2019-11-25 | Podcasts
My top performers were a job share - eCommerce Executive, Scott Dahlgren

My top performers were a job share - eCommerce Executive, Scott Dahlgren

E3 S1 - Talk Roleshare Podcast

Hear how a leader's open mind drove talent retention but also resulted in a top-performing roleshare team. We talk with Scott Dahlgren, an investor executive leader in eCommerce technology, who directly managed a client and partner-facing job share.  Learn how the benefits far exceeded anyone’s expectations.

Episode Transcript

Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com. Today, we share a story of a manager who's open mind drove talent retention, but also resulted in a top performing role share team. We talked with Scott Dahlgren, an executive leader in ecommerce technology who directly managed a client and partner facing role share. I had the pleasure of working with Scott while at eBay on the Magento e-commerce platform. He is to this day, one of my personal favorite leaders. Here's more from Scott.

Scott Dahlgren: You know, my focus is mainly channels and partners, open source e-commerce, managing teams of people usually distributed across geography.

Sophie Smallwood: I see Scott. So, the individuals that you typically manage are what I would call relationship management roles. Are they managing relationships with partners all sorts around the world?

Scott Dahlgren: Yes, very much so. I would consider them to be salespeople or account managers. So they're managing relationships with partners. They're also customer facing people. So they're supporting partners and helping them when they're working on opportunities with customers.

Sophie Smallwood: Ok, and so obviously, you and I go back. We had the pleasure of working together under the eBay umbrella for Magento at the time when they owned Magento. And I posted on LinkedIn about Roleshare. And you reached out to me. What was it about this post that you saw me share that made you say, you know what, let me reach out to Sophie. I have a story to share?

Scott Dahlgren: Yeah, I mean, a couple of things. One, I thought it was innovative. I thought it was filling a need that a lot of people had but didn't necessarily know they needed it, which was greater flexibility in how they do their job and how they work. And it also reminded me of a situation that I was part of managing two people who actually job shared. I mean, this was back in like almost twenty-two, twenty-three years ago, in the mid to later 90s, I was at Silicon Graphics and I remember and I've often shared the story with people about how these two women who shared a partner manager job were actually significantly more productive and more efficient and better performers than any of the other people on my team who were full-time people and I kind of use that as a point. We all don't have to just fall into a full time job, single person, that there are other options and ways to approach it. And we're hearing more and more about the importance, particularly to younger people and to more progressive thinking companies of work life balance. And a lot of companies have talked about that for so long. But this idea is really kind of putting that into play. As smart as you might be, you're never going to be as smart as the collective community or a team that exists because there are tons of ideas that you haven't even thought about. You could be the most open person in the world and you still might not, for whatever reason, just not thinking the way other people are thinking. And so I think to be open to that is really, really important.

Sophie Smallwood: When these two individuals came to were they hired as a job share or where they initially individual contributors, that then, in essence, came together.

Scott Dahlgren: Yes. So, they were already working for Silicon Graphics. They were both full time, but both were raising young families. They just had children. Their husbands worked full time as well. So they wanted to be involved with their family. They wanted to be involved in raising their kids. But they also didn't want to take themselves out of the working world. That still was very interesting and energizing to them and so they came together and thought about a way to share these roles together and ended up proposing that to management, to H.R., myself, and a few other managers.

Sophie Smallwood: How did people react to the proposition?

Scott Dahlgren: I don't remember any significant pushback. Everyone was open to it. These two ladies were very well known. They were known as high performers. So I don't think there was any doubt in anyone's mind that if they decided and if they had a plan to make this work, that they could make it work. There were certainly some strong questions and everyone needed to know how exactly this would work in detail and particularly how this might impact the relationships with partners and also customers.

Sophie Smallwood: How would you describe them getting into the groove of sharing the role? And then maybe you could share a bit more about why you think that together they were better?

