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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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Alice Dartnell

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

How to Make a Career Change at 40 and Stop Feeling Stagnant at Work

How to Make a Career Change at 40 and Stop Feeling Stagnant at Work

There are plenty of people who successfully made a career change at the age of 40 or above:

The Duncan Hines cake products you see in the grocery store are a good example. Hines did not write his first food guide until age 55 and he did not license his name for cake mixes until age 73.

Samuel L. Jackson made a career change and starred alongside John Travolta in Pulp Fiction at the age of 46.

Ray Kroc was age 59 when he bought his first McDonald’s.

And Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart at the age of 44.

I could keep going, but I think you get the point. If you have a sound mind and oxygen in your lungs, you have the ability to successfully make a career change.

In this article, I’ll look into why making a career change at 40 seems so difficult for you, and how to make the change and get unstuck from your stagnant job.

What’s Holding You Back from Making a Career Change?

There are a flood of amazing reasons to make a career change at 40. Heck, you could argue the benefits of making a career change at any age. However, there is something a little different about making a career change at 40.

When you are 40, you probably have lots of “responsibilities” that come into the decision-making process. What do I mean by responsibilities, you ask?

Responsibilities tend to be our fears and self-doubt wrapped in a bow of logic and reason. You may say to yourself:

  • I have bills to pay and a family to support. Can I afford the risk associated with a career change?
  • What about the friends I have made over the years? I cannot just abandon them.
  • What if I do not like my career change as much as I thought I would? I could end up miserable and stuck in a worse situation.
  • My new career is so different than what I have been doing, I need additional training and certifications. Can I afford this additional expense and do I have the time recoup my investment?
  • The economy is not the best and there is so much uncertainty surrounding a new career. Maybe it would be better to wait until I retire from this company in 15 years, and then I can start something new.

If you have experienced any of these thoughts, they will only pacify you for a short period of time. Whether that time is a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years.

Since you know that you prefer to do something else for a living, you start to feel stagnant in your current position.

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Your reasons for inaction that used to work are no longer doing the trick. What used to be a small fissure in your dissatisfaction in your current position is now a chasm.

Ideally, you never stay in a situation until that point, but if you did, there is still hope.

4 Tips To Change Your Career at 40

You do not have to feel stagnant in your current role any longer. You can take steps to conquer your fears and self-doubt so you can accomplish your goal of changing your career.

The challenge of changing your career is not knowing where to begin. That feeling of overwhelm and the fear of uncertainty is what keeps most people from moving forward.

To help you successfully change your career at the age of 40, follow these four tips.

1. Value Your Time Above Money

There is nothing more valuable than your time. You are likely receiving a pay-check or two every month that is replenishing your income. Money is something you can always receive more of.

When it comes to your time, when it is gone, it is gone. That is why waiting for the perfect situation to make a career change is the wrong mindset to have.

Realistically, you will never find the perfect situation. There will always be something that could be better or a project you want to finish before you leave.

By placing your time above money, you will maximize your opportunity to succeed and avoid stagnation.

If you feel disconnected when you are at work, understand that you are not alone. According to a Gallup Poll, only 32% of U.S. employees said they were actively engaged at work.[1]

Whether you think your talents are not being properly utilized, the politics of promotion stress you out, or you feel called to do something else with your life; the time to act is now.

Do not wait until you retire in another 10 to 20 years to make a career change. Put a plan in place to make a career change now. You will thank yourself later.

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2. Build a Network

Making a career change is not going to be easy, but that does not mean it is impossible.

One benefit to being further along in your career is the people you associate with are further along in their career as well.

Even if most of the people in your immediate network are not in your target industry, you never know the needs of the people with whom they associate.

A friend of mine recently made a career change and entered the real estate industry. The first thing he did was tell everyone he knew that he was a licensed real estate agent.

It was not as though he thought everyone he knew was getting ready to sell their home. He wanted to make sure he was in the front of our mind if we spoke to anyone purchasing or selling their home.

You may have had a similar experience with a financial adviser canvasing the neighborhood. They wanted to let you know they were a local and licensed financial adviser. Whether you or someone you knew was shopping for an adviser, they wanted to make sure you thought of them first.

The power of your network being further along in their career is they may be the hiring manager or decision-maker.

You want to let people know you are considering a career move early in the process, so they are thinking of you when the need arises.

Let me put it to you in the form of a question: When is the best time to let people know you have a snow shoveling business?

In the summer when there is not a drop of snow on the ground.

Let them know about your business in the summer. Then ask them if it is okay to keep in touch with them until the need arises. Then you want to spend the entire fall season cultivating and nurturing the relationship. As a result, when the winter comes around, they already know who is going to shovel their snow.

If you want to set yourself apart from your competition, start throwing out those feelers before the need arises. Then you will be ahead of your competition who waited until the snow fell to start canvasing the neighborhood.

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Learn about networking here: How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

3. Believe It Is Possible

One of the greatest mistakes people make when they want to try something new, is they never talk to people living the life they want.

If you only talk to friends who have not changed their career in 30 years, what kind of advice do you think they will give you? They are going to give you the advice that they live by. If they have spent 30 years in the same career, they most likely feel stability of career is essential to their life.

In life, your actions often mirror your beliefs. Someone who wants to start a business should not ask for advice from someone who never started one.

A person who never took the risk of starting a business is most likely risk adverse. Consequently, they are going to speak on the fact that most businesses fail within the first five years.

Instead, if you talk to someone who is running a business, they will advice you on the difficulties of starting a business. However, they will also share with you how they overcame those difficulties, as well as the benefits of being a business owner.

If you want to overcome your fears and self-doubt associated with changing your career at 40, you are going to need to talk to people who have successfully managed a career change.

They are going to provide you a realistic perspective on the difficulties surrounding the endeavor, but they are also going to help you believe it is possible.

Studies show the sources of your beliefs include,[2]

“environment, events, knowledge, past experiences, visualization etc. One of the biggest misconceptions people often harbor is that belief is a static, intellectual concept. Nothing can be farther from truth! Beliefs are a choice. We have the power to choose our beliefs.”

By choosing to absorb the successes of others, you are choosing to believe you can change your career at 40. On the other hand, if you absorb the fears and doubts of others, you have chosen to succumb to your own fears and self-doubt.

4. Put Yourself Out There

You are most likely going to have to leave your comfort zone to make a career change at 40.

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Reason-being, your comfort zone is built on the experiences you have lived thus far. So that means your current career is in your comfort zone.

Even though you may be feeling stagnant and unproductive in your career, it is still your comfort zone. This helps explain why so many people are unwilling to pursue a career change.

If you want to improve your prospects of launching your new career, you are going to need to attend industry events.

Whether these events are local or a large conference that everyone attends, you want to make it a priority to go. Ideally you want to start with local events because they may be a more intimate setting.

Many of these events have a professional development component where you can see what skill-sets, certification, and education people are looking for. Here you can find 17 best careers worth going back to school for at 40.

You can almost survey the group and build your plan of action according to the responses you receive.

The bonus of exposure to your new industry is you may find yourself getting lucky (when opportunity meets preparation) and creating a valuable relationship or landing an interview.

Final Thoughts

Whatever the reason, if you want to change your career, you owe it to yourself to do so. You have valuable in-sight from your current career that can help you position yourself above others.

Start sharing your story and desire to change your career today. Attend industry events and build a mindset of belief. You have everything you need to accomplish your goal, you only need to take action.

More Resources About Career Change

Featured photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/HY-Nr7GQs3k via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] News Gallup: Employee Engagement In US, Stagnant In 2015
[2] Indian J Psychiatry: The Biochemistry Of Belief

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