“If you’ve recently hired someone who’s not performing as you’d like, consider giving specific instructions on what to do, rather than what not to do.” – Misti Burmeister

One great way to get to know colleagues and potential customers is to join them for an activity they enjoy.

After a great phone conversation, and with an honest interest in getting to know her better, I asked my new colleague Alicia about her hobbies.

Without hesitation, she answered, “Kayaking,” and invited me to tag along for her next lesson.

Her instructor, Robert, lives on a beautiful piece of land right off the Annapolis Bay, with easy access to the water. When we arrived for our lesson, he already had the boats, paddles, and life vests laid out on the grass near the launching zone.

After an hour of instruction on land, we headed to the water. While I practiced the basics of kayaking (i.e., staying in the boat and recovering when it tipped), Alicia worked on more advanced techniques with Robert.

As our lesson neared its end, Robert suggested a game. “Your job is to work as a team and get this ball into the end zone,” he said, pointing to a green area. “I’m going to play defense.”

Alicia almost had the ball in the end zone when Robert deflected it out toward me. I rowed like crazy to get to it before him, but he was kicking my butt. As we approached the ball, it was clear I would hit the back of his boat if I didn’t stop on a dime, which he’d taught me how to do.

At the last second, Alicia yelled out, “Ram him.” So without giving it much thought, I rammed his boat, tipping mine and knocking me out once again. He managed to go under and pop right back up inside his boat.

As Robert shook his head, looking both amused and confused, Alicia asked, “Did you really just do that?”

“You told me to,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t think you’d actually do it!”

I shrugged my shoulders and thought, I’m competitive. I love playing, especially after a three-hour lesson! And I don’t know the rules to this game. Of course I did what she said.

That concluded our session, and we all got a good chuckle on our way back to the house.

That day, I learned two things: It’s not a good idea to ram Robert’s boat, and when we don’t know the rules, there’s a very good chance we’ll do exactly as we’re told.

The second lesson also applies to leadership. If you’ve recently hired someone who’s not performing as you’d like, consider giving specific instructions on what to do, rather than what not to do.

Most leaders want employees who already know what to do, or who at least catch on quickly. Likewise, as a senior exec in the fashion business recently told me, “No one wants to come to work just to mess it all up. They want to do well. It’s just that some don’t know how.”

I couldn’t agree more! Perhaps the best way to get under-performing employees to move in the right direction is to give very specific instruction and see how they build on your advice to get the results you want.

Join the Conversation: How do you get under-performing employees moving in the right direction?

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

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