How to Create a Closing the Loop Culture

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.

1 Dec 2013The 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.2 Dec 2013

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.”

3 Dec 2013Instead, 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 4 Dec 2013measure. 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.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA  90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com

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.

Planning For The Upcoming Recession!

By Larry Cassidy, Ted Margison, Paul David Walker

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]S[/dropcaps]pring time is upon us and it is time for house cleaning and planning. Many of you are familiar with the economists, Alan and Brian Beaulieu and how their economic forecasting helped in preparing for the last recession as well as for the financial impact that it had on most companies and individuals. They have presented another opportunity for us to be aware of in the coming future. They are projecting that sometime between the later part of 2013, we will be heading into another much milder recession that will continue through 2014.

We thought that we’d share some ideas from our Lighthouse Consulting team, so that you and your organization can begin to prepare and take advantage of the opportunities that could be just around the corner. We’re going to focus in on management, leadership and operations:

Management – Larry Cassidy

I would start with the following caution: whenever times get even a little better, it is an invitation for overhead creep. Put another way, a little bit of success invites a lot of overhead.man looking at maps Given that truth, and the fact that many businesses have experienced at least somewhat better times, it is likely time to grab the pruning shears.

  1. First, I suggest this process: go through every expense on your P&L, and ask the following questions: “Does this expense truly touch our customer and/or make his/her experience better? If not, is it at least critical to our future success?” Prune any expense which does not meet one or both tests.
  2. Second, take a stethoscope to your balance sheet. Get rid of bad inventory (it is rarely a “too much” thing, usually a “wrong stuff” thing). Your first loss is your best loss. Move it! Then get on and stay on your receivables. Both need to come down and cash needs to go up.
  3. Third, be sure you have top people in key positions. You will ask more out of the team in tougher times, so be sure you have quality and you trust the players. Then have the team cross-train all hands. Every employee should be able to do at least one back-up job adequately. This creates flexibility and can reduce headcount.
  4. Finally, make sure your critical systems are operating smoothly. The last thing you will want to do is have to plug “holes” with bodies.

Leadership – Paul David Walker

Take Market Share Now

hands holding up bizpeopleDuring a recession relationship is more important than ever, because it is relationships that will hold you, your customers and vendors together.

Together, during a recession, you can increase market share easier than increasing profits. If you, your customers, and vendors survive and / or thrive during weak demand, you will rise together as demand increases, which it always does. Here is how you do this.

Recession Value Proposition

Adjust your value proposition to fit the new economic circumstances, and train all people who interact with customers to implant this in the minds of customers. For those of you who are in the B to B space, at some point in time your customer will be in a meeting with corporate leaders asking, “What vendors can you eliminate? How can we reduce our costs and be more appealing to our customers?” At that time you want the voice in the back of your customer’s head to be saying that your company is a keeper for the reasons you have implanted. Likewise, if you sell to the consumer, you want the consumer thinking that your products will help them live better in this economy. The consumer advertising, packaging and PR should be positioning your brand as the answer. Your new value proposition should to targeted and ever present.

One of my B to B customers mission is to provide “Engineered Solutions” that improve the efficiency of their client’s factories. They explain, “We will work with flexibility and expertise.” They are making sure all their customers have this on the top of their minds. Another client, who sells to consumers, vision statement is: “Better Products … Better Life.” They are sure their advertising drives home how their products provide twice the value at lower prices. They are working on getting this message into the scripts of their customer service teams around the world. The most successful businesses during a recession implant their new value proposition at every contact with customers. This makes the relationship strong, and creates hesitation before a customer changes brands. That relationship will benefit all as the tide rises.

Extend Your Team

Make it clear to your vendors and customers, that we are all in the same boat floating on a low tide of demand, and that we must work together for mutual success. Continuously reach out to customers to understand their changing needs and wants and make temporary deals with the customers and vendors that will carry all through changing economic dynamics. If your customer needs a price break, ask your vendors to reduce their prices. If they need to reduce their inventories, get your vendors to help you create just-in-time inventory programs. Find out what your customers and vendors need to help their business prosper, and have the flexibility to change your products or services to fit. Do not get stuck in business as usual. Business as usual will be a death sentence. Build a community of strong relationships with your customers and vendors.

Talk about your mutual missions and synchronize them so all can succeed during economic change. Make it clear to all that you and your company are committed to mutual success. Let them see and feel your commitment to mutual success.

Attack Weak Competitors

As your competitors fail to adapt to the changes in the wants and needs of the market place, their customers will be moving. Be sure they move to you. Conduct research to determine your competitor’s weaknesses and focus on acquiring their customers, who will be frustrated with those weaknesses. If your value proposition is right, and being communicated in the market place at every point of contact, they will come to you. The most venerable competitors have the following weaknesses:

  1. Overextended credit
  2. Old technology
  3. Cash flow problems
  4. Poor customer service
  5. Inability to adjust prices
  6. Lack of flexibility

Once you understand the nature of the weaknesses of your competitors, select the three weakest and develop a strategy to acquire their customers.

Position yourself as the life raft for the customers tied to a sinking ship. People in corporations tend to change at a slower rate than people in the market. Be ahead of the wave of change and find competitors who are not. Business has always been driven by relationship and trust. During high demand it may not be as important because of the lack of supply for surging demand.

During economic and social change when demand is falling, relationship and trust are even more important.

If you have ridden the wave of demand, maximized your profits and weakened your relationships, it is past time to change, but never too late. Do not hesitate, find and communicate the correct value proposition for your business, extend your team to include customers and vendors, and rescue customers from the sinking ships of your competitors.

Operations – Ted Margison

Interestingly, the key things a company should do in preparing for a downturn are often the same things they should do in preparing for an upturn.

  1. Streamline and standardize processes; you will need to be able to do more with less. Automate as much as possible in order to respond more quickly to changing bizpeople buildingdemands.
  2. Design processes for flexibility and adaptability. As customers change to accommodate changes in their marketplace the transaction size will often vary dramatically from what you have been used to. As well, new types of demand can arise as companies look for different ways to provide value to their customers, which might result in new types of demands for your business. You should be doing the same by looking for new types of opportunities.
  3. Understand the decision-making processes that drive demand for your product or services. Better visibility on what drives customer demand means better predictability for you. Do this with each of your key customers in particular. Then work with them to make sure you can respond to their changing needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Final Thoughts

According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC www.lighthouseconsulting.com and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject: Cracking The Personality Code: Hire Right The First Time.

In our blog, we are sharing more specific ideas in these various areas. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact any of our consultants. Also, if you have additional topics that you’d like us to address either in our Keeping On Track publications or Open Line monthly web conferences, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

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, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.