Not everyone can give orders that are clearly understood and carried out to the letter. If you’ve been frustrated by not having your orders (or ‘requests’ or ‘suggestions’) carried out, you may be overlooking the obvious – that in most cases the fault is yours, not that of your staff. Here are some suggestions to ensure that your orders are understood and obeyed…

1. Know exactly what you want.

Before delivering instructions, know exactly what you want and how you are going to communicate your requirements. What precisely is the result you have in mind?

2. Select the right person for the job.

Orders will be more effectively carried out when you select a person with the ability and desire to carry out the task, so get to know the capabilities of your staff. Make sure that the person you select for a particular job is capable of completing it.

3. Use your established chain of authority.

No matter how big or small the organisation, it should have a structured chain or line of authority through which orders, commands, or instructions are transmitted. If staff expect orders to come from their supervisors, make sure you communicate your orders via those people.

4. Use clear, concise, plain language.

Sequence your instructions clearly and logically. Use plain, concrete, and specific language, avoiding jargon if possible. Speak in the language of the receiver. Allow time for comprehension. Remember to be brief, accurate, and to the point; use short words and short sentences; and use one sentence for each idea.

5. Give reasons and explain significance.

Only when an employee has all relevant information, including the reasons for the task, can he or she make intelligent decisions, particularly if complications develop later when your orders are being carried out. Try to anticipate the employee’s feelings, needs, and concerns. Remember what it felt like when you were given instructions and weren’t sure why.

6. Check for understanding.

Be sure the employee remembers the essentials. If possible, show employees what you want, or what things should look like when your order has been carried out. By repeating the order and by giving the employee the opportunity to ask questions (or, better still, by asking that your instructions be repeated), you will identify any areas of doubt or misunderstanding.

7. Avoid overwhelming your staff.

Learn to anticipate reactions to an instruction and time its presentation accordingly. You can’t afford to overwhelm people with orders. Try to have each task completed before assigning additional ones. Let employees know you’ll remain accessible should problems or other questions arise.

8. Respect individual experience.

The way you give orders will depend on the experience of individual employees and the particular situation or context. You can’t expect inexperienced employees to understand as much as those who have worked with you for some time; you must be fair. If you invite feedback from experienced employees, afford that courtesy to others as well.

9. Make sure you can enforce your order.

Assuming that you’re sure the employee knows how to carry out your order, insist that your instructions be followed through. Employees should know that you’re prepared to take action against any refusals. Orders disguised as suggestions or requests, however, are preferable to any dictatorial approach.

10. Distribute tasks evenly among staff members.

Don’t overwork some employees merely because they will accept orders with less resistance than others. And don’t give all the unpopular jobs to the same people all the time.

11. Follow-up.

Check periodically to see that your directions are being carried out as you require within the agreed timeframe. Monitor progress and check on the final results to ensure they match what was requested. If appropriate, praise or thank the employees for their efforts.

12. When Giving Orders, Always remember…

And remember:

  • Always assume that the listener knows less than you do.
  • Let people in on goals and priorities if you want them to use initiative.
  • Always think of an order in terms of quality, quantity, time, why, how, and safety.
  • Encourage note-taking.
  • Don’t be casual or off-handed; otherwise your order might not be taken seriously.
  • Anticipate problems and suggest ways of handling them should they arise.
  • When issuing the order, show confidence in the person. It’s contagious.

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