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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 May 15, 2019

10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs and What We Can Learn from Them

10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs and What We Can Learn from Them

Apart from making crucial decisions for their own businesses, entrepreneurs innovate and grow their ideas. Albeit there being no cookie-cutter answer that fits everyone’s experiences, taking a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs today, you might spot some similar traits and characteristics.

Starting and nurturing a business entails a great amount of hard work and commitment. However, for aspiring entrepreneurs who are prepared to dedicate themselves to their vision, here are 10 most successful entrepreneurs you can learn from:

1. Melanie Perkins: Know Your Worth and Keep Trying

    Melanie Perkins founded Canva, a Sydney-based business valued at $1Billion having successfully raised a number of rounds of successful funding and boasting more than 10 Million users in 179 countries.[1]

    She told BBC that one of the biggest challenges she faced getting into the business was talking about her company’s accomplishments when she first got to Silicon Valley. She attributed this difficulty to a cultural difference where Australians tend to ‘talk down’ their achievements and this would slow down her fundraising progress for a few years.

    Despite hundreds of rejections, Melanie emerged three years later with a much clearer strategy and stronger investor pitch that prompted a series of fundraising rounds netting the company $82Million of funding in total.[2]

    2. Bill Gates: Keep Learning and Exploring

      If you don’t know Bill Gates, you likely know the company he founded – Microsoft.

      Bill Gates’ story is a prime example of nurturing an idea that might seem out of this world but make sense in the future. One of the most successful entrepreneurs in history did not complete his degree at Harvard University to pursue a vision that the technology would soon become the future.

      He told a white lie to Altair, saying that he had made a computer program for them, therefore pushing himself to create a system that would change modern history.

      “The most important speed issue is convincing everyone that the company’s survival depends on moving as fast as possible.”

      Gates’ success is built on self-improvement and the seeds of an idea.

      3. Elon Musk: Never Stop Innovating

        Traditional thinking suggests that in order to become a successful entrepreneur, one must focus in a single field or industry.

        Elon Musk, however, breaks that rule.

        Today, the multifaceted tech entrepreneur, investor, and engineer advocates for the diversification of skills and businesses by delving into various fields of interest.

        When done right, skills in a single domain can be carried over then applied into contrasting industries to create something new the world might need. Musk owes his accomplishments to a constant thirst for knowledge.

        Having birthed Tesla and a myriad of products across the arenas of aeronautics and software design, Musk continues to evolve as an entrepreneur and plans to innovate for the long haul.

        4. Richard Branson: Develop People First

          British entrepreneur Richard Branson founded Virgin Records in the early 1970s. Virgin Records has since grown into the Virgin Group, today responsible for over 400 companies.

          The billionaire is strongly particular about working with a team that shares his core values and aspirations.

          Branson believes that managing a business can become taxing, thus he acknowledges his employees for putting in the effort that they have.

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          A good leader knows how to raise morale for positive productivity. Utilising emotional intelligence and compassion is a game changer in seeing results within a team.

          Branson’s supports the idea of nurturing a positive work environment, with the belief that credentials must go hand-in-hand with an enthusiasm for work.

          5. Jeff Bezos: A Relentless Focus on Customer Satisfaction

            Having founded Amazon, Jeff Bezos is known to be one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs. The e-commerce pioneer fixates himself on angry customers with the belief that a business’s loopholes are found in the experiences of unsatisfied customers.

            For the 8th year in a row, customers have ranked Amazon as the number one in customer service (according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index).

            While numerous companies ignore unhappy customers, Bezos found success in learning from reviews and surveys. By focusing on customer service, Amazon shows they care, both for their customers and for rising above their competitors.

            While praise and recognition are signs that a business is accelerating, criticism is an opportunity to improve a product or a service.

