A lot of us struggle to get stuff done because we have to rely on others. Unfortunately, this reliance is just part of doing business. To better achieve your objectives, it’s vital that you learn to close the loop on actions so that things can get done.
Closed-Loop Communications Definition
Closed-Loop Communications or 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.
I am sure most of you have had situations where you 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.
Closed-Loop Communications During Stressful Situations
Closed-Loop communications is essential during times of stress and strain where it must be crystal clear what is communicated. This is especially true when life and death are at stake like in an operating room or on the battlefield.
As an example, 2-way radio communications follow a tight closed-loop communications protocol to ensure that the message has been received. I’m sure most of you have heard of the following:
- Roger stands for the letter “R,” which was often difficult to understand over the radio—meant “message received.”
- Wilco meant “Will comply” with what you said.
- Over meant “I am done—now you can talk.”
- Out meant “I am done.”
These standard words and proceedures make it simple and clear what is going on. Business is not life and death like the battlefield or operatating room but it can benefit from clear and concise closed-loop communications.
In order to save you from suffering, heartache, and miscommunications, here are some steps 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 but not communicated that way. Having clear objectives means that you think about what needs to get done and craft a plan that makes senses. 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 you 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, and 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 a 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 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.
Closed-Loop Communications Takes Practice
Like anything, closed-loop communications takes some practice. It can be awkward or even seem silly that you have to repeat things or clearly acknowledge you received a message. That awkwardness will fade away and you’ll find yourself being able to get more done will less headaches.