Line Manager Empathy Enables Flexible Working - EKOMI, Chief People Officer, Tatjana Tasan

Line Manager Empathy Enables Flexible Working - EKOMI, Chief People Officer, Tatjana Tasan

E8 S1 - Talk Roleshare Podcast

Line managers with young women in their immediate families, who happen to be at the start of their careers, are more likely to approve flexible working arrangements and shared roles for their direct reports. This is what Tatjana Tasan identified, along with other findings, when she advocated for and piloted a job share program in a previous HR leadership role at Vodafone.  Her aim was to drive greater diversity in senior roles. Today, she brings the same forward-thinking mindset as Chief People & Culture Officer at EKOMI, a consumer feedback company where trust and lasting relationships is core to their product and consumers experience. Photo Credit: Kaique Rocha.\\

 
Episode Transcript

Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com. Line managers who have girls in their families, who are at the start of their careers are more likely to approve shared roles for their direct reports. This is what Tatjana Tasan identified along with other findings when she advocated for and piloted a job share program in a previous H.R. leadership role at Vodafone. Her aim was to drive greater diversity in senior roles. Today, she brings the same forward-thinking mindset as chief people and culture officer at EKOMY, a consumer feedback company, where trust and lasting relationships is core to their product and consumer experience. Here's Tatjana to talk about how trust is also core to their employee experience.

Tatjana Tasan: If we talk about trust, then obviously people need to trust us as well. They need to trust that the leadership team is making the right decisions. They need to trust that we are consistent. They need to trust that this is a safe place that they can come to and be themselves. And they also need to be able to take the trust away. So, for instance, refer other people that this is a good place to work, go back home and feel confident that they still have a job the next day. So all those kinds of things, we felt, OK, this is very ambitious. Driving things by culture ain't easy. There is no blueprint out there as to what that really means. So we started moving in that direction step by step to really define what we need for that and how exactly people would actually experience it. And it's been a journey, I will say, to start off. But at the same time, I think it's quite rewarding because we've taken a stand of saying we will give people the opportunity to choose whether they trust us or not. And we will do that by expressing and highlighting the things that we think are working extremely well. So we will be celebrating and communicating much, much more also the little and the obvious things. But trust also means holding up to your mistakes and being open about things that do not work. How do we do that? We found a formula where we believe that equally as we celebrate, we should also be able to go out and say we screwed up. And when we screw up, we share it. We don't personalize it. So that's a difference. When we celebrate, we call out people and we put them on the spotlight and we share and then really, really make them feel good. And then obviously it ripples down to the organization. But when we screw up, we say we screwed up all together as a company, which also generates some sort of safety and a place where people feel OK to call things out, which are not working as well. So that's a bit of the journey, which we are on, by no means complete, by no means perfect. But certainly it is something that we're very, very passionate about because we do believe, yes, we are a sales-driven organization. Yes, of course, at the end of the day, top and bottom line matter. However, how we get there, that's totally culture enabled.

Sophie Smallwood: I love what you're saying around this idea of you are a trust product for consumers, but at the same time, you want to live what you're giving to your customers, to your employees as well, which I think is absolutely phenomenal and commendable. Do you think that this is something you'll be able to sustain as your company continues to grow? I understand at the moment you are about 250 or so employees. You are quite diverse. But as you grow, do you see that as a challenge to sustain?

Tatjana Tasan: Not really, I must say. So when we interview candidates, for instance, it is one of the core messages that I convey and say, look, we are not for everybody, but these things matter to us. If you get the idea of what it means to generate trust in the marketplace and really mean it and then try to live up to it every day. And yes, it's enabled. There's processes and systems and stuff. But if you really, first of all, buy the idea, then actually you have a choice, whether you accept it and want to be part of the show or not. If you do not feel comfortable, that's OK, but then you won't be happy in this place. So I'm very transparent with every person coming through the door. Same goes for partners, same goes for any suppliers, any other type of relationships. We do say what we're good at and what we think is valuable, and then we let people choose whether they think this is for them as well. So in terms of sustaining what I have found and I've been interviewing hundreds of people over the last months, people are looking for some sense of more than a job. And it sounds so cliche, everybody's looking for some belonging and, you know, making an impact. But I do think if you can break it down and say this is what we mean by that, if you can wholeheartedly subscribe to this and then add your share, then it is a good place and you will certainly grow tremendously as a professional, but more importantly as an individual. If that's something we can give, you know, as a byproduct of just who we are, then I do think it is worth exploring. So people do say yes to this. Others say, oh, this is too much for me and I just want a job, you know, hiding behind a screen, and then that's fine, too. But again, then it's just not good enough for us.

