Delegation questions

Delegation is the way you distribute work, as well as delegating part of your own work when it's required. You delegate jobs to people, and how you do that is a good indication of your style as a supervisor.

Just to make things quite a bit more interesting for interviewees, some things shouldn't be delegated. People answering delegation questions tend to get asked them by professional managers.

At supervisory level, it matters, a lot, how you delegate. The efficiency of your section or unit depends on it. Managers care a lot about how you do your job, as well as what you do.

A classic type of delegation question:

You have four staff and four jobs scheduled to complete on close of business 5PM Friday. First thing on the Thursday morning you're given a urgent rush job, also due on the Friday. Your staff are on track to complete the other jobs on time.

What do you do about it, how do you complete your scheduled work and the new work as well? Do you delegate to your staff working on the other jobs, or take up the slack yourself?

This is a real time question, as well as delegation. As a supervisor, you have so much time and so many resources to work with.

It's also an extremely common situation, in any workplace. This question, or something like it, is inevitable, for supervisors.

The short story is you don't have many choices:

  • All the work has to be completed.
  • You're personally responsible for completion all the jobs involved.
  • You've been given the work because it's your section's job to do it.
  • You don't have any choice at all about the new job, it's urgent.

Answer, you get organized:

  • You immediately assess the work and time frames
  • You reschedule accordingly to have all work completed on time
  • You delegate if necessary
  • You take up the extra work yourself and make sure it's progressing ASAP

This means:

Say you have four separate jobs A,B,C,D and four staff. These jobs are on track and will be completed unless there are any extra jobs to do.

The new job comes in on the Thursday, and you have to reschedule for completion of A,B,C,D,E.

Do you delegate? Not necessarily. The other four jobs are still required to be completed, and your staff are on top of them. You've got 80% control, under the existing situation.

Do you really want to pull them off those jobs?

Not if you can help it. That 80% is important. You see why delegation is such an interesting subject for managers.

As you can see, a lot depends on what the new job involves. That hasn't been specified. So you can't say you'll just naturally delegate, when your staff are already committed.

There are a few things you have to do anyway:

  • Getting the new job moving immediately is essential. You're actually quite lucky it didn't come in last thing on Thursday, like these things usually do.
  • You could try for overtime on Thursday night to have staff available on the Friday, and so you can get stuck into the new job yourself. It might work, but remember people aren't always available, and overtime costs money.
  • Always be careful if you have to mention any added cost to the budget either in the interview or on the job. It doesn't often go down too well with management, even if they understand the problems.

What you can do is set everything up, get the new job moving yourself, and make a call on finalizing the other jobs more quickly.

If possible, you may get a free staff member with a bit of teamwork completing one of the original four jobs first. That cuts down the time they need to spend on them, and time is what you need most. The staff join up and complete one of the existing jobs ahead of schedule as a team.

So your four staff take an hour from 8AM to 9AM to finish the remaining four hours work required on job A. They still have time until 5PM, and the staffer on Job A is now available to deal with the rush job. If you can get Job B out of the way, you can split up Job E between the three of you.

Delegation is a science, as well as an art. It's all about organization and time management. Work has to move, and deadlines are created for a reason.

As a supervisor, you're expected to know that, and cope with whatever the job throws at you.

You don't necessarily win any extra credits for volunteering to take on extra work yourself with these questions.

That's not what they're asking you. They want to know how you organize, set priorities, and delegate in particular. Some things can and should be delegated, others can't and shouldn't.

Delegation in teams and as training

Delegation is also an important part of team structuring and training. Team members have to be able to fill in for each other, take up extra work, and they have to be trained to do that.

You have to delegate on the job, all the time. The workplace doesn't function properly if you don't. Reality gets in the way. People are off sick, or on holidays, and your staff can't do jobs they haven't been trained to do. You can delegate work between staff so they learn each other's jobs, as on the job training.

Note: this sort of training is also usually part of an organizational training scheme, too, as well as common sense. Make sure that you're familiar with training issues, as a supervisor.

Remember, with all delegation questions, before you answer:

  • Think your way through what needs doing
  • Stay organized and on realistic schedules
  • Think of options and other ways of getting things done
  • Think Can I delegate? as an automatic reflex

Structure your answers as a very clear, easily understood story line.

The interviewers need to see your logic in your answer, and so do you.

In the case above, you've decided to go with the time management and teamwork approach as above:

  • You set up a team approach to free up a staff member ASAP from the existing jobs so you can guarantee to complete it on time.
  • You explain to the interviewers how the time scales work, and how you've rescheduled yourself and your staff to stay on top of all five jobs for completion.
  • You both participate and supervise the job to assist in completion.

Note the use of the word supervise. That's what you're doing.

To supervise, think, always, about everything you do and how you do it.

The rest is relatively easy.

That's also your job, if you get the answer right.