Scott Dahlgren: Sure. If I think of the things that were critical for them to be successful, one, they had to act as a team, not as individuals, and even though they were very much individuals and high performers, they kind of put that aside and they really figured out how together they would be more than any one individual would be. They ended up working two days a week and then the next week was three days a week. So you didn't have kind of half days where in the morning was one person, in the afternoon was another. I mean, that's an option, you could do that, but I think it was cleaner having just full days. So at the end of two weeks, each worked half time. But I think the thing that a couple of things that made it work was when they were both really good communicators. And that's very key here, because you can be talking on the phone and having conversations with people. And if that's not documented and written down somewhere, then it's as if it never even happened. This is even more vital. This is not just creating reports that your manager knows what you're doing. This is your team who's depending on you to document what's been said and what commitments have been made. And so that's really, really important.

Sophie Smallwood: In their case, why do you think that they decided to job share instead of asking to work part time?

Scott Dahlgren: The roles that they had they were full time roles. I mean, you can take that role and make it part time. They were managing partners, but there was actually another set of people or pair of people who were sales reps and they were managing territory together. Really it wasn't something at the time that was an option in terms of I'm going to take this full time job and only work half the time or two days or three days. So I think that they realized that that was not an option. And so they thought of this idea of let's take another person who's in a similar situation and let's just act as one team. I remember when it was initially proposed, your gut reaction is to say that's strange, that's not really going to work, is it? And what was interesting is that it was and again, what I tell people even today, is that the benefits far exceeded anyone's expectations. You had built in backup. People go on vacation. They never went on vacation together. So there was always somebody backing up. There was two people to reach out to if you're a partner or a customer is certainly better than one. The ability to strategize together as a team. They were both smart ladies. But I contend that together they were smarter than each of them individually. So, I mean, there are a lot of benefits that I think we all saw afterwards that we didn't necessarily realize when it was initially proposed to us.

Sophie Smallwood: Right. Because it's not what we're used to. Right. We only know what we know.

Scott Dahlgren: It's not what we were used to. And as progressive and forward thinking as you like to think that you are, we all get locked into the way things are, and the way things have worked. That's maybe what is preventing us from seeing more and more job sharing opportunities out there.

Sophie Smallwood: Right. Do you recall how sharing their role impacted their salary and benefits? Was there any impact to this?

Scott Dahlgren: Yeah, there really was no impact to that. Their salary and commission. So they were compensated on base and commission or bonus and that was just split in half. So that was fairly easy. They still retain the benefits and most of the benefits are many of the benefits directly linked to the amount of time you worked or the amount of money you made. So, things like vacation and 401k and things like that are all tied to actual hours worked or amount made. I think the only thing if you want to think about what's incremental cost to a company in doing this, it's probably health care. So in that case, you're insuring or providing health benefits to two people rather than one. But I don't really recall it being a huge factor. And it's really not. I mean, for a company, it's typically not a huge amount.

Sophie Smallwood: Got it. And I should specify that this was a job share in the US. Right. So things might vary from country to country. From what I hear, they had a very good working relationship. They communicated very well together. Do you recall any challenges that they faced?

Scott Dahlgren: I don't remember any significant challenges or problems that occurred there. One of the reasons that we didn't see that is that the two things that I think are critical in making this work for communication and coordination, they were really good at that. I mean, they were detail oriented. They were super organized. They managed their business well. If you have that, that really avoids most of the problems that we see on a daily basis at work. And so I don't recall any issues that were significantly greater or different from the individual contributor.

Sophie Smallwood: How critical is the role of a line manager in a job sharing arrangement?

Scott Dahlgren: I mean, it's important, but I think what made this work was that these two individuals just made it happen. They had the idea and they owned the idea and they own the execution of that. They put together the plan and they proposed it. And ultimately, they were accountable for its success. And these two individuals were the type of people that they stepped up and said, you know, I'm going to make this happen. You knew that they were going to make this happen. I think this isn't going to work for people who don't take self initiative. This isn't going to work for people who are not self-motivated. They need to be driven and they need to be accountable and own that. And as a manager, then the job is simply making sure that things are working correctly, problems are getting resolved quickly, maybe helping on strategy direction, but in many ways getting out of the way so that they can do the job and get the work done. So as a line manager, as a direct manager for them. I didn't view it as more work for me. And in many ways it felt like whoever I was talking to, I knew I was getting the straight story and an accurate update. And again, that goes back to them working as a team rather than as individuals.

