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Best Practices: Instructing

(November 2011) posted on Tue Oct 25, 2011

How to most effectively get people to do what they're told.

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By Craig Miller

Are you the company owner? The boss? Are you part of the management team? If so, chances are that, on a regular basis, you tell employees what to do. Depending on how high up you are on the management ladder, you might be telling people to tell other people what to do, and they, in turn, are telling someone else.

And, of course, in a perfect world – or, in this case, a perfect company – everyone does just what they’re told.

The single biggest complaint I hear from business owners, however, is how difficult it is to get everyone to do what they’re told. Adding to this frustration is that you not only want people to do what you tell them to, you want them to do it the way you want them to – aka, the correct way.

In the military, telling someone what to do simply requires giving them an order: “Sweep the floor.” And, yes, in our civilian world, there are times when giving an order is the most expeditious method to get people “cracking.” Managers like having the authority to give orders because orders are quick and final. In combat, if a soldier gets an order to kick in a door and lob in a grenade, there’s no time to ask why or discuss the nuances of the task at hand. I like that: “Print it.” Or, “Wrap that van.” I just want it done.

Teachable moments
In my previous life, I did a lot of quality-assurance evaluations of parents and residential treatment providers trying to make up for what kids had not learned. I came to judge their leadership effectiveness based on how well they got their kids or clients to do what they wanted them to, which typically was also what they needed to do.

After all, kids aren’t born knowing how to make a bed, iron a shirt, complete every homework assignment, plan a meal, shop, cook dinner, and clean up after that meal. And it doesn’t help that many of these tasks are “chores” that most people would like to avoid in the first place. The fact is, however, that young people need to know how to do all these things so that they can care for themselves once they become independent. To properly give an instruction, though, you need to become a skilled instructor.