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7 tips on how to give clear, understandable instructions to staff

7 tips on how to give clear, understandable instructions to staff

Giving clear understandable instructions is one of those things that sounds easy to do but in real life can actually be more complex, especially in an office environment or within a business. Mixed messages, assumptions and multiple options mean that the message received might differ from what we actually meant.

Earlier this year, I decided to enlist the assistance of a VA, (virtual assistant), from elance.com. I had never used a virtual assistant before and it quickly taught me the importance of giving clear, defined direction if you expect your instructions to be understood and acted upon in the way you want! This is particularly important when you are not face to face to deliver the instructions, as when directions are given over email or written it is hard to gauge the tone and you cannot physically point things out!

Furthermore, my VA was based in Malaysia where English was not his first language, thus it was even more important to give out clear instructions!

From my experiences, I want to share with you my top 7 tips on how to give instructions that are clear and get the job done that you want!

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1. Don’t assume they know what you mean

You know what they say, that assumption is the mother of all mistakes! Don’t be the fool that assumes people know what you mean. Whist most people in your office or business will be intuitive and switched on, they are not mind readers. An imperative when delivering clear instructions is to not assume the recipient knows what you mean, and this can be for anything from industry acronyms to who to contact in different departments or organisations. It will only take you a few seconds more to explain the details.

For example, I had instructed my VA to use tweetdeck (an app that schedules pre-written tweets), however just because I had heard of tweetdeck doesn’t mean that they have and I was wrong to assume that they had.

2. Be clear and specific

Everyone loves a waffle (dripping in maple syrup please) but no one likes waffle in conversation and especially not in an email or when it is a set of instructions. Whilst you don’t want to ramble on in your set of instructions (that would be a waste of your time and to be honest, they’d switch off after a while) you do want to ensure that your instructions are clear, specific and concise. Personally I prefer not to butter it up, and would rather get straight to be the point on what needs to be actioned or delivered, rather than making the instructions too flowery, which will only confuse.

For example, don’t just instruct “send a selection of the briefings to a few key stakeholders”, instead state how many stakeholders and to who, and what briefings! I often find it helps to bullet point as it reduces the temptation to waffle on and it helps your instructions and actions be more focused.

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3. Give time frames

Do not confuse matters by not being specific with your time frames and deadlines. What you consider as “soon” might be very different from your colleagues. If you think “soon” is the next couple of hours, yet your staff who you have instructed considered it to be in a few days then this communication is going to have serious implications in any business or project!

4. Give examples

Whenever possible, make sure you give examples. This will be especially beneficial if they are new to the role, or if they haven’t carried out the task before. This will help to add clarity to you instructions and help form a clearer picture of what it is you mean and want.

For example, if you are asking them to design a customer satisfaction survey for your new product then you might want to send them examples of other surveys previously used to give them bit of an idea.

5. Give alternatives

When delivering your instructions it is worth considering giving some alternatives just in case your preferred option of instruction is not viable or available.

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For example, it could be “I want you to set up a meeting on the 20th of this month for 2 hours with the Finance Director. If they are not available on the 20th, then the afternoon of the 26th will be fine, or we can meet with the Commercial Analyst instead”.

By giving alternatives you are empowering your staff to get the job done with minimal fuss and constant checking back in with yourself. The beauty of tasking someone else to do something is that you don’t have to do it, which will save you time. By setting alternatives they don’t have to keep coming back to you, after all it won’t save you time if you have to keep responding to queries.

6. Set boundaries

Personally I am not one for micro managing and because of this I am not one for people to keep checking in with me whether they should do something or not. Once a task is set, the instructions should be clear enough that further confirmation and clarification is not needed (however saying this it is obviously best to seek clarification if unsure!) If this rings true with you then you need to make sure that your instructions are clear so that they are certain what they are doing and don’t feel the need to keep coming back with questions. As with tip 5, setting boundaries is very important, especially if you cannot think of alternatives at the time then boundaries might work.

For example, you might instruct “go to the supplier and order 100 units. If the normal supplier is out of stock then it is fine to use a new supplier so long as they are no more than 10% more expensive and can deliver within 3 working days”. Here you haven’t been specific with your alternatives but clear enough on boundaries for them to make the call.