Sophie Smallwood: How did you handle performance reviews and salary increases for them that would review them individually?

Scott Dahlgren: That was an important thing to do individually because everyone has different goals and aspirations and what they aspire to. So it's important that be done individually and done in the future. In the future, it's very likely that they might want to move back into a full time role. So, those are always good opportunities to really assess what people's goals are and where they want to be 5 years, 10 years down the road. A big part of how they were assessed was how they performed as a team. They could be a great individual contributor, but if the team was failing, then they were failing. And and so that was a part of the review that really wasn't a part of anyone else's review before. Anyone else being a full time individual contributor was not necessarily a big part of their review or in this case, it was.

Sophie Smallwood: So, Scott, if the option for job sharing had not been on the table or if your company at the time had not been open to it, it's a hypothesis we can theorize. But what do you think would have been the outcome?

Scott Dahlgren: I think really two options or two outcomes could have occurred. So one is they could have just left the company and been full time moms. And that would have been a shame because these two women were individually top performers and to lose them would have been a real shame. But that was clearly an option for them. I think the other option would be that they just try to make it work. They try to do a full time job in addition to all of their other responsibilities. And I know that wouldn't have been better. They would have just been stretched way too thin. There might have been some level of resentment that I've just got too much going on on both sides of my world, my working and personal family. But at the time, those were really the two options available to them.

Sophie Smallwood: So what do you think it would take to have more companies offer shared roles?

Scott Dahlgren: Companies need to see success. They need to try that. It's not every company is going to be open to it. So if it's the more progressive, the more forward thinking companies who are really trying to put this work life balance into practice and really trying to provide greater flexibility for everybody, not just women, but men and and everybody. So I think the company's got to be open to it and then they've got to see some success. So they've got to try it out and they have to actually see that it works. I mean, my own experience and again, the stories that I tell even today is that these two women were more productive than any individual. And probably the main reason they were more productive is that they had to be they had a limited time in order to get the job done. They had to be super focused and they had to prioritize. And we all know that every day there are lots of things that we could spend our time on. And those who are successful prioritize what's important and what isn't. And these two women were forced to prioritize, which meant they focused only on the most important things.

Sophie Smallwood: And imagine that they have the sense of checks and balances toward each other. In essence, you have a person there to judge your work on a very regular basis. Right? So it's backing each other up, knowing that you're not alone in this role ultimately, and that you have a responsibility to another person's success as well.

Scott Dahlgren: Very much so. Yeah, it's back to that team. It's somebody to bounce ideas off of, to find people that are compatible and you're similar, but you're also going to have complementary skills and have that built into the role really brings out a lot of benefit.

Sophie Smallwood: So in organizations that offer job sharing today, you might find anywhere from zero to maybe two percent, with the exception of a few companies offer a job sharing. Why do you think that even when a company offers this perk, this ability to job share, why is the adoption low?

Scott Dahlgren: They probably don't know how to actually implement this or execute on that. They may be open and they may be OK to a job share. But then it's like, how do I find these people? How do I find somebody who's going to be compatible in this role that only wants to work part time again, when you're out promoting a job or if you're an individual looking for a job, you're typically are not seeing jobs that say I only need you part time, it's usually full-time jobs. So, even though there's a need on both sides, I think there's just not anything that's matching up the two sides to make that easy in terms of finding the right person for the right job.

Sophie Smallwood: If you had two individuals who wanted to share a role and have found each other and they would like to present the case to the company, do you have any advice on how they should position that? And also any advice on how the company could make that happen, that arrangement happen?

Scott Dahlgren: Sure. So if I was hiring for a position and was considering two people to fill that position, my approach, my strategy would be to put the responsibility on them, to have them really own the idea, the plan, and figure out how you're going to make this seamless with the customer or the partner, whoever their customer is, how they're going to perform as well, if not better than individuals, how they're going to coordinate. It's only going to work if the team is accountable for its success. So I would certainly provide guidance and insight and wisdom and ultimately I would approve or not approve, but I find individuals are more capable than you give them credit for. So, I always like to power and give them that responsibility and ownership for the success of that role.

