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Four Instructive Questions for Instructions

Four Instructive Questions for Instructions

Instructions

    Whether you’re telling the new intern at work just how to file a new client’s folder, or giving your sister a rundown on how Fido likes his dinner prepared, you’re giving instructions. As a general rule, it’s easier to give instructions in person — the instructee can ask for clarification on anything he doesn’t understand.

    When you’re writing down instructions, though, it can be much harder to explain each step needed to complete the task. Think about doing your own taxes: the IRS’ instructions are enough to drive some of us to paying hundreds of dollars just to avoid dealing with the dratted things. As you write your instructions, keep the following questions in mind to make both writing them and following them at least a little easier.

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    What is the end result?

    “Rinse. Wash. Repeat.” The typical shampoo instructions bother me on a fundamental level. It’s mostly that I’m not sure when I should stop repeating. Just how shiny is my hair supposed to be in the end? How will I know when it’s clean enough to stop washing? I try to avoid getting existential in the shower, but this set of instructions shows the problem with half the directions that cross my desk. There’s no end, no goal, no product that makes it easy for the person following along at home to know that she can stop.

    When writing a set of instructions, the first thing you should make note of is the end result. Even a good title can take care of this task: a cook following instructions on “How to Boil a Pot of Water” can probably figure out that he can stop when the water starts boiling. Want to prove the point? Leave an untitled set of instructions on an office assistant’s desk and head out for the weekend. Long before you get to the beach, you’ll be getting a phone call to ask just what is sitting on the desk.

    Do you have the same starting point?

    I once wound up driving almost fifteen miles out of my way trying to get to a friend’s house. I followed his directions to the letter — I thought. Turns out, he had given me directions from some place quite close to his house, assuming I could get there on my own. And I probably could have gotten that far without directions, if I had known that I needed to start there.

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    Make your starting point clear, whether you’re giving driving directions or telling someone how to hook up their new television. The starting point may not even be an address; it may be a list on ingredients or necessary equipment that your user should have ahead of time. Think about running a combine out at the farm. If you had to run one, you might be able to, with good instructions. But would you recognize the combine in the first place?

    Are you speaking the same language?

    My version of the English language doesn’t quite match one of my clients. I mentioned that perhaps we should use social networking to market his business. He was with me to that point, but when I put together a list of steps for how we should proceed, he wasn’t familiar with a whole set of terms: “What the heck is tweeting? Do I need to buy a bird?” Some times we get so used to the jargon or dialect of our day-to-day conversations that we don’t realize that someone new to the concept — the exact type of person needing instructions — doesn’t use the same words in the same way.

    Your instructions don’t need to devolve into tasks within tasks and attempts to introduce that new intern to all the office terminology in one go. Just write your instructions to a less knowledgeable audience — think about your dear grandma who just isn’t up on modern day slang while you’re writing.

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    These questions can apply to visual instructions just as much as written directions. Symbols and icons don’t always communicate well, despite the claim that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ One lasting example is the sign on the ladies’ room door — that all-important instruction on just who is allowed entry. In the U.S., we have that funky stick figure with the fins on either side, meant to represent a skirt. In many Middle Eastern countries, though, the ladies’ room is indicated with a veil. Icons can trip us up just as easily as words.

    Can you test it?

    A set of instructions don’t need the same user testing that your new website design should probably undergo. But handing it to the guy at the next desk over, and asking “Does this make sense?” can speed up the time it takes someone to follow your directions by hours. Even thirty seconds of minor corrections is not too much effort, especially if you’re paying someone by the hour to complete this task. In some situations, of course, testing is impossible. It’s worth the effort if you can arrange it, though.

    If you are planning to use the same set of instructions multiple times, it’s worth asking the person who carried out the task to let you know of any specific problems. Clear them up now and you can minimize problems down the road.

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    Last thoughts

    And even perfectly-phrased instructions aren’t a guarantee that everyone will figure out what you mean. But they do up the odds that your new intern will survive her first day in the office and that you’ll manage to keep all of your hair. So write your instructions, breath deeply and relax with the knowledge that you’ve written a darn good set of instructions.

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    Last Updated on February 20, 2019

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

    Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

    • Taking a job for the money
    • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
    • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
    • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
    • Staying in a role too long out of fear
    • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

    There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

    As in – getting promoted.

    So how to get promoted?

    I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

    Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

    Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

    1. Be a Mentor

    When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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    “Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

    This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

    This can get you stuck.

    Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

    “Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

    With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

    In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

    Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

    Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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    Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

    1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
    2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
    3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

    Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

    2. Work on Your Mindset

    Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

    “If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

    In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

    Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

    Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

    3. Improve Your Soft Skills

    When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

    An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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    You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

    And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

    Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

    Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

    The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

    4. Develop Your Strategy

    Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

    Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

    Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

    Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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    Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

    The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

    Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

    Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    • Why is it that you do what you do?
    • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
    • What does a great day look like?
    • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
    • What does real success feel like for you?
    • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

    These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

    See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

    Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

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    Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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