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7. Get clarification

Before you let your staff loose on the basis of your instruction, it wouldn’t hurt to seek clarification from them to ensure that they understand what the task at hand is and what is expected. You could simply ask at the end if there are any questions but the one issue with that is that it is all too easy to just simply say “no”. Either they might think they understand or they might even be too shy to ask! Perhaps ask them to recap on what is required, or what the priorities/objectives are so that you can ensure what you’ve said is what’s been heard!

Featured photo credit: picjumbo via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

Have you ever caught yourself in a daydream where you’ve gone for that upcoming promotion, and you’re now the boss at work? Or how about the one where you’ve summoned up all your courage to quit a job where you’re feeling stuck in your career and live your dream instead? Or when you’ve changed career paths to do what really makes you happy?

Then, you snapped back to reality and realized that you’re not the boss, not living your dream, and not even happy in the career path that you’re on.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals who’ve told me they feel stuck in their careers, that something had to change for them to break free and be happy, but they lacked the confidence to take that step. My mission is to make sure that nobody feels stuck in their career because of a momentary lapse in bravery that’s dragged on for too long.

Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work. .

Here are my top ten tips for becoming unstuck in your career.

1. Make Time for You

If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or unhappy with how your career is panning out, the first step is to work out why.

Maybe you’ve arrived in your current career by accident and haven’t ever made time to deliberately think or plan what you’d love to do and how you’d get there.

Prioritizing time to think is the first step you need to take to stop feeling stuck and start getting ahead. Book some time into your day where you can have an uninterrupted meeting with yourself. This is your thinking time.

Work out what makes you happy at work, what doesn’t, and where you might want to go. Decide on the steps you want to take to progress your career in the direction that you want it to take.

For example, are there training days, evening courses, or online learning that you can do? Have you considered getting a mentor to help you get ahead?

By booking in a meeting with yourself, it signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your day and filling it with a meeting.

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2. Grow Your Network Before You Need It

Who you know is more important than what you know for career progression. Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck in your career to start expanding your networks. Do it now.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, says you’re 58% more likely to get a new job through your weak ties than through your strong ones. Your strong ties are those in your immediate circle whom you interact with often. Your weak ties are your friends of friends. They move in different circles to you, they know different people, make different connections, and are more likely to introduce you to new and different opportunities[1].

When I was thinking about setting up my current company, Lucidity, I turned up to every networking event. I drank a lot of coffees with a lot of different people to understand what they did, to ask for advice, to unpick what their problems were, and to look for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

It paid off because, when I launched my business, I let my network know how I could help them, and soon I had my first clients.

Pay attention to building and nurturing your networks and focus on how you can add value to other. That’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

3. Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

According to Tim Ferriss, “You are the average of the five people you most associate with,” and his associations with different people ebbs and flows depending on what he’s working on and trying to achieve[2].

For example, if you are trying to be fitter, it’s easier if you hang around with people who love doing exercise–they help you to up your game.

If you want that promotion, a career change, or to set up your own business, seek out people who are excelling at it already. They’ll have valuable things to teach you about breaking free and getting ahead.

4. Work on Your Personal Brand

Jeff Bezos defines a personal brand as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” People will talk about you when you are not in the room anyway, so you might as well be deliberate about what you’d like people to say!

Your personal brand isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. That can actually keep you feeling stuck in your career. It’s really about being your best “real you.” It’s about owning your strengths and being purposeful about how you want to be perceived by others.

What do you want to be known for? By being more deliberate about how you want to come across and what you’re looking for in your career, you’ll increase your chance of attracting the right opportunities.

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Once you’ve given your personal brand some thought, make sure that you show up online. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? And if you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it communicates what you want to be known for and that it’s consistent with your other social media profiles.

Try these 5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding.

5. Be Accountable

Achieve your career goals faster, and grow and learn by making yourself accountable. Tell other people your goals and a timeline. and have them to hold you accountable.

For example, you might want to get a promotion by the end of the year, have decided the sector you want to move to by the end of the month, or have got your new business idea before the next pay day. Whatever your ambitions are, you can tell a friend or a colleague, or share this with a mentor or a mastermind group.

