This GM at Microsoft is Opening all Roles to Be Shared

This GM at Microsoft is Opening all Roles to Be Shared

E4 S2 - Talk Roleshare Podcast

"Some of the nicest stories we’ve had over the last 18 months has been men embracing roleshare and taking roles that are part time."
-Derrick McCourt, General Manager, Customer Success at Microsoft UK

"As a leader you get thrown curve balls you weren’t expecting and you have to adjust your thinking." Derrick McCourt, General Manager, Customer Success at Microsoft UK has enabled a number of successful shared roles within his organization. Today, he is moving to a position that every role for his organization is to be advertised as a shared role potential. Find out more about why.


Episode Transcript

Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com. Today we talk with Derrick McCourt, general manager of customer success at Microsoft UK. In season one, we interviewed Ellen Wilson and Helena Zaum, who share an industry manager role at Microsoft, which Derrick helped enable and proved to be a great success. Today, Derrick is moving to a position that every role for his organization is to be advertised as a role share potential. Here is Derrick.

Derrick McCourt: My official title is the general manager of our UK Customer Success Unit. I would say as much as anything, sometimes you can plan a corporate career, but I think the role chose me as much as anything else. Reorganized our field operating model two and a half years ago and this fantastic opportunity to lead a very customer centric organisation where my people spend all their time working on big digital transformations with our biggest UK customers, both commercial and public sector, was an amazing opportunity. So I've kind of built a team from scratch and just had an amazing couple of years working on amazing, exciting customer projects.

Sophie Smallwood: So I understand that you are leading up customer success. Customer success is obviously very customer centric, a lot of face to face, a lot of services being available for clients. I know because I used to work in customer success, previously, both at Facebook and eBay. But I think there's a tendency to think that people who are in customer success and client-facing roles can't necessarily share a role. But I think you have personal experience in this because you actually had a team within your organisation who asked to share a role and you enabled that. Can you tell a little bit about that story and how it came about and why you decided to sort of take a leap of faith and let them go with it?

Derrick McCourt: Yeah, I think probably almost lifting it up a level. We have a challenge in the technology industry where particularly from a gender diversity perspective, our industry is not representative of society in the UK. I think as a leader, I'm comfortable with that. I think as you become a parent and a father yourself, I think that brings things into focus. I think it's an amazing opportunity as a leader in such a well recognised and high profile brand as Microsoft, to be a leader who makes a difference so that we have opportunity for twenty thousand business partners in the UK who are struggling with some of the same challenges. And frankly, if we can't show leadership in this space, then there's probably no hope for anybody else. So I guess part of my journey has just been looking at the practical things that I can do within my own organisation and in our UK business as a whole to make our working environment as easy as possible for people from all backgrounds, with all needs to be part of the team. So I guess that's the journey that I've been on. I think the first thing you've got to do, around role sharing as a specific policy is frankly, do it and learn from that and take that leap of faith. I think it's particularly easy to do when you have some great people in your team who want to take that step and they're as invested in the success of it as you are as a leader. So that's been the most important thing for me. Where we've had success with role share, the folks that have been involved in the role sharing have just been passionate about demonstrating that it can be successful. So that's probably the biggest learning to date. The right people with the right mindset to make it work themselves.

Sophie Smallwood: When you look at workforce diversity and leadership and you look into the future, what do you think it will look like and what do you think it will take to get there?

Derrick McCourt: It's a great question. I think the world of work changes every day. If I look at it even broadly as a workforce in the UK, the patent of mobile, flexible working that we have, that much is going to be default, followed by the fact that we have such enabling technology in our organisation. It feels very different. I'm speaking to you today from my home office in Edinburgh, I've had conference calls this morning with London, with Manchester, and seamless experience for everybody involved. So I just think the nature of how people are working is changing and as employers, not only do we need to respond to that, but actually in a really competitive world for talent, I need to have a vision as a leader that shows people that they can have a work life that frankly fits in with whatever external commitments they have, passions that they have in life. It's an easy thing to say as a leader, but it takes very different things to make it happen and bring it to life.

