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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

In evaluating the teaching skill of parents and therapists, I categorized a person’s ability to manage others essentially into poor, good, and great, depending on a number of important variables.

The first variable is how completely the person in authority – the instructor – describes the behavior they want performed. Some tasks are more complex than they seem on the surface, particularly in our business. So each task should be broken down into its components and described in detail, and in order. Be sure the listener understands each step; in some cases, demonstrations can amplify the descriptions. And remind the instructed that questions are welcomed.

The second variable is how often the person in authority uses rationales for describing why the person should do this thing they’re being asked to do. I have a rule: Never ask someone to do something if you cannot provide a good reason. And, no, “Because I told you so,” doesn’t count. Tip: Personalizing rationales makes them more effective.

The third variable is: Did they truly instruct? They don’t call it following instructions for nothing. Did the instructor ask the proper questions to ensure that the person was fully informed on how to conduct the task? If this particular task is new to the person, did the authority figure give detailed step-by-step instructions? Did they observe or periodically monitor the person performing the task, especially the first time out? Did they give feedback, both complementary and constructive? Did they encourage the instructed to ask questions and make sure they understood everything? Did they encourage the person to suggest alternative methods?

In our industry, these discussions during instruction provide the manager with an opportunity to ask some clarifying questions. “What speed and pressure do you normally run this?” “What profile do you use for this media?” “How long does it normally take?” “Have you done this with someone else or on your own?”