I don't know about you, but I LOVE starting things. New businesses, new projects, new conversations. If it’s NEW, I love it.
This is one of the characteristics that most entrepreneurs share. It’s what makes us get out of bed in the morning and do the things that “mere mortals” don’t dare to do for fear of failure or pain. It’s this “go get ‘em” attitude that helps us move forward against resistance, but it can also keep us from actually getting anything done.
The thrill of the start is soon overcome by the monotony of the day-to-day management, and we find ourselves in a seemingly endless cycle of starting things, getting bored, and quitting only to start something new. We don’t finish…we don’t close the loop.
In my work with small business owners and entrepreneurs over the past 17 years, I’ve found that the overwhelming defining characteristic of success is the ability and desire to constantly move things forward through the process of “closing the loop.” Closing the loop is simply following up, checking in, or closing the deal.
Jarie Bolander, one of my favorite contributors at “The Daily MBA,” says this about closing the loop:
“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 [and conversations] without any follow-up.”
I often ask entrepreneurs and small business owners to complete simple exercises, tasks, or homework in order to help them move forward with their goals. I used to make this work entirely optional.
My mindset was, “This is their business and their life; they can choose to do this work or not; it’s up to them.”
You can imagine what happened.
Probably 50% of the time, I would get to my next coaching meeting, and the client hadn’t done the work.
What I found is that it wasn’t that they didn’t want to complete the assignment or that they were rebelling against it. They simply forgot about it. So I started doing one simple thing. I made a note to ask them about the assignment via email or text 24 hours or so before our next meeting. The completion rate for these assignments increased dramatically, nearly 100% completion, and with that increased completion rate, my client’s rates of success increased as well.
While I still subscribe to the belief that these assignments are up to my clients to complete on their own, this one simple addition of a follow-up text or email has been a game-changer for them and for me as a coach as entrepreneurs.
What I came to realize is that the simple act of following up and taking ownership in the communication significantly impacted my results as a coach.
How many times have you heard (or used) the excuse, “Well, I called, and I haven’t heard back from them?”
Or even better, how many times have you asked an employee to complete a task, only to have to ask them about it a week later when it wasn’t completed. What would have happened if you simply followed up? What would have happened if you “closed the loop?” Would the task have been completed?
I think you know the answer ☺
Here is a simple process that Jarie Bolander suggests for “closing the loop” in your small business:
- 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 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 needs to do them.
- 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.
- 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. The person that desires the action to be completed the most creates these natural follow-up points. A couple of examples of natural follow up points are:
- Taking action to follow up in 24 hours 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rinse, Repeat- Just because you ask someone to do something does not mean they actually heard you or acknowledged that it would 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.
That's it...as always, keep it simple, and execute as your life depended on it!
Have a great weekend!