Sophie Smallwood: So when this concept of sharing a role came up on your team, in particular the first time you enabled it, for example, what was your initial reaction?

Derrick McCourt: The first time that it, as an opportunity came to my attention, it's probably going back about four years ago, prior leadership role. One of my top talents was returning from maternity leave and as part of us supporting the integration back into the workplace, I had just a one to one with the colleague who was returning. And this was a request that she made to me that would make returning to work, work for her. So it's confidence that I have in the individual and wanting to make a person come back and be successful. But it just made me super determined to make something happen for her. So we just immediately took the leap of faith that we could make it work, advertised the second half of the role share. We were frankly inundated by colleagues from across the business who wanted that kind of operation. So I guess the first exciting thing that we recognized that the demand was there.

Sophie Smallwood: Absolutely. And it sounds like she came with a plan, in essence, she already had an idea of perhaps what would work for her, which in essence gives you the start of a solution to a problem. What would you recommend to other managers today who perhaps have these types of requests that come through based on various needs that their employees might have at different points in their lives?

Derrick McCourt: I think broadly, the culture that I'm trying to move to my organization is not one of the requests needs to happen. The example that I gave was my early days on the journey where it took a valued employee to come with a proposition. And to a certain extent, not every leader may have the confidence to take that step because they can almost see the barriers and the challenges that it might create. I'm moving to a position within my organization, that every role that we advertise is to be advertised as role share potential. So we're moving to a culture of why would you not do this? Because I've never seen it and it doesn't work. It's easily explainable to our customers and actually can be a leadership lesson for them. This is something that we have confidence around. So I think as a leader who then has managers beneath him and various layers, it's just having that confidence, that clear culture that we're here to enable this, I suppose.

Sophie Smallwood: The scenario you mentioned earlier was an existing employee coming back from maternity leave. That's probably quite a common use case from a job share perspective. What do you think it would take for you to feel comfortable enabling a job share for perhaps a pair that is coming from outside?

Derrick McCourt: Yeah, and that's exactly what I'm talking about in terms of the default in my organization moving to every role being role share. I do not want to sort of paint this as some kind of nirvana that would create some sort of perfectly 'woke' leader is just like journey. I had challenges with this as a leader in terms of mind-set at the start, I remember that the first role sure that we advertised. I was quite clear in my mind, almost with the fixed mindset, this was about actually giving an opportunity to returning to work mothers, to have the opportunity to role share and come back into the work force and be successful. And in that initial demand, people applying for the role. There were quite a number of men applying for role share and in my fixed mindset that surprised me. And I actually had to go on the journey in terms of this can be people at various stages of life. It can be a father who wants to share those parenting responsibilities. It can be somebody that towards perhaps the later stages of their career, wants to balance their life and has other passions they want to drive. And I, frankly, as a leader, had to overcome that mental block. And it's been some of the nicest stories that we've had, certainly over the last 18 months, has been men embracing, role share and taking on new roles that are part-time. So it's probably just a good example, as a leader, you kind of get thrown curve balls that you weren't expecting and have to adjust your thinking. Another example in that is exactly the question you've asked. I would have seen this as more about Microsoft people returning to work or making an adjustment. But now I'm moving into the default of advertising roles this way. It gives us an opportunity to reach a different candidate set that we wouldn't have reached before.

Sophie Smallwood: I love that absolutely. Opens up your talent pool, right? If you have two individuals coming in for one of these roles that you would open up to role share applicants, what would you want to see in the interview process? As I would say, in excess of what you would expect to see from a single individual applying for that same role?