            6. Mark Zuckerberg: Start Small, Think Big

              Valued at over 55 billion dollars today, Mark Zuckerberg built the first version of what would become a social networking giant in his Harvard University dorm room. As one of the world’s youngest entrepreneurs, Zuckerberg undoubtedly took countless calculated risks to get his brilliant idea to its current status with 2.38 billion active monthly users.

              “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

              He’s always daring to explore with a fearless mindset.

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              The young tech entrepreneur never shied away from innovating outside of the box. Soon after Facebook became a hit to users and advertisers, big corporations took interest in buying Facebook from Zuckerberg.

              However, he took the risk and decided to stay with his creation. Turning down billions of dollars offered by Yahoo CEO, Terry Semel, he envisioned turning his brainchild into something much bigger than what it already was then.

              7. Steve Jobs: Live Your Own Dreams

                Steve Jobs lived a rocky path all his life and an aspect of which is a tumultuous career.

                The founder of Apple endorsed his beliefs on the temporality of life and limitations of time. He preached about the importance of working on the very legacies people wish to leave behind, an achievement he’s undoubtedly etched into the the archives of human history.

                Never one to hide under someone’s shadow, Jobs did not live by anybody else’s principles so he formed his own. He tirelessly dedicated himself to building a unique brand of products that became the benchmark for contemporary technology.

                After his highs and lows through his brief battle with cancer, Jobs concludes with yet another lesson to takeaway from his remarkable life. “No matter how much money you have, even the richest man can’t buy time.”

                8. Warren Buffett: Balance is Essential to Success

                  Despite being the third wealthiest person in the world, Warrant Buffett sported a frugal lifestyle for most of his life.

                  After buying a house in Omaha, Nebraska for just above 31,000 dollars, he has lived there since 1958. As a leading investor and a founder at Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett believes in setting aside an amount to save and spend only on necessities.

                  With a long term goal as a top priority in mind always, treating oneself can be sustainable once in a while. He advices to save money by deciding first and foremost what aspects to scrimp on and what aspects to splurge on to ensure a happy and balanced lifestyle.

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                  9. Jack Ma: Never Give up

                    On every journey to success, everybody stumbles and arrives at roadblocks. Some more than most, like Jack Ma, who survived countless rejections and failures only to get back up and brave every storm.

                    Ma is the founder of multinational technology conglomerate Alibaba Group. Despite being rejected to Harvard after every one of his 10 applications, Ma was never defeated.

                    His grit and tenacity is a fine testament to the fact that grades do not determine a future. While qualifications on paper are important, the development of skills and an attitude is just as helpful in making a recipe for success.

                    Despite finding himself in the verge of bankruptcy in the 1990s, Jack Ma possessed the resilience to put one foot in front of the other until he finally made it. “It’s important to have patience,” he says.

                    10. Tan Min Liang: Passion Can Pay Off

                      Tan Min Liang is the founder of the leading high-performance gaming hardware, Razer. Always on the look out for new opportunities to connect and scale his business, Tan has been bold in making many of his life’s decisions.

                      Having deviated from a traditional path set by a family that consists of doctors and lawyers, Tan was to find his life’s work and passion while gaming with his older brother.

                      The idea was simple: there were so many games out there to play, however, there were hardly any gaming equipment to match this.

                      So he dropped out of law and began going a different direction, into creating solutions in the gaming industry. At the start of 2019, Tan wrote to tech luminary Elon Musk to which Musk’s reply suggested of a joint venture between two of the most successful entrepreneurs today.

                      Final Thoughts

                      In today’s cutthroat world, the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur is a long and arduous process trailed with ups and downs. A valuable lesson that a good hand of entrepreneurs would love to convey to aspiring entrepreneurs is to keep the spirit of innovation and to explore uncharted waters.

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                      Learning from experience and failure is one direction to a desired end goal. Exhibiting the same dedication and grit so many entrepreneurs have through their unexpected careers – today’s budding visionaries ought to hang on their dreams and leave room for improvement along the way.

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                      Featured photo credit: Patrick Tomasso via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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