Sophie Smallwood: Do you think that companies should even open up individual contributor roles that are new roles that are out on any X, Y, Z job board to potentially job share candidates instead of just individuals who can commit to a single role full time?

Scott Dahlgren: They probably should. I know today's job market it's really hard to find good people and that takes into consideration they're just looking for one individual one and they fill a role that may require a lot of different skill. And so the idea here is if you're open to a job share option here, one, you're opening up to more people, to more candidates. And I think you're also potentially able to meet the skills and requirements of the job better because you're you're working with two people rather than one. It's just a way of looking at it that's perhaps different perhaps it's very different from how people looked at it today. But when you really assess and look at it, it's hard to conclude that we shouldn't do this. It's absolutely something that should be considered as you're trying to fill positions and roles.

Sophie Smallwood: The perception out there has been that typically flexible work is more for women and very often women who have young children. But men could very well need that flexibility. I have a husband and I'm also a mother to a son, and I want both of them to have a balanced life and just as much as I want a balanced life. So what advice would you give your sons if they are in a position where one day they want to have more flexibility in their life but also want to pursue fulfilling careers?

Scott Dahlgren: Sure. So the advice I give them for just about anything, which is if you want something, go out and make it happen. Just because something hasn't been done or no one's doing it doesn't mean that you can't pursue that. When you're proposing something new and different, you need to think through it very carefully. And you need to have a plan and you need to present it to the management team. And they may say no, and that's all right. But they may also look at you as a forward thinker, an innovative thinker. And that's what companies want. They want people who are going. To see an opportunity and find a way to make that happen, so that's typically my advice to anyone, whether my sons or people their age, is that if you want something, then make it happen. It's not just going to land in your lap, but you're right, this really applies. If you asked 10 people about role share and you said who this apply to, most would say women. And that's not really the case. I mean, certainly women are very likely candidates, mostly because they're primary caregivers within their family. But we're really seeing that change as well. We're seeing fathers and men being the primary caregivers, being either wanting to spend more time with their children or maybe their wives are the primary breadwinner. They've got the bigger job and the men are very happy to be the primary family caregiver. The key thing for both, whether it's man or woman, is they don't want to leave the business where they have a career. That's been very important from that in many ways is their identity and they don't want that to just disappear. And so this allows them to stay in the game, to stay current while they need to spend time doing other things.

Sophie Smallwood: What do you foresee roles being like in the future? How do you think roles will be shaped?

Scott Dahlgren: My father joined AT&T when he was very young and he retired at AT&T. That was his entire career. And when I graduated from college and started working and I started shifting jobs, it was a really hard concept for my dad to understand because he just thought that I couldn't hold a job. And and it was interesting. I kept trying to explain to him that that was really important, especially in technology, to get a broad range of experience and an insight. And so that's always been part of my strategy, is one, to broaden your experience base so that you know a lot about everything. And the other thing, two, if you're looking at are our fathers were loyal to their companies and their companies were loyal to them, there was job security. And as long as you worked, you had a job. That's not the world we live in right now. So the world we live in today is that you might have a great job and tomorrow you may not have that job anymore. And so job security isn't so much tied to a company. It's tied to who you are and the experience you have and and what you bring to the table.

Sophie Smallwood: That was Scott Dahlgren, manager extraordinaire, listening to his story reinforces shared roles as a way to keep top performers in the workforce and inside companies when those individuals have a need for flexibility. It's also a way to open the candidate pool for roles that typically only would have accepted single applicants. I liked his thinking on putting the responsibility on candidates to identify a plan on how they could complement each other for a role based on their strengths, experience and skills make that part of the interview process. What I've realized is doing a role full time is a commitment, but doing it in a role share capacity is a greater commitment and a shared responsibility one has toward his or her partner. It's a flexible working choice for highly ambitious people. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk with Roleshare.

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