By Dana Borowka, MA
In business jargon, “closing the loop” means to follow up on and/or close out an area of discussion. The phrase is closely related to “circle back around” and “loop in.” To better achieve your objectives, experts say it’s vital that you learn to close the loop on actions so that the important actions can get done.
The metaphor is from the closed loop control process that assures a system performs within its control limits. By closed loop, this means a process where the output of the system feeds back to directly adjust performance of the system. For example, a thermostat and a furnace work together in a closed loop to control room temperature.
Another example is the recycling world, where the closed loop system gets consumers, recyclers and manufacturers to work together to reclaim valuable materials from our waste stream and use them to make new products. For a graphic illustration on the “closed loop” idea, look on the bottom of a plastic soda bottle. The familiar chasing arrows recycling symbol is a graphic depiction explaining the concept.
“In business ‘closing the loop’ is akin to following up, checking in or closing the deal,” says Jarie Bolander, a writer for TheDailyMBA.com. “The term comes from control systems where they close the control loop in order for the system to remain stable. The opposite of a stable system is one that is unstable. In control system parlance, this is referred to as an open loop system since it has no feedback and thus will likely spin out of control — kind of like projects without any follow-up.”
Bolander is an engineer by training, entrepreneur by nature, and leader by endurance. He is the author of two books: One to help technical managers become frustration free (Frustration Free Technical Management); and one to help all of us endure our struggles and hardships (A Little Nudge to Keep You Going). He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in Technology Management. “A lot of us struggle to get stuff done because we have to rely on others,” says Bolander. “Unfortunately, this reliance is just part of doing business.”
According to Bolander, most of us in business have had situations where we thought someone would do something and it turns out they either forgot, ignored you or did the wrong thing. All of these issues are a result of not closing the loop. In order to save you from suffering and heartache, here are some steps from Bolander that will ensure that you close the loop every time.
Step 1: Have Clear Objectives
One of the biggest challenges with getting stuff done is understanding your true objectives. Nothing will frustrate you more than launching someone off on a task that is really time sensitive but is not communicated that way. Having clear objectives means that you think about what needs to get done and craft a plan that makes sense. The trick to this is to prepare carefully and nail down what objectives are important and who you need to do them.
Step 2: Communicate Clearly
Clear communication means that your message or task is registering with the audience. This does not mean you talk slow or use 4th grade English. Rather, you need to have points in your meeting or conversation where you query for clarity and that your message is getting across. Remember, that what you say may not be communicating the message you intended. That’s why you need to constantly listen to what people say and confirm that your message or task is getting across.
Step 3: Create Natural Follow Up Points
One thing that most people struggle with is how to follow up with someone on a task or assignment. This can be a challenge for some people because it’s unclear when to follow up. If you create natural follow up points, then all sides will feel a lot more comfortable in taking your call or email. These natural follow up points are created by the person that desires the action to be completed the most. A couple of examples of natural follow up points are:
♦ Taking the action to follow up in a week if you don’t hear from someone.
♦ Set a mutual deadline that everyone agrees to.
♦ Providing information or feedback before a certain date.
♦ A personal action to follow up with data/recommendations, etc.
♦ Providing a status update when something material happens (e.g. another deal closed, hit a milestone, etc.)
There are several other natural follow up points that will become obvious to you once you start looking for them.
Step 4: Document Discussions/Actions/Agendas
Probably the single best thing you can do to close the loop is to send out meeting agendas, notes, actions and conclusions. This may seem like a lot of work but it’s a great focal point for discussion. When you send out meeting notes, you are opening up a natural follow-up point that can be leveraged to close the loop on several actions. Without this focal point, all those dangling actions will have no home. Your meeting notes and follow-up on them will provide those actions a natural home.
Step 5: Follow Up When Promised
If you want people to promptly follow up on your actions, then you need to set the example. The tone and tenor of your follow-up coupled with your punctuality will show that you care about closing the loop and this will naturally rub off on others. Nothing tells someone that it’s important to close the loop like doing everything you can do to make it easy for them.
Step 6: Repeat Until Closed
Just because you ask someone to do something, does not mean they actually heard you or acknowledged that it will get done. This means that you have to repeat the above steps until you reach the resolution you want. This might take several meetings or phone calls. In fact, it might take longer than you anticipated. The thing to remember is that you must be diligent if you want something done. That requires you to constantly communicate your desired results and close the loop to make sure it gets done.
