One of the best-known uses of the open door imagery in trade negotiations is the 1889 Open Door Agreement that the United States pioneered in order to keep China’s ports open for equal foreign trade. The policy was designed to be an agreement between the major traders of the day — Japan, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom — stipulating that none would take predatory power over China. Stability in China was part of the policy's goal, but so was China's continued openness to U.S. trade. The United States did not want to lose China as a trading partner and orchestrated the policy in part to ensure that no other country closed the U.S. out. This Open Door Policy remained in effect until the dawn of the Second World War.
An open door policy can also be an aspect of national trading policy. In this context, a government declares that it has an open door to foreign trade, usually in the form of businesses looking to relocate. These sorts of open door policies are often paired with favorable tax requirements and other perks in order to incentivize economic growth.
In the corporate world, the phrase “open door policy” has a much more literal meaning. An open door policy in this setting is a policy, whether ad hoc or actually memorialized, stipulating that employees may ask questions or raise grievances with their managers or supervisors at any time. The managers must keep their doors open, which makes them more accessible to their employees.
Open door policies are also common in academia. A professor might adopt an open door policy, for instance, which would give his students the right to ask questions or meet with him whenever they find him in his office, whether or not they have made an appointment. School open door policies sometimes also relate to the openness of classrooms. Students in an open door system may be able to freely sit in on lectures in courses for which they are not enrolled, or parents may be able to observe their child’s classroom without prior notice.