There's a concept I had been mulling around in my head where I wanted to explain the different kinds of people and how they normally think. I quickly thought of asking someone a simple question, and the types of responses I have seen over my life. Let me know if any of these vibe with you:
Person: "Hey, can you move this box?"
Respondent 1: "Sure." (scoots the box an inch)
Respondent 2: "Sure, where would you like me to move it to?"
Person: "Over here is fine. Thanks."
R2: (*moves to location, leaves*)
Respondent 3: "Sure, where would you like me to move it to?"
Person: "Over here is fine. Thanks."
R3: (*moves to location*) "Would you like me to unpack it?"
Respondent 4: "Sure, looks like it says books. Do you want me to unpack them and put them over there in that bookcase?"
Person: "That would be perfect! Thanks."
The four examples show how most employees will respond to anything given to them, shoved their way, or released into their unwitting inbox.
I'm sure you've encountered a couple or all of these individuals, and ask yourself, "Can I trust these people to really know what I mean when I ask to get something done?" The short answer is: no. The long answer is: it all depends on the type of people around you, and that you are yourself. Why? Because people either emulate who they're around or try to appease whoever's signing their paycheck and/or a recognized person of authority. Here's how you suggest that you want something done more than "moving the box":
If your employee is Respondent #1
Know they're in it to do the bare minimum. Whether they're genuinely disinterested in the job, you, or a combination of both, they are there just to get done what needs to get done and say, "I followed the rules, and did what you said." What's wrong with them? Nothing. They're there and have either tapped out, burned out, or checked out in some fashion. They may need a reassignment, or something a bit more challenging that will have them feeling more valued and important to the team. Have an honest talk with this person, and be ready to up your bullshit meter. Urge for the truth, and less for a reason to fire. It could simply be a misunderstanding of what is expected.
If your employee is Respondent #2
This person is probably trying their best to impress you. Albeit it's not as much as #3 and #4, but they may need a little prompting if their goal is to be around and be more helpful. That's where you'll need to see the olive branch being offered by them. And if you're too tied up in your own mind, duties, and tasks to do anything more to help, then you may want to consider delegating tasks to another, more insightful mentor to guide that person along the way. They're ready for the next step, with little urging.
If your employee is Respondent #3
Give this person more tasks to do. Pronto! They are ready for the next step in managing or assigning tasks. They're already thinking on this level, and you literally only need to provide them the doorway, access, resources, and - most importantly - GET OUT OF THEIR WAY! I cannot stress how many times I've seen people over-manage and micromanage someone that is basically independent in thought. Give them permission to move forward, immediately. They'll be respondent #4 in no time.
If your employee is Respondent 4
They already know the lay of the land, so give them room and a piece of the action... and a suitable title. If this person is not already in a management position, you're dragging your ass on this one. This person will leave in a heartbeat if the right opportunity presented itself. So if they're not looking up towards promotions, raises, and more responsibility to be a person making their mark, you're probably going to lose them on some bureaucratic red tape. And office politics.
Whichever the employee response type, they all have value and a purpose in your company no matter what stage they may be in. Take the time to get to know them. If they feel cornered in a box and unknowingly expected to do something or behave a certain way, they won't be happy. And the next box they may be moving will be their own, with personal items from their desk.