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To discuss the best way to delegate and to assign work to student employees, it is first important for supervisors to understand their own existing delegation style and alternatives. By understanding their own delegation style, supervisors can better determine alternative ways for assigning work to make every assignment a learning experience for their student employees.   

Skills Converged provides a six-level framework and continuum for supervisors to better understand their style, based on two variables: control and time. The website also provides an exercise to explore benefits and challenges to delegation styles and how they affect a supervisor’s control and time. By giving up a degree of control in the way a supervisor delegates to a student employee, the supervisor can gain more time for other work. Less structure for a student employee in the way an assignment is delegated can create opportunity for the student to utilize creativity, critical thinking skills, and leadership abilities. 

Another resource for supervisors to better understand their delegation style is the MindTools self-assessment to help supervisors answer: “How good is your delegation?” 

Tips for Unleashing Potential in Your Student Employees

  • Establish expectations and regular check-in points when delegating an assignment to a student employee.
  • Allow your student employees a chance to make mistakes and use the situation as a coaching and learning experience.
  • Leverage the existing skills and perspectives of your student employees.
  • Create opportunities for your student employees to use critical thinking and decision-making skills while being independent or determining when to solicit feedback or guidance.
  • Consider what information would be best communicated verbally, written, demonstrated, or a combination of all of these to best convey a request to your student employees when you are delegating.
  • Provide your student employee exposure to multiple supervision styles and functional areas of your department by involving your colleagues.

The way student employees are assigned tasks, especially what information is and is not included, can determine how far they challenge themselves in their work. If supervisors tell student employees exactly how to do something with little room for flexibility and exploration, the student employees may only learn to follow instructions. If supervisors change their style to give basic guidance while still allowing student employees to use their discretion, student employees can challenge themselves and experiment, producing an end result that could be much better than supervisors expected.

Delegation Phrases to Maximize Learning

  • What will your first steps be to get started with this project?
  • What is your understanding of the desired end result for this project and your role?
  • If you were required to question this project or request, what would you ask?
  • Please provide me with an update on how this is going before you leave for the day.
  • What tools or information do you need from me to be able to accomplish this assignment?
  • I’ll coach you through this task, but I will not do this for you.
  • When you were working on this, what did you consider doing that you haven’t tried yet?

Adapted from: Runion, M. (2010). Perfect phrases for managers and supervisors (2nd ed.).

Developing a Student Employee Work Plan

Students and supervisors may benefit from utilizing project management principles and tools when planning and delegating work, especially when in a project-based environment. Written project plans can help make assignments more concrete as well as establish deadlines and expectations to ensure the project is successful and roles are clarified. Written project and work plans for student employees can also guide students to understand how small tasks contribute to larger project and departmental goals.