How many times a week does a teacher or employer hear this question?
My colleagues and I in the Advertising/Public Relations Track at Towson University are hearing this question from students with increasing frequency. More and more students want exact instructions, step by step, on how to do assignments. This is true across a variety of advertising and public relations classes and of all grade levels.
The conflict lies in the fact that we do provide exact instructions in syllabi, in rubrics, and in classroom discussions.
But students want more. They want special time devoted to step by step, point by point guidance on every aspect so that they may make the highest grade. I completely understand the desire to score high, but what I do not understand — and cannot accept — is this level of hand-holding that precludes a student from taking ownership and practicing decision-making, problem-solving skills.
From 30-plus years’ experience as a practitioner, I can tell students with certainty that employers are not going to provide this level of instruction. They pay you to solve problems. It is best to develop these skills now, because the honeymoon period for new employee to scrutinized, performance-appraised employee is quite short.
I wonder if this phenomenon is a characteristic of the Millennial generation?
To be fair to students, I believe that they are entitled to clear and comprehensive instructions on any given assignment — to a point. That stops short of instructions that eliminate the need for problem-solving. Learning to solve problems, developing some analytical ability, is the heart of the university experience, in my opinion.
In one of the best corporate communication/PR/IMC positions I ever had, my Type-A, MBA boss would regularly call me in, give me an assignment that to him was of utmost importance, yet came with vague general guidance. He focused on the outcome he wanted. Early in our relationship, I would ask him for more detailed guidance. He would quickly lose patience and tell me to figure it out. If I gave him a puzzled look, he would frequently say, “Les, go make something happen.”
I learned so much from this great mentor. True, I worked many long hours figuring things out to achieve the outcomes he wanted, but once I accomplished such an assignment, the next one was a little easier. Plus, I always overachieved on my quarterly objectives that qualified me for a bonus, and he always gave me a higher-than-expected bonus.
I do not know what is driving this “tell me exactly what you want” phenomenon, but it concerns me. Students and employees alike must step up, own an assignment, and make something happen. Anything less will result in lower grades and lower performance reviews.