E7 S2 - Talk Roleshare Podcast
"Our role was quite strategic. It included difficult conversations - we were liaising with legal teams, media, public advocacy groups, members of the public, MPs."
- Ellie Pyemont, previously Detective (jobshare) on a high profile inquiry at London Metropolitan Police.
Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com. When you think male-dominated industries, what do you think about? Well, imagine being a woman, a mother, make that a mother of twins, who needs career flexibility in the police. That was Ellie Pyemont. Ellie served as a detective job share on a public inquiry about undercover policing. Hear how Ellie and her partner secured and succeeded in the job share, on a highly sensitive, high profile inquiry.
Ellie Pyemont: I was in Hackney for five years and then Central London, and then I was in Lambeth. In my final two and a half years, I did a job share. I had twins when I was 30 and I had maternity leave, which is obviously a bit longer in the UK than in the States. And then I had my husband, we were at the same level. So he took a bit more time out than I did actually. He took a career break for about 14 months and I went back full-time. And then I went part-time for a bit and he was full-time. Over the years, we've pretty much done every kind of combination going. And then I approached a fantastic woman called Penny, and we approached someone else together and said, look, how about you take us on as a job share for this role? We were both at the same level and it was in relation to this managing disclosure to a big public inquiry in the UK. And luckily, the leader that we approached was really open-minded about it because the Metropolitan Police could potentially be, it's a rigid, uniformed service, it doesn't necessarily have some of the benefits that you can have in smaller startups where you're a bit like, OK, let's just try that. If it doesn't work, we can change it, it's a little bit more formulaic.
Sophie Smallwood: And quite male-dominated also, right?
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah, for sure. And so luckily, the person who was the decision-maker on it was kind of like, let's give it a go. Let's try it. If it doesn't work, we can just change it. And he was really open, but we did have some kind of pushback. There was another senior manager who we were reporting into who, he was really supportive of us personally, but was worried that being a job share, micro-team would undermine our credibility. When we were talking to other people, they said things kind of like, oh, you know, maybe don't have that on your email signature, but we felt we had to. People have to know how you're working in order to feel like they've got the information and that they can trust that you're handling things. So we felt we had to put something of an illusion. So we have a joint email signature so people could feel that we were really joined up together. But then another manager said, oh, you know, can you change it? Can you not do that? And then just have two separate ones. And we talked about it and we thought, no, actually, we need to kind of push back on that because if we're hiding the fact that we're a job share team, then A, people won't know that we are and it will make work difficult because people will be confused about who's doing what, and also it sends the wrong message to our team. We started off managing a really small team, but part of our job was growing that team to about 30 plus over the two years, and we didn't want to send the wrong message that we were doing something wrong that needed to be hidden or it was a bit embarrassing or, lacked credibility. So we stuck to our guns on that one, and it was kind of fun. It was a few months of people going, 'oh right so you're a job share team, that's weird. So which one of you does this and which one of you does that?'. Then we work through those conversations rather than avoided having those conversations.
Sophie Smallwood: I think it's the right way. Absolutely. Now, I'd love to understand a little bit more about the concerns that senior leader had.
Ellie Pyemont: He was personally really supportive of us but because our role was quite strategic. The Metropolitan Police at the time was about 45,000 people. So a really big beast of an organization and the job that we have in the organization had some difficult conversations to have with other bits. And it was quite challenging. And I think he was worried that people wouldn't perceive us as doing a serious, important job because we were doing it part-time as a micro-team.
Sophie Smallwood: Interesting.
Ellie Pyemont: He is a lovely guy and he was a bit like, you're going to have to have some tough conversations and I don't want people to feel like they can push you around or not take you seriously.
Sophie Smallwood: So you said you managed a team of people that were reporting into you, but were you also engaging with external stakeholders?
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah. So it was a really controversial, difficult public inquiry and it was the most wide-ranging and it's still very much ongoing. It's one of the most wide-ranging and largest public inquiries in England and Wales that there has ever been. Our organization was a central part of that and had some really difficult questions to answer, so we were liaising externally with legal teams from people who were impacted by the public inquiry. We were liaising in some cases with media teams, members of the public, advocacy groups, MPs. There was a lot of external groups that we were engaging with, as well as internally.
Sophie Smallwood: It's a public inquiry, are you able to say what it was or what it is?
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah, it's the undercover police inquiry in the U.K. So if you're not familiar with it, there's quite a lot of serious issues which are being explored by the public inquiry but we were setting up the Met police's response to it and that was announced in 2014 and we started working on it in September 2014 so it's been going for a long time.
Sophie Smallwood: Right.
Ellie Pyemont: This summer is when they're meant to be starting to hear live witnesses. So it's been a very long, it's covering undercover policing between 1968 and the present day so it's a huge period of time. Huge, huge amount of material and part of our job was disclosing secret material to the public inquiry.
Sophie Smallwood: Wow.
Ellie Pyemont: It was a high responsibility job that was important to the Metropolitan Police and also to the public and key stakeholders.
Sophie Smallwood: Absolutely. I'm fascinated, I want to hear more!
