Friday, July 07, 2006

The importance of clear instructions

This July 4th I ran a road rally in Bell Buckle, Tn. It was lots of fun and it got me thinking about what makes a fun rally. One factor that came to mind is having clear instructions.

One of the best ways I have found for improving employee performance is by giving them clear concise work instructions.

Too many times I have seen work instructions be a list of things not to do. The "Thou Shalt Not" list as I call it. Often these are important safety suggestions like "Thou shalt not place thy hand between the rollers for it shall be severed from thy arm."

But what gets lost here is what are you supposed to do to get the job done correctly.

When we did the process safety management procedure for our distillation process at Westvaco, I made sure that we included what needed to be done to make a quality product come out of the column along with the warnings on what not to do. Actually the warnings were also phrased in a positive way - "Set the temperature controller between X and Y" rather than "do not exceed Y temperature." The do not exceed limits always seemed like challenges to me anyway.

By including the actual best work practices in the safety instructions, people actually read the safety instructions rather than just having them collect dust between audits.

So to improve your process and employee performance make sure you tell them what you expect instead of what not to do. Otherwise they may find the only way to comply with all your rules is to sit in the break room on their hands.


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