Thursday, September 4, 2014

If You Want To Influence Outcomes Close The Loop

At a time when professional schedules are rushed,  the simple art of following up to 'close the loop' is a powerful influencing technique. Highly successful sales people make this an art. They carefully craft each communication to reinforce they value the relationship, understand the rules of engagement and are committed to being of service as required.  They always thank their contacts for their time and contribution before the chance of a sale has been established. They build credibility from the outset by demonstrating professionalism, interest and efficiency.

While this is well recognised in sales roles where customers are concerned, it is often not the case when it comes to internal relationships. This is a missed opportunity to engage others and gain an increased level of influence. In the same way as getting on the agenda gives you a voice in a large organisation, the process of 'closing the loop' gives you integrity.

I felt compelled to write this article because I feel that professional courtesy is something that is slipping away in the current climate. The reason for this is that we are all doing more with less due to limited  funding, resourcing and time. The professional polish in how we interact in the workplace has eroded, representing an opportunity to influence through attention to detail.

The reality is that any business outcome is accomplished through relationships. Placing an importance on 'closing the loop' will make you stand out. You will become an influencer because you will be seen to be respectful of others, action orientated and in control.

My top  'Closing the Loop' tips for internal consulting are:

1) Send out a follow up email after a meeting you are running to all participants - How often do people go to the trouble of preparing an agenda for a meeting, yet don't take notes during or do any follow up post the meeting. Simple?...the extra follow up can feel like additional time when you are busy, however anything that is documented and shared is more likely to get done, it saves time down the track as a way of tracking actions/decisions etc.

2) Always do what you say you will do - Action what you have promised to do and let the appropriate people know it's done. Simple?....yet we often do we forget to let others know the action is complete.

3) Thank people for their contribution, in an authentic way - It's not hard to thank some-one. The most powerful 'thank you' is one that is short and specific. There does not need to be awards, just a simple recognition that a thought, action or behaviour was appreciated. It demonstrates to the recipient that what they are doing is not going unnoticed. Simple?... rarely done effectively in follow-up communications and 'thanking as you go' is a difficult concept for many.

4) Position key stakeholders - A big mistake in 'closing the loop' is to leave out important stakeholders, even though their direct contribution may not be as obvious.  Influencing is about identifying the most effective way to achieve an outcome. Always position key players and decision makers in any communications.
Even ask yourself if the communication piece should ideally come from them.  If this is the case, make it easy for them by being a 'ghost writer' and compiling a draft.  Simple?...some may feel they lose influence doing this, on the contrary, it demonstrates a clear understanding of politics, process and accountability.

5) Right tone and place - Assess the right tone of follow up;  informal vs formal, dialogue vs action list, light hearted vs serious. You can be creative about how you 'close the loop' and find ways to cut through the communications clutter. It is good process to imprint your professional style on. Simple? often do follow ups just become email clutter or action list wallpaper.

If you want to influence outcomes CLOSE THE LOOP. It works. It is an art form and stamp of your professionalism and integrity.

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