Sophie Smallwood: So clearly, you're putting a lot of effort in selecting the right candidates, being extremely open and transparent with them in the hopes that you're getting the right match, in essence. And based on that, how critical and important is it to your company to retain the individuals that you bring onboard?

Tatjana Tasan: Very critical, yes we always add new, fresh blood, as they say, which obviously is also attributed to our growth and they are part of this DNA. So having ambassadors from within who are still here and who believe not only the product, but especially in the team in the way how they're being treated, in the way how they still, you know, rave as fans and make a real statement out there for people. Yes, consider joining this place, yes, go at least try it out, yes, do buy from them, that's fine. That is priceless. So I could run any campaign really to get more people into the house but those people I cannot replicate. They are here because they want to be here. They don't have to be here. None of them has to be here. But wanting to be here for a long period of time, that's something we have to cherish.

Sophie Smallwood: There's a lot of trends out there that people are talking about that help drive loyalty and retention. In your opinion, in terms of what you've seen in your very own culture, what drives loyalty?

Tatjana Tasan: So first of all, I do believe loyalty is a difficult word to start with. I think some people are loyal to the place because they just like the place, meaning people and the environment and maybe it's convenient to travel from home and all that. Loyalty towards leadership team, loyalty towards your colleagues. Trusting your managers, I think is a different breed. And what I do see in our organization is that it is naturally a combination of two. But I will also say people do believe in specifically the vision of the company, and they do believe that people are trying to do their very best. So I think loyalty comes with a feeling, but also evidence over time that when you do say something, things happen. When you promise something, it does happen. If you feel you need help and you reach out, somebody is there to give you a hand. I think all of this combined accumulates over time and creates loyalty.

Sophie Smallwood: When you are in a position where someone leaves the company for whatever reason. What does that mean to a company the size of yours?

Tatjana Tasan: So first of all, it means it is felt and I would hope that applies actually to every organization but I know in reality that's not quite the case. It is felt because nobody can hide anywhere. For that, we are too small. It is felt because the person has brought something to the show. They joined here for a reason and as they leave, they are taking that away. So even though they might leave some lasting memories or some good fun experiences, they are taking the whole self away. The only thing we are trying to do is, of course, to preserve knowledge as much as we can but more importantly, we're trying to preserve the relationship and to say, OK, we understand, you know, moving to new adventures. We do celebrate leavers. We thank them for being with us, and then we thank them and hope that they are going to have lasting memories, which they will take away and eventually, you know, stay in touch and hopefully just stay friends forever. But we do celebrate, and that has made a huge difference. It is not about hiding like, oh my gosh, person so-and-so has left. It is no. They have left and we thank them for being here and we appreciate the time that they have spent with us, no matter the reason why they are leaving.

Sophie Smallwood: So you and I met through LinkedIn. I'd shared a post about our startup Roleshare, were the smart matching site for shared roles. What was it about what we are doing that caught your attention?

Tatjana Tasan: When I was with Vodafone, I was heading up diversity and inclusion in technology. It was a hell of a road to go and to find women and technology. So specifically we started to diversity. We have to start somewhere. So we looked at how can we attract more women to the field. One of the ideas was job sharing. And I remember our first attempts to even talk about it was just nowhere, not even possible. People would be like, what do you mean with role sharing, especially in leadership positions, even middle management? No way. How on earth is this going to work? And we pushed too hard and then we got internal acceptance that it might be worth a shot. Then we went into the market to find women, I mean, even men who would be open to this and we couldn't find anybody. It was so devastating. It was so disappointing because we thought, that is actually an opportunity, and looking specifically into Germany, we have a huge discrepancy between earnings between men and women. When you look deeper into the numbers, it is not just the obvious, you know, statements like women cannot negotiate salaries. It is actually the fact that a lot of women working part-time so they are excluded from promotions by default because they work part-time. They are excluded from even being considered because they are not in the office every day because they care for family and other things. There is a natural bias towards people if they are not present or if they are not 'all in' meaning forty hours plus, they do not exist. They are not to be considered. So that caught my attention. It is something that I am personally very passionate about being a woman, being a mother, being a working mother. You know, I'm really breaking all of the norms then this is really important to me and when you posted it, I really felt, it's about time and it's great to have some allies out there. So I'm hoping I can add my little two cents to this.

