Job Sharing at the Executive Level

Job Sharing at the Executive Level Author: Christina Hargreaves Published: 6 November 2018

Claire Walker and Hannah Essex started their new job share as Co-Executive Directors of Policy & Campaigns at the British Chambers of Commerce in September 2018. They were introduced to the role through Berwick Partners.

They had previously worked together as Co-Directors of Communications at Teach First for nearly four years, with both having held the role individually.

Christina Hargreaves, Consultant in the Not for Profit team at Berwick Partners, interviews the dynamic pair and explores how they’ve made it work at the executive level.

Picking the perfect partner

Hannah and Claire met in 2009 when collaborating on a project in the charity sector.

Whilst they were coming from different perspectives and worked for different organisations, they hit it off immediately, tackling challenges with open and honest communication and quickly forming a strong working relationship.

Hannah then moved to Teach First to be their Director of Communications and, in 2014, was looking for someone to fill her role whilst she was on maternity leave. Claire was looking for her next challenge and so successfully applied to cover Hannah’s maternity.  It was during this time that the idea of the job-share fell into place.

“I didn’t know how I was going to return to work; I knew I didn’t want to return full-time and that my job would be incredibly hard to do part-time. About three months into my maternity, Claire phoned and asked ‘what do you think about job sharing’? It was the best thing and felt absolutely right. We’re very different people but we shared the same values and work ethic – and everything else could just be worked out.  My answer was immediately yes.”

The practicalities – divide and conquer or share accountability?

Teach First welcomed the idea in principle, but as the first job share in the organisation, Hannah and Claire spent some time considering how best to manage their broad remit.

They met a number of other successful sharers in a range of sectors, and also researched different types of shares. A report by Capability Jane illustrates three different models of a job share, which the pair considered:

·  Job Split – divided responsibility

·  Hybrid Job Share - sharing a role with some shared responsibility and some divided responsibility

·  Pure Job Share - one job that happens to be done by two (or more)  interchangeable jobholders

Claire and Hannah decided, due to the high-level, unpredictable and fast-paced nature of their work, to adopt the pure job share model.

Likening it to a relay race, Claire works Monday to Wednesday, handing over the baton to Hannah who works Wednesday to Friday. Hannah hands it back either before or after the weekend, depending who’s ‘on call’. This allows constant cover but also enables them to deliver all aspects of their portfolio.

The pair have now perfected the handover process – they use a mixture of verbal and written handover, and harness digital technology to support their ‘seamless’ approach. Claire and Hannah have a shared Microsoft OneNote. They share an inbox, a phone number and ask everyone they work with to consider them as one person.

They feel it is important to ensure they make it as smooth as possible for the people they work with internally and externally.

In the pair’s experience, external contacts and internal teams get used to the share very quickly. Their combined 40 years of work experience means they also have a wide pre-existing external network which they use to deliver impact. 

“Our current job, like our previous one, is very busy and external facing.  This means that on our handover day we can be in two places at once.  For example, last Wednesday, Claire was at a range of internal meetings, while Hannah gave evidence at a Select Committee, before meeting the Prime Minister with other business leaders. Our ability to do this means that we can cover a lot of ground.” 

The time they spend together, and professional coaching they give each other, means that they believe they get better results.

“The critical thing is that we completely trust each other. We have a very open relationship where we give honest feedback without it ever becoming an issue. In effect, we coach each other through tricky things we do. We share values in the way that we approach things; team management, the culture we want to create, and our vision for what we want to achieve. It is highly effective – for us, our teams and our organisations. Leadership is often isolating and challenging but we draw on our partnership and collective experience to drive impact.”

Key principles to remember

  •    Trust
  •  Honesty
  •  Shared vision
  •  Shared values
  •  Perfecting the handover 

Cost and Rewards

The breadth and years of experience two people can bring to the table can be invaluable to any employer. It’s a 2 for 1 deal and doesn’t necessarily have to be double the cost. At a senior level, many can afford to work fewer hours, so a flexible and agile structure can be more appealing than a salary.

Roles that relate to media or politics require sustaining incredible momentum and pace, which can be difficult for one individual to manage 24/7, especially if they have other commitments. 

Claire and Hannah frequently cover for each other when they are on leave and ensure that one of them is always contactable. From an employer’s point of view, you can get much more out of two people than one person who is trying to manage it all. This has allowed a much better work life balance for Claire and Hannah. They both have families and are involved in other voluntary charitable work and projects within their community.

One of the main reasons for Claire and Hannah staying together and forming such an effective partnership is that their ambitions and career aspirations are closely aligned.

“Finding the right person and feeling like equal partners is really important. If you get to a point where you feel like one is carrying the other, that’s where we’ve seen it create challenges. That’s where you really need some coaching and some honesty with each other to try and work it out.”

Future of the job share

A job share can appear to be complicated, but it is a brilliant way of recruiting and retaining talent from different backgrounds. 

“Any role can be shared as long as it is set up well, has a strong partnership and the technology makes it easy for the people you are working with. At the executive level, when you want to strategically move an organisation forward, the diversity of leadership is really important. A job share is one way of doing that. Not just women, not just mothers, but all kinds of people want to work differently these days.” 

Claire and Hannah are always happy to support organisations who wish to promote job sharing – you can find them on twitter @Walker_Essex

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