By Dana Borowka
Don’t you hate it when this happens? Most business execs face situations where they thought someone in their employ 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.
Business leaders struggle to get important tasks done because they have to rely on others. Unfortunately, this reliance is just part of doing business. To better achieve your objectives, it’s vital that you create a team committed to follow through — closing the loop — so that vital actions can get done.
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”.
Closing the loop is akin to following up, checking in or closing the deal. 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.
The secrets of creating a team of loop closers are the three Ts: training, talking, and testing.
Training About It
A champion of closing the loop is Wanda Allen, a person with some pointed advice about the importance of follow up.
As a business banker for more than two decades, Allen has over 20 years experience in management and business development. Her area of expertise was SBA Lending where she managed SBA Departments that generated $100 million in annual loan volume. Her banking career built a thorough understanding for creating and retaining excellent client relationships while implementing a system that supports consistent closing the loop practices.
When the bank she worked for was acquired, she reinvented herself as a national speaker, coach and the author of the book, Follow Up Savvy, as well as being a contributing author to Amazon’s #1 Best Seller, Selling With Synchronicity.
Allen has five key teachings that should be used in employee training to create a loop closing culture. Teach your employees to do the following. Everyone you work with is a ”customer”. That includes all internal departments, vendors and clients.
1. Reach out right away. When you meet someone and feel a connection, reach out within 48 hours to take that relationship to the next level. “Networking is a popular way to meet new contacts and prospects,” says Allen. “However, all too often the new contacts are never followed up with. Studies show that 48 percent of sales people never follow up. This is a first impression opportunity that will make you memorable.”
2. Say thank you to your clients. They have agreed to do business with you and it’s important to show your appreciation. “When we were kids, we were taught to say thank you,” says Allen. “That simple act has all but disappeared. The fast paced culture we live in has pushed common courtesy to the side. Be different and say thank you.”
3. Keep your clients close. Stay in touch (another form of follow up) with your clients a minimum of three times per year, more if necessary. “As much as we think we wouldn’t be forgotten about…we will if we’re not staying in touch,” says Allen. “This is especially important for transactional businesses. Even if a client was satisfied with your products and/or services, that’s not enough reason to be remembered. The only way to be remembered is to stay in touch.”
4. Call those clients. Call your clients for no other reason than to just say hi and see how they’re doing. This is always a nice surprise. “It’s a nice gesture to check in with your clients when it has nothing to do with business,” says Allen. “This is how the relationship and loyalty are strengthened. It shows that your client is more than the business being conducted. “
5. Closing the loop also requires technology. Decide on one database program that best fits your needs and use it consistently. A database program is the heart of an effective follow up system. “It’s very difficult to stay on top of your follow up responsibilities if the information is not centralized,” says Allen. “Without a database program, follow up becomes overwhelming and unmanageable. The program will keep the information organized and no one will ever be forgotten. “
Talking About It
Make closing the loop a part of your conversations at the workplace. A leader needs to be a storyteller, and one of the stories you want to tell is about the importance of closing the loop.
Talk about what goes right and what goes wrong. A vital step in closing the loop—perhaps the most important—requires digging in to find the root causes of an individual customer’s problem, and, whenever possible, “fixing” the situation for that customer. This means you have to talk with those customers whose feedback deserves follow-up so you can probe deeper.
Tell your people time and again that the primary goal should be to fix the customer’s individual problems, but this follow-up can also help you identify and address more systemic issues. Talking about loop closing can guide you in improving products, policies, services and processes so that every customer gets a better experience and problems don’t recur.
Testing About It
Before you hire, test your top candidates to help determine if they are loop closers or if they have loop closing aptitude. To build a culture of loop closing, attitude and aptitude are everything.
While we are staunch advocates of in-depth work style & personality assessments, we admit there are limits to its power. If you meet a profiling organization that says you can decide to hire or not hire based on test data alone, please walk away. No, run away. Personality testing is not a silver bullet or magic potion.
The secret is to cultivate top performers through a three-step process: assess candidates with personality profiling, screen candidates for behavioral tendencies like an aptitude for loop closing, and manage more effectively based on behavioral styles to reinforce the importance of follow up and follow through. The goal is to base your hiring and managing decisions on the best data that can be collected, not just your gut instincts (which can fool you).
Of course, no matter how good an interviewer you are, you are not getting the full picture during an interview. The next step has to do with background and reference checks and personality assessments. Trust, but verify.
What criteria should you use to screen an in-depth work style & personality assessment? Here are some questions you need to ask:
- What training or degrees are required for interpretation of the data? Tests that only require a weekend training program to interpret data can be problematic since testing is a very complex subject. When making hiring or internal decisions, managers need as much information and understanding as possible because the consequences can be costly.
- If you hire a testing company, do they also review the person’s resume and job description? We suggest you make sure that the testing company requires that they are provided with the resume and job description as part of the process so it is used when reviewing the assessment. Probe on issues of follow up, follow through and loop closing.
- Does the test you use have a scale for “Impression Management” to understand the accuracy of results and determine if the test taker is trying to “fake good”? Yes, job candidates try to game the test. The questionnaire needs a minimum of 164 questions to gather enough data for this scale.
- What is the number of actual primary scales used? Many tests will claim to have more scales than they actually have.
- Does the data provide the depth necessary to understand how an individual is wired inside? If they only use four primary scales, that is not sufficient. You need a minimum of 12 primary scales and 16 are optimal.
These are some general questions and if a profile falls short in any area, we strongly suggest additional research into the accuracy of the data being generated. In our book, Cracking the Personality Code you will find additional information on this topic. While personality testing 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. Personality assessments lend objectivity to decisions that may otherwise be largely subjective. Again, use the interview to find out if they have a good attitude and a good aptitude when it comes to the subject of being a loop closer.
Ready to learn more about closing the loop? Then click here for our bonus article, “Three Tips from Three Loop Closing Experts”.
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