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah, I can't really talk too much about the public inquiry, but it is fascinating and it's on a really important topic.
Sophie Smallwood: So let's talk a little bit about some of the concerns. Right. So some of the concerns were around whether or not these stakeholders and the different parties that you'd be dealing with might not see you as credible. So you knew that that was a concern, obviously, from the get-go. How did you as a team plan out your your partnership? How did you handle handover's what worked, what didn't?
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah. So luckily we knew each other quite well before we started, and that was part of the reason that we decided to go for it together. From very early on, we agreed that we needed to really try and have no egos between us and that we really needed to be super open with each other about our weaknesses and our strengths and the things that we thought we were good at and the things that we struggled with and mistakes we had made in the past and that we wanted to make sure we didn't make again. I think having those difficult conversations is actually one of the best things about being in a role share team is you've got that, particularly when you're more senior, sometimes leadership can be a bit lonely and when you're in that micro-team, you've got a buddy who you're there with. It's fantastic from that point of view. So although doing that push back to that senior officer, he was kind of nice but kind of 'oh, don't tell people' it was kind of easier because we were doing it together.
Sophie Smallwood: I've heard that before. There's something really powerful about, almost the confidence that you gain when you're together in a role.
Ellie Pyemont: Definitely. Definitely. It was pretty standard in terms of one of us did Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, the other one of us did Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and we both did a slightly shorter day on the Wednesday, but crossed over. It had loads of benefits for our organization because we could just hammer out loads of meetings and discussions on that Wednesday and what we developed in terms of our handover process, we had red flags at the top of the real burning issues that the person needed to get on to first thing on the Wednesday morning and make sure they got resolved really quick.
Sophie Smallwood: Was this was an Excel document? Or I'd love to know, was it as simple as an Excel document? Was it an email, these little tactical things? I think sometimes people are curious.
Ellie Pyemont: We did it on an email, but with a set structure each week and we copied in our bosses and also the team leaders who reported into us. After about two years, everybody was relying on it as our general update structure and people found it generally pretty helpful in terms of understanding where things had got up to and a lot of the workstreams that we have are really diverse and difficult to keep track of. So having that top-level document, that was kind of like. Right, Wednesday lunchtime, this is where we're at with this or you know by Friday afternoon this is where we're at with that was really helpful and it really helped us build trust with our team leaders and with our management because they could see that A, we were working really hard to make sure that we had the right information and we were giving each other the right information, but that we were being totally open with them as well. To say this is where we're up to. And in terms of personal accountability, I've never been more accountable for my efficiency at work, I think ever. Being a job share was absolutely fantastic for that because all those little niggly kind of bad habits on a Friday afternoon, they just go because I didn't want to ever leave it for Penny to come in on a Monday morning and for her to ever think, 'cor, she had a bit of a slow Friday afternoon' or 'I would have thought she would have got that done'. Or that kind of stuff. So it was really 'boom, boom, boom' all the time because I knew that Penny was going to open up on Monday morning and go, 'OK? so where are we at?'.
Sophie Smallwood: I love it.
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah, and it was brilliant, if I knew that it was only going to be me that was going to look on Monday morning and think, 'oh really, could you not fit that in?' or 'it was only doing that'. But all of that got dealt with, which was brilliant and I think, getting rid of egos and also having that buddy and also we had to really commit because things don't go right all the time. And sometimes there are problems and sometimes we all do things in a way that is a little bit suboptimal. We had to have a conversation with our boss about, OK, right, particularly because of what we were dealing with, we needed to have a process by which if one of us thought the other one was engaging in misconduct or he was worried that there was any kind of misconduct happening, that we would absolutely say, yes, we're not a team now. You've got misconduct you need to look into so here is our separate things. And all of our emails could be tracked and all of that stuff, even though we used a joint account. If you needed to get into the forensic side of it, but then we told him that if it's not a misconduct issue that you're worried about, if it's just a case of something wasn't quite as good as you thought it might be, or if it was justma standard work issue discussion, then we were going to be like, no, we're a team. We agreed that we would always stick to the 'we' on there, whether it was something really good or something that hadn't gone quite so well. That unless it was a question of misconduct, it was impenetrable and we wouldn't try and push the focus either on to ourselves or off ourselves. We would always be a 'we' in that respect.
Sophie Smallwood: Very powerful.
Ellie Pyemont: That worked really well, it did work really well and there were probably only about once or twice in the time that we were job sharing where that got a bit tested. We stuck to it and it was really, really important because it wouldn't work if as soon as something was particularly good, you've got one person going, 'oh, that was me! I wrote that' or 'I did that!'. It was like no, we did it. We did it.
