In a moment of weakness I signed up for an online newsletter from a website and now I am inundated by "news´ almost every day. Today´s message was that 24/7/365 is the minimum acceptable availability time that you have to give customers and employees. But then I was re-reading a very interesting profile of Kinko´s founder Paul Orfalea in FSB magazine (If you don´t know anything about him, he is worth checking out. His is a unique and interesting tale). He attributes his considerable success to three things, one of which is making himself less accessible. Both can´t be right, can they? I see some merits in both (though I would be more inclined to support the former if it were, at most, 14/6/300), but since Orfalea´s is more counter-intuitive, and frankly more interesting, let´s examine it.
Orfalea breaks down his love of inaccessibility into two general areas — what it does for you and what it does for your colleagues or employees. As his company grew, Orfalea realized that if he was available at the other end of the phone every time someone had a question that they were unsure of, he would never have time for anything else. By not answering his phone and keeping his door closed, then, he forced his employees to solve their own problems and make decisions for themselves. As long as they possess the skills and abilities to do that, the employees will ultimately be much more productive.
Orfalea speaks: "It is pretty popular among chief executives these days to brag about their open-door policies — how they get to their office at 7 a.m., eat lunch at their desks, and don´t leave until well into the evening. That is crazy! When do they have time to sit back and think? Or wander or wonder?" By staying inaccessible, Orfalea didn´t get tied up in the day-to-day minutiae of the business and was able to guide the company to fairly high heights, especially compared to the one store with a single copier he opened in 1970.
Orfalea even went a step further, and it´s a step I admire. In his mind he changed his title of chief executive to chief wanderer. He would spend three weeks in the office followed by three weeks on the road seeing his existing locations and scouting out new ones. The time away not only made sure that the daily operations of the company were able to run smoothly without him, but, more importantly, it allowed him to recharge his creativity. His creative juices were stifled by being in the office, so he left.
Not everyone can go on a three week walkabout every month and a half, and locking down in an impenetrable fortress isn´t right for everyone, but there is a bigger point here. Orfalea recognized the situations in which he could be at his best and most productive, and took some fairly radical steps to put himself in those situations as often as possible.