What Great Bosses Know about Closing the Loop

Want to give your credibility a boost? Become the king or queen of closing the loop. Be the manager who rarely keeps people hanging for answers or unclear about next steps. While it sounds simple, the complaints I hear suggest this is an art too many managers have yet to master.

Bosses who fail to follow through, or do it in slow motion, cause frustration, anxiety and wasted time for their staff. And I’m not talking about egregious sins like breaking promises or consistently blowing important deadlines.

I’m talking about smaller, everyday lapses — missed opportunities to close the loop. Have you experienced situations like this?

You send an e-mail to a colleague, asking, “Could we get together for a few minutes tomorrow to review the budget change?” Your colleague’s reply: “Sorry, I’ll be at an off-site meeting all day.”

What just happened here? You received half an answer to your question. You can’t meet tomorrow — but when can you meet?

Let’s try it again:

You send that same e-mail. This time, the reply is, “Sorry, I’ll be at an off-site meeting all day. I’ll get back to you.”

Thanks a lot, right? You’re still on hold, with no way of knowing how long. The vague promise was no help at all. You’re left with the choice of pushing back for more specificity or waiting for word — probably doing a slow burn as you do.

When the person who doesn’t close the loop is the boss, employees may hesitate to press their point. They just feel dissed. Someone who has the power to answer a question, to respond to a request, to help them get something done, has left them hanging.

Great bosses close the loop at every opportunity — with a response like this:

“Sorry, I’ll be at an off-site meeting all day. I have to double check, but I think I’m clear Wednesday morning if that works for you. I’ll confirm before the end of the day today.”

The message is clear. The employee’s request matters; the manager’s response proves it. And leading by example, the boss is building closure into the culture.

Here’s how the authors of the book “Built on Trust: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Any Organization” describe closure:

“Closure means coming to a specific agreement about what will be done, by whom, with a specific date for completion. You don’t leave anyone dangling. ‘I’ll get you the report’ isn’t closure because there’s no time given… ‘I’ll do what I can’ isn’t closure because there’s no specific agreement for what will be done.”

In a culture of closure, if someone neglects the “what” or the “when,” it’s okay to tactfully respond, even to the boss, with a request for more specificity. In fact, employees can suggest alternative meeting times in the very first e-mail to the boss (“Tomorrow — or if tomorrow’s not good, then, how about …”) because aiming for closure is an automatic goal for everyone. Nobody’s seen as needy or pushy; they’re respectful and efficient.

When everyone’s involved in closing the loops, they’re sharing the belief that ambiguity leads to wasted time and worry. Clarity and closure breed trust.

So where else can closing the loop make a big difference? Think of a meeting you’ve attended that seemed like all talk and no action. Chances are it suffered from lack of closure. The leader didn’t wrap it up — or quickly follow it up — with a recap of what was decided, what the next steps will be, and who now has what roles and responsibilities. At best it seemed like a waste of your time, at worst (especially if the issue on the table was important to you) it was deeply disappointing.

How’s your track record for closure? You might want to ask a few folks on your team for some feedback on your follow-through. If you’re really good at it, I bet they’ll get right back to you.

If you’re trying to become better at closure, listen to today’s podcast, “What Great Bosses Know about Closing the Loop.” I’ll share a simple and memorable reminder that can help:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. You can download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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