Often Closing the Loop Means Delegating
“The best delegating tip I have is to delegate to people’s strengths and away from their weaknesses,” says workplace expert Vicky Oliver, author of five books including Bad Bosses, Crazy Co-Workers and Other Office Idiots. “Otherwise, you are trying to force fit people into roles and tasks they don’t appreciate. Perhaps someone on staff is a great writer but a poor administrative person. Don’t force him or her to complete a lot of paperwork.”
Instead, says Oliver, look for someone else on staff to whom you can delegate that role. Another person on the team may be a good “people person”, but is disorganized. Find someone else in your employ to whom you can delegate the organizational duties.
“From a hiring standpoint, it really makes sense for managers not to hire those who are exactly like them, as there will be glaring weaknesses in the team that can’t be fixed,” says Oliver. “This can be counter-intuitive because we tend to bond with those who share our interests and sometimes duplicate our strengths.”
Rather than look for clones, use an in-depth work style and personality assessment to improve hiring success. While an assessment can be a valuable resource before you hire, perhaps the true value of any assessment comes in using the insights it provides along the entire spectrum of employment. Assessments lend objectivity to decisions that may otherwise be largely subjective.
A proper assessment should reach beyond simple profiles and decipher an employee’s underlying needs. This is key for employee development, team building, conflict resolution and succession planning.
Create a Closing the Loop Culture
Below are five ways to use an in-depth work style and personality assessment in the workplace to help bring out the best in your employees at all levels in an organization, which can go a long way to creating a “closing the loop” culture.
1. Get the real picture. Of course, every candidate wants to put their best foot forward during an interview. However through an in-depth work style and personality assessment, you uncover a great deal about their ability to work well with other personalities, their problem solving abilities, their thought processes and their ability to tolerate stress. Assessments give you objective information that can help you make an informed decision on whether this person is a good fit for the job and for the team. If you decided to hire the person, the questions you ask during the hiring process will reduce your learning curve as a manager on how best to manage this person from day one. Ask yourself, is this someone who would be good at closing the loop.
2. Help them be all that they can be. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Find out the real truth with an objective measure. Once you pinpoint the good and the bad, then you place them in the right position and coach them on where to improve. As part of the coaching, stress the importance of closing the loop to your company culture.
3. Take me to your leaders. Work style assessments give the manager and employees a common language about how they like to interact. The assessments can help you train future managers on how to get the best out of the team.
4. Know how to manage difficult people. The number one reason that a loop doesn’t get closed is that a person decided they wouldn’t do it or didn’t know how. Face it, there will always be difficult people, screw-ups and flare ups on the job. Use an objective assessment to understand potential sources of workplace conflict. The best way to deal with a problem is to prevent it in the first place.
5. Get everybody to play nice. Sales and marketing, operations and financial people have to interact to make the company run smoothly. Too many employees get frustrated with other co-workers and just wonder why everyone doesn’t act like them. Through the use of in-depth work style and personality assessments, managers can coach employees how to interact better with peers.
“But you don’t want to overcompensate for people’s strengths and weaknesses so much that you inadvertently create a ‘star system,’” says Oliver. “You really don’t want a lot of prima donnas on the team who won’t touch the grunt work! In the corporate philosophy, it helps to explain the idea of teamwork–everyone helps each other out– and the rewards for it, as well.”
Lastly, if you have hiring responsibility, I believe it helps to look at the team strengths and weaknesses. Maybe today’s glaring weakness can be corrected with one good hire.
In my view, culture trumps strategy every time. So create a culture of closing the loop at your company. Hire with that in mind, coach with that in mind, and communicate with that in mind. Click here for our bonus checklist, Quick Tips for Creating a Closing the Loop Culture.
To read Jarie Bolander’s full article, 6 Steps to Closing The Loop, please visit: http://www.thedailymba.com/2010/02/27/6-steps-to-closing-the-loop/.
Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2016 This information contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for professional counseling.
Dana Borowka, MA, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and his organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops. Dana has over 25 years of business consulting experience and is a nationally renowned speaker, radio and TV personality on many topics. He provides workshops on hiring, managing for the future, and techniques to improve interpersonal communications that have a proven ROI. He is the co-author of the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code. To order the books, please visit www.lighthouseconsulting.com.
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Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.