When we tell other people our goals and intentions, they hold us accountable, and we are more likely to make progress faster.

6. Make Sure Your Values Are Aligned With Your Company’s

All the professional development, goal setting, and networks in the world won’t make you happy if you’re working for a company that ultimately has opposing values to yours.

Figure out what’s important to you in a job. For example, does your company’s product help people live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your company’s ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allows employees to be themselves and shine? Or maybe flexible working and more holidays for employees with families is where your heart is?

Some companies put their employees well-being at the core of their business; others put profits first. If you feel that your values don’t match the core values of your employer, it could be a reason why you’re feeling stuck in your career and unhappy.

It’s important to work through this and identify whether it’s the job that is not right for you, or if it’s a great job but the organization or sector is wrong for you.

7. Get out of Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is your safe place. For any change to happen, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It’s actually much easier not to change anything and to keep grumbling on about how you’re stuck and unhappy in your career than to step outside of your comfort zone to address the fearful unknowns associated with change. It’s part of human nature that we’d put up with the devil we know rather than risk the devil we don’t.

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This is true even if the devil we know is a boring, unfulfilling job because we’re wired to think that making a change to find a better option might actually leave us worse off.

If you feel stuck, it might be that your confidence has got the better of you.

To get ahead at work, start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Consider what you’re scared of that is stopping you from making a change. Then, tackle that in small steps.

For example, if you know that to move into the job you want, you’ll have to do more public speaking, but public speaking terrifies you so much it’s stopping you from going for the job, then start small to build your confidence. You can speak up more in team meetings, then slowly build from there.

You might also choose to set up or be part of a specific group. One of my clients, who found that confidence was holding her team back in achieving work goals, set up a “get out of your comfort zone club,” where they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

8. Learn to Embrace Failure

Failure is part of life. A New York University study found that children learning to walk averaged 2,368 steps and fell 17 times an hour[3]. Failure is simply the natural path to success.

The truth is that we don’t get everything right the first time. We fail, we learn, we pick ourselves up, and we try again.

In my experience, it’s common that whilst the theory of learning from failure is supported, the reality of being open about failures to enable personal learning is much harder to achieve.

We don’t like to admit that we’ve failed. We have a fight or flight response to failure. It’s a normal gut reaction to ask ourselves: “Will I get away with it if I don’t tell anyone?” We are fearful of criticism, of losing face in front of others, or even being fired for failure.

However, if you’re going to stop feeling stuck in your career, you must be open to learning from failure.

Reframe failure by viewing everything as an experiment because you can’t have a failed experiment—you just learn whether something works or not. Think of Edison inventing the lightbulb, when he said:

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“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

9. Build Your Resilience

Resilience is the ability to tackle difficulties and setbacks, to bounce back, regroup, and to keep going.

Getting unstuck in your career, taking a different path, and achieving the results you want will take resilience. Having resilience is also the capacity to choose how you respond to the unexpected things that life throws your way and adapt and thrive in times of complex change.

Given that the world we live in is in constant flux, and the only thing that is certain is uncertainty, the ability to adapt and bounce back is an important life skill, as well as a career skill.

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth’s research shows that when measuring success, the ability to persevere beats talent every time.

Learn more about how to build resilience in this guide: What Is Resilience and How to Always Be Resilient (Step-By-Step Guide)

10. Ask for Help

It can be hard to ask for help, as it can make us feel vulnerable.

No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a group of people that we can go to for help, people who can pick us up when we have setbacks and also help us to celebrate success.

My advice is to be deliberate about creating your group. You can do that with a tool called a “Me Map”:

  1. Write down all the things that you might need support with, like help with career progression, interview practice, making new connections, talking through business plans, learning from failure, etc.
  2. Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
  3. Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.

Final Thoughts

You can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work by applying the tips in this article. Start small by incorporating three new things in your first week, and then adding more as your comfort zone and capacity expands.

Remember, no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change and land the career that you truly want.

More Tips to Stop Feeling Stuck in Your Career

Featured photo credit: NEW DATA SERVICES via unsplash.com

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