Sophie Smallwood: Why do you think it was so difficult to find people to participate?

Tatjana Tasan: I think there has been two or three real patterns that emerged. One, the leaders of those vacancies, shall we call them. Didn't feel that they could make it work out, so that was the funny part, they said, how would I handled it? How would I make sure that this person hands over to that? And then when they both turn up, we have a working place. And then how do they keep me up to date? Do I now have to have two meetings? So it was all about them. Them, them, them, them.

Sophie Smallwood: So it was the manager, this is the line manager OK?

Tatjana Tasan: That's right. The direct managers. The second pattern that emerged were the women themselves saying things like, I'm worried that I'm going to work full time anyway because I will rely on somebody and that somebody might not do the work as I feel it should be done, be it in terms of volume, quality, anything in between. So I'm worried it's going to end up as a full-time job being paid half-time. And in addition to that, I have to manage all the administration around syncing up calendars, getting along with each other and I just don't know where this is going. It's too risky for me. The third pattern that we found was internal. So when we looked at the H.R., people department saying, how do we find those two who really match from a job kind of split perspective? So do they have complementary skills? Is that what we want? Do we want the same skills just across the whole range of hours that are available? How do we actually match them and how do we then make sure that they are successful? So do we need to hold their hands? Do we need to pave the way or will they just figure it out and we just watched from afar? So there was a concern that even if we bring those people on, that they might find it too hard and that we would not be able to enable them to really be successful. So those three buckets, I think, were the most obvious and prevalent ones that we tried to really manage and somehow overcome obstacles one by one.

Sophie Smallwood: Was there any concern from H.R. about how to actually integrate a job share into the H.R .systems and operations?

Tatjana Tasan: No, we were quite creative about that. I think we just doubled the role. We just copied it in the systems and then we made it X hours left and X hours right. And then even in Orchard's, I do remember having all these little boxes and two names with a dash in between. On that front, we were quite simple, I think.

Sophie Smallwood: Keep it simple. Why not? That's great. Now, you said the three buckets as far as the challenges in filling and enabling these job shares were, one the line manager and or the perception from the line manager. Two, the perception of the candidates themselves, it seems that it was trust-related. Can I trust this partner? Will this partner's quality of work be as good as mine, et cetera? And then three, H.R. individuals and the concern about finding people to do this together. If you had to prioritize these three today so you could solve one of them. Which one do you think is the one that would be the most important thing to solve?

Tatjana Tasan: I do think the line managers, because the way how they would approach it and the way how they would talk about it and feel comfortable talking about it would attract the right people. So I think it would create that trust with candidates that this is worth it, that it has been thought through that there is commitment and support, sponsorship almost, if you like, and that everything else is manageable. I do feel that candidates have been a bit concerned because they didn't really know where this is going. So they didn't want to be part of an experiment. They really wanted that the organization knows what they're doing, that we felt we had an answer to almost every question, and if we didn't, then that we would be serious enough to find it out. And with that, I think it's the line managers. It always starts at the top. It always starts about really creating that space and then letting people into it. Everything else should be easy.

Sophie Smallwood: So when you were having discussions with line managers, how were you trying to get them on board to give it a go? To change perhaps their attitude toward it?

