Is it possible to share a senior role within an organisation? Is it possible to effectively manage projects and split up the workload evenly?
According to Nicole Hercus and Alexandra Schiller, it is. Sharing power and embracing vulnerability is the cornerstone to making any job sharing role work.
Nicole Hercus and Alexandra Schiller share the role of Head of Learning and Organisational Development at BDO, a global accounting management firm.
In this episode of Humanity Works, Nicole and Alex unpack the logistics of managing a job sharing role, as well as discuss the deeper dynamics at play; trust, vulnerability and sharing power.
Why did you decide to share your senior role as Head of Learning and Organisational Development?
[Nicole:] Alex and I have had a friendship for many years, and we have been having deep conversations about our reflections on what’s needed at work and how to make workplaces thrive.
But this particular job was interesting because Alex has had the role for a number of years. It wasn’t until she was coming back from maternity leave that we started the conversation about the potential of a ‘role-share’ set up. We were both thinking about this idea; ‘How do you hold a significant executive role, show up in your life in meaningful ways and take care of your family responsibilities at the same time?’ It didn't feel possible.
“So we started asking ourselves, how can we do this more sustainably in ways that are more nourishing? What would it be like to share this role so that we could both flourish?”
[Alex:] Yes and before Nicole even came into it I was pretty clear that I didn’t want to work more than 3 days a week after Maternity Leave. So I was thinking, does that mean I need to let go of this job? The organisation needs access to someone 5 days a week. How is it possible to be a female leader working part time and still meet the needs of the business?
[Nicole:] Fortunately, the organisation was really open to her idea of experimenting with this.
Can you talk us through the logistics of ‘job-sharing’?
[Nicole:] On a really pragmatic level, we both work three days a week. We have one crossover day but we recently changed it to two because we recognised the value in being together as we collaborate a lot.
We had to experiment a lot with this setup to figure out how to make it work. So we identified pieces of work that either of us could lead but we consulted each other a lot because that’s where the value is really rich. The shared thinking. We lead different pieces but we do really deep collaboration on all of it.
[Alex:] Yeah and it wasn’t like that to begin with, in the early stages we were writing emails to each other at the end of every day but then slowly we found our rhythm and a system that works for us.
Having said that, being super responsive to the business is always our top priority. But we don’t have to get each other across every single conversation we have throughout our workday. The way we decide who takes what projects is based on strengths, interests and somewhat seniority as well.
And where did you land on a healthy knowledge sharing system?
[Nicole:] This kind of comes down to the fundamentals of how we make this job share setup work. Alex and I love talking to each other so it’s not hard to share knowledge. We’re endlessly curious about understanding together, making sense of things together, so sharing knowledge is not hard. And we’re both deeply passionate learners. But it doesn’t come without its complexities either.
We are leading different projects but we share power. And this is where trust becomes so fundamental to success. You might be working hard on a project but you’ve also got to be thinking, what does Alex need to know? Does she need to be across this? Because we’ve got to be moving in tandem.
How do you manage your team? Do they come to one of you or both of you, how does that work?
[Nicole:] These are good questions because they highlight where things can fall apart. I mean job sharing is a great idea but it all comes down to execution right?
[Alex:] I think it's very contextual. I think there’s been times with the team where people were reporting more to Nicole and she was doing more of the team development. And slowly over time I’ve started stepping into that. But it’s not really black and white, there’s no hard and fast rules.
We are working in a very fluid way depending on what the needs are of the business. And I suppose that’s why we keep dropping into deeper conversations because it does require a whole lot of navigation and trust. I think the team also directs themselves too.
[Nicole:] The team totally directs it amongst themselves because we do have different styles and we also have different strengths.
What are some of the challenges of sharing your role?
[Alex:] It is challenging but I think the challenges are personal. So my challenges are not necessarily the same as Nicole’s. But job sharing really brings stuff that’s in your shadow to the surface.
For me, on a personal level, my challenge has been learning to trust. At times there’s been a little voice in my head that says, ‘Is Nicole saying something about me to that person? Do I need to protect myself here?’ But then very quickly I’ve been able to say, ‘If you can’t trust Nicole you can’t trust anyone.’ Working like this has been a really healing process for my own personal growth.
[Nicole:] I think at the heart of this experiment is really the concept of sharing power. And wherever you’ve got two or more people you’ve got status and power. It’s always been there but we’re just not used to talking about it in a professional context.
So this is why this experiment is brave because we’re talking about the dynamics that don’t always get talked about. And there’s another level of vulnerability required in talking about it.