Sophie Smallwood: What's really interesting about this role that you're in is, well, one, I think most people wouldn't even imagine that you could do a job share one, in the police department. And two, there's oftentimes a lot of sort of questions around whether or not you can do micro-teaming at senior strategic levels, which we've heard many, many stories, and here's yet another one. But there's a lot of pressure in your type of role, it sounds like. More so than perhaps other professions that are also strategic. Right. I mean, these are very sensitive types of roles when you are in the police department. And so the fact that you are able to really do it and you stuck by your principles of no ego, being super open about your strengths and what you're working on, your due diligence in your handovers, making sure, as you said, that on Monday when your partner was coming in, that she had a healthy list of things to do and that you had, in essence, done your part in the role. All of these things really matter. Now in your job share in particular, would you say that you were sort of a mirror split, more of a complementary split, were you like for like, were you sort of seamless from the outside or were you kind of a hybrid?
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah, we were actually really different and had different strengths and different natural, default ways of working. So I think probably Penny would say I was more happily outgoing and focused around ideas and things like that. And she's very much more at home with structure and process and detail and so in many ways, in terms of our boss, thought we were a great pairing because I would get something off the ground and say, 'oh, let's do it along these lines or, you know, what about this or what about that?', and she would be like, 'let's just get it down on paper and put the detail in and then make sure that it functions well', and all of those things. So if I'd have just been doing the whole job on my own, I'd never have been able to do all the really good completer finisher, the real world stuff that Penny was so brilliant at. So it was really complimentary and I think as well because you're having a longer period away from work. Every time I was coming back into work, I was so enthused and so pleased to be there. That you're just on it the whole time and she had a similar thing. So my boss was generally really happy that all of the time he had somebody there albeit two different people who was always rested, always engaged, always really pleased to be there. Normally because I'd had four days with the kids at that point and I was like, get me to the office.
Sophie Smallwood: Oh, I know that feeling.
Ellie Pyemont: Give me a coffee on the tube. I need to feel like a human. So I learned so much from working so closely with somebody with different skills to mine, and so I was constantly trying to go 'right, ok, how would Penny look at this document? How would Penny write this email? How can I borrow from her expertise?'. It was fantastic.
Sophie Smallwood: So there's this natural sort of upskilling that happened between the two of you because you had different skills and also from what it sounds like, a grown empathy. Right, because you're almost having to walk in the shoes of another person, as you say 'how would she do it?'
Ellie Pyemont: Yeah.
Sophie Smallwood: What if you don't know the person that you are looking to share a role with, but if you want to share a role, you think your role could be shareable, you think you could yourself be happy to put ego aside, share that job, to get the flexibility that you need while sustaining that career that you embrace and the role that you embrace. How can you build trust with someone you don't know?
Ellie Pyemont: I think you have to be able to try and build trust really quickly and be really open about your, the times in your career when you felt vulnerable or a bit out of place or when things weren't quite working and just being open about all of that. So that the person that you're teaming with kind of understands your journey, and can see it from where you sit rather than the outward-facing, 'oh, everything's all glossy and perfect'. So I think you have to be able to let them in to the struggles and tribulations of picking a path through things that require you to need flexibility in particular, I think. But I think that can be done through a series of conversations. I don't think you have to have a long back story with somebody. But I think you do have to be willing to do that opening up so that you can really connect as a pair and have each other's back like that. I think in terms of all that I've done, part-time, full-time, excessive hours, different sort of shifts since we had kids. And I think the absolutely the most effective one that I have done was job sharing because if you're dipping into your job on the days when you're not supposed to be because your partner is doing it, you're doing it wrong. You're doing your job badly. Whereas every time I've been part-time or doing other hours and there's always that need to go 'oh, I'll just have a look, I'll just fit in more work into the hours', and there's always that need to dip back and always that worry about 'I'm not doing this, I'm not doing that' etc. Even if you're not being paid to do it. Particularly as roles have got bigger and if you've got more responsibility. I lost track of the amount of friends I've got who basically do a full-time job in a four day week, that seems to be pretty standard. But with a job share, you actually do get that time because if you're dipping into emails, you are making a mess of things for your job share partner because they're like, no, if I need you I'll phone you which is, I think, one of the best things about it.
Sophie Smallwood: My goodness, I could speak to you for hours. I think the appetite for individuals who have the same ambition that you had and have still clearly but want that flexibility as well exists. Right. I think there's a lot of people who are curious about sharing a role and how they could potentially do it but a challenge that they have immediately is not knowing how to approach it and how to, in essence, convince their managers. So if you have to give someone a piece of advice who's thinking about it, what would you say to them?
Ellie Pyemont: I think to speak to people, just find out, you never know what connections are going to be sparked by a conversation or what opportunities might open up. That person that you might have connected with might not be the right person, but their friend of a friend might be and I think just because there isn't a template of it working in your organization, that doesn't mean that it wouldn't. I honestly think that there are probably very few roles where a job share wouldn't work.
Sophie Smallwood: Right.
Ellie Pyemont: It's all about communication and openness, and I still think that job is the job that I performed best in my life, and I'm pretty much sure that is down to having done it as a micro-team.
Sophie Smallwood: And that was Ellie Pyemont. Today, Ellie is the head of membership and operations at the Associated Retirement Community Operators. Her experience sharing a role as a detective is an inspiring example of going forward with confidence and an open mind, regardless of the corporate legacy. Turning the doubtful, into the delightful. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk Roleshare.