Tatjana Tasan: So the first question I always asked is, why not? And then, you know, almost silence every time I asked, because there were no real reasons. There were concerns every now and then where people said, I need somebody almost on standby, take a role in I.T. operations, for argument's sake, network centers, things happen. You have to be available. You have to go into the so-called war room and just fix things up. Right. So if you have a very tight time schedule and you cannot really commit to this, then this role will just not be available. It is just what it is, but that applies to any full-time or any other commitment role as well. Beyond that, there were no real reasons, so when you ask a line manager, so why would you not consider? What's your real concern? Everything was around, not tried it, I don't know it any better, I would be the first so I would be in the spotlight, I would be watched, what if I fail? So a lot about personal safety, a lot about personal career thoughts as well. Even if it was all set up, how would I stay on top of these things? How much administrative burden is it? So when you have answers to all those questions, or even if you don't if you say, OK, let's explore. We were looking at clarity so you would have on the left-hand side, you would have what's your concern on the right-hand side, you would be so what could be a potential viable solution and you would find almost all of those concerns would have a solution, and then it would be down to the line manager to say, OK, I got this, let's do it. And with that, of course, then you'll press a little bit on the ego saying you will be the first, you'll be an ambassador, we'll hold your hands, we'll make sure you'll be successful and if not, we'll make sure, you know, you don't feel damaged in your reputation or in your career. We'll take it as a teamwork and see where it takes us. So with that confidence and that kind of partnership, we could overcome the first obstacles. And then when you find those one or two people who really want to lead the way, then the rest is rather easy. I will also say the ones that we found, had girls in their family. So they would have had daughters and or nieces in a certain age where they would be looking, you know, to make the first career moves or start deciding for school where they want to go. So they did feel a personal responsibility to start to try something new.

Sophie Smallwood: So if someone comes in today at Ecomy who has a good, established credibility in the organization, how would you handle their ask for additional flexibility while still wanting to pursue an exciting career?

Tatjana Tasan: We have a real example. We have somebody in the leadership team, and I know it's not a woman. I mean, we do have women in the leadership team, but this particular person had circumstances that had forced him to step down from a full-time job, and we were looking at how can we accommodate that? Because, as you said, credibility has an important role. It is certainly a valuable member of the team so we don't just let go. We just cannot let go. And equally, that person didn't want to let go. So the first thing we did is to sit down. Very open conversation. What does that mean? Is this a temporary situation? Is that the long term effect? Is that something you just want to do? And what does it mean for us? Can we afford that? Afforded in terms of what will we get in return for the time that he has available? Is that good enough? How do we make up for the gaps and then obviously for the individual, is that good enough for him to still feel committed or will he just start fading out over time? So it took quite a few open conversations and then we started sketching it out. This is what we both expect. This is how it could work. We set timelines, like very firm windows during those times. I am available at your disposal and at those times I'm just not, I cannot be. You have to accept it. No matter. You know, the world falls apart. I just cannot be around these times, and beyond that, if there is anything else we need to clarify for the team and somebody else needs to step up, then so be it. So we have found another person who has taken on some activities as a deputy, as a stand in for the day to day operations, and that leader has basically taken on all the stuff that he's super good at and that we wanted to retain and cherish. And yeah, then it's really down to not only documenting it, but actually giving the trial and see how it works. Sticking to the commitment on both sides has given us the opportunity to learn and to see if there is anything else that is falling through the cracks. Maybe not as great as we thought are the additional circumstances we have to cater for. And I will say we are about three months in now, into this experience and it hasn't been all smooth. It certainly does require fine-tuning and adjusting every now and then. But in totality, I think it does give both sides exactly what we were looking for, clarity for both what to expect and whatnot, and on the other hand, maximum flexibility for that gentlemen to look after the other things in his life. We are just hoping we can sustain it. We're hoping that this can last a little, and we've also been very open communicating this in the organization to create that awareness, but also the acceptance that it is OK if the leadership team is OK, nobody else should be worried. That's a statement that as far as I can tell, maybe people prove me wrong, but as far as I can tell, this has landed quite well. And we just live with a circumstance and then we make the best of it.

Sophie Smallwood: So would you describe this as a quasi shared role?

Tatjana Tasan: In a way I would, because the person that has taken on the deputy roles was certainly exposed heavily to new activities that have never been on their plate, and it is very clear where to draw the lines and what belongs to which person and how we manage it day to day. But then also how do we consolidate data when it comes to leadership dashboards, monthly closings and all that? So I would say in a way, yeah, maybe unusual because it's not even split up, but I would say that probably qualify for a little bit of a job share.

Sophie Smallwood: Do you think that shared roles are applicable to smaller organizations? So obviously you've worked with very large Vodafone type company. Now you're working at a smaller company. Is there a niche in your opinion? Is there a market or a company, an ideal company size for shared roles?

Tatjana Tasan: I would never attribute it to a company size. I think it's down to if we are really serious about diversity, and diversity, to me, first of all means diversity of thought. So if we can retain the best possible people, we should then only worry about how we make this work. And I'm very serious about that. It's not just words. I just strongly believe that we are missing out on too many opportunities by following certain rules, old principles. If you're this size, you cannot do that. It's so easy to say this if you are that large and have money to throw at problems. I disagree. I think if you really want to achieve some change, then it's about driving it and it's about trying it and also be OK to fail and admitting it and then try again. But I think it does come down to what do we really want as an organization and how do we leave that mark. If anything, I would just want people to say, hey, at least I tried. That doesn't apply to any size of a company or any industry or any country. You either do it or you don't.

Sophie Smallwood: Based on your experience previously having pitched and advocated for shared roles at Vodafone, would you be in a position now to say, you know what, I'm ready to enable this as a formal pilot program or the like inside of Ecomy? And if so, what would you do differently?

Tatjana Tasan: Would I make a program out of this? Not sure, because, again, I would rather respond to the requirements that we have than to make it a program and then kind of almost impose it. Now we have to have some numbers and some attendees and then we have to track how it's going. I think that program frame is something that works extremely well in corporates, in large corporates, because your biggest challenge is your internal network. It is your peers. It is the ones who are pushed on the edges because you're doing something outside of the norm that is known. In a smaller place, it's just about do it or don't do it. It's much more nimble I would say, and much more flexible in terms of what do we really need right now? And again, it comes down to what do we stand for? If we want to retain people and circumstances get in the way, then we just address it. We don't make programs out of it. So would I pilot it? Yes, any time. But would I pilot it proactively? No, I do think that would cause the wrong perception that we are now creating it for the sake of it.

Sophie Smallwood: In your role as chief people officer, what keeps you up at night?

Tatjana Tasan: Lots of things, but actually I think you can sum it up in one word, sustainability. I'm concerned that whatever we bring to the company, be it a program, be it an initiative, be it just the way how we work just the day to day, whether we can sustain it with the right outcome in mind. Why is that so hard? Because it's great to start a lot of initiatives and say we need to address this and then we have to do this. Oh, and now this is exciting, and you have all of these shiny object syndromes and instead, just do the core, really, really well, stick with what you're really, really good at, I think is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. And I will say I am not immune to going after the next cool thing, driving new ideas and initiatives. But what I've learned is to not trade it, to not trade it for the good old housekeeping, for the real stuff that matters every single day, little things like how you welcome your talent, how you on board them every single day, how you say thank you, how you say congratulations, and also how you let people go. I think there are certain milestones. They are just immovable. They should never be traded. They should never be touched. Once you keep that, I think everything else is doable. So I would say for me, sustainability is really a big word. How can we ensure that we treat all people well over a long period of time? How do we make sure that we do not trade on our values, do not compromise on them? And then also, what are the memories we are leaving with people? So as they leave this place, will they say it's been good enough time or will they say it's been a waste of my time? If it was a waste of their time, then I would say we have failed. If they say if it's been memorable, I've learned something and I will not regret having been in this place, then I would say, well, at least a few things done quite well.

Sophie Smallwood: And that was the Tatjana Tasan, Chief People and Culture Officer at EKOMY. When it comes to new ways of working in close partnership with line managers, giving them clear guidance on how to manage individuals, what they can expect and the value they'll gain from it, is key to driving acceptance and adoption. Also, whether companies approach shared roles as an official benefit, a pilot program or simply on an ad hoc basis, it requires proactive internal communication. The fine lines in a contract just won't do. Promote it. Role model it. Walk the talk, and if you don't know the benefits, then research it. It's worth exploring. I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk with Roleshare.

Interested in a roleshare? Sign up

Want to list your roles? Post a role

Share this on