Derrick McCourt: To be honest as I think about it. We're always looking for great people, irrespective of whether they're going to work full-time on a regular Monday to Friday schedule, whether they want to work a compressed hour week, and have Friday freed up or whether it's role share. So I think people who have that growth mindset for any role in our organization. That's what we're looking for, people who have the proven experience that they can be part of a virtual team, that they can lead those virtual teams. Those are the kind of skills that certainly if you're in a role share, I think you need that in bucket loads because you're managing in many ways what could be a more complex dynamic, because not much point to the role share if you still feel as if you've got to be switched on to the days that you're not in the office. So having that ability to manage through others is definitely a core skillset. But we would look back for that skillset in any role that we're hiring. I guess for role share, it probably just needs it more and in bucket loads.

Sophie Smallwood: Yeah, absolutely. So what do you think it will take to have more companies to offer micro-teams, job share and in essence, just generally more flexible working arrangements that are in essence proactively advertised in the same way that you're thinking of doing it for your organization?

Derrick McCourt: I think it's more and more role models that demonstrate that the business doesn't stop. The business continues to grow. We're in a very fortunate position in Microsoft, that with being a hyper-scale cloud provider, that some of the growth that we report to the market feels almost like startup lines in terms of the accelerated growth. Frankly, a lot of that growth is down to the culture shift that there's been in the organization such as in the leadership. It's an incredible place to work. So it really is encouraging people, that creating the right kind of culture in your organization fuels growth and no longer is that about presenteeism, but is actually having great people and trusting them that they will deliver because you've created the working environment that suits their life.

Sophie Smallwood: Absolutely. So a lot of interviews I've done over the past year were, in essence, trying to surface some of the potential fears and perceptions, whether they're correct or incorrect about job sharing. And one of the things that came up was that it's more work for the managers and for the leadership. And I know that this isn't necessarily true if I'm speaking with people who have job shared it seems like there's actually quite a bit of sort of self management that happens within the pair. But I would love to hear from someone who's actually managed individuals who have shared roles. So what would you say to that notion that it's more work for the manager? Is it more work? And if so, in what capacity? And are there areas where actually there's a greater benefit? What's the cost and the loss and or the work volume involved with managing adoption?

Derrick McCourt: It absolutely could be more work if it's not done in the right way. So we have a typical span of control across my team, with typically 10/11 people that work for a manager. If one manager had every role as a role share, then you could potentially have twenty two direct reports. That's twenty two, one to one as opposed to ten or eleven. It's twenty two performance reviews as opposed to ten or eleven. So it's important that we balance that across the team and don't have clusters of role shares and create that leadership overhead. It's important that we recognize that although this is a role share, that adds up to almost the operational expenditure of one full time equivalent employee, that there's actually the leadership overhead and we kind of recognize that in terms of the way we build the team and balance out the control across the business. There are just practical steps that need to be taken to make sure that it doesn't become an overhead for any individual manager, because if it does, then we'll be naturally reluctant to create future opportunities.

Sophie Smallwood: How would you try to sort of manage that overhead? So you mentioned not having. Too many job shares for one manager, right, because then it's exponentially more individuals reporting into that individual. Are there other tactical things that could be done to, in essence, not make it more work for the manager?

Derrick McCourt: I think that probably is the big one. Just doing that organizational scan and making sure that those clusters don't exist, that the workload is spread. Other practical things that we've done is where the role share is, say, balanced across an industry or a genuine shared workload that we have an overlap day between the two role sharing employees. Typically a role share person will do three days a week. So it adds up to a net positive of an extra day of productivity that the manager can get. But just having one of those days as an overlap day means just the manager doesn't have the overhead of coordinating between the two employees, that it's actually they have the opportunity to do that overlap and make sure that the workload is coordinated. So that's one simple step. The other thing that we're doing is, one of the more recent role shares that we did is customer success manager, the individuals working in the financial services industry. And all we've done is we have done the role share, but given the two CSMs who are now sharing the role, different customers. So that means that the overhead of the overlap day is relatively easy. It's only the things that we might be exposed by not having employee A available who's on a customer. Just make sure that those things get covered for a couple of days that they're not around. And it also means that in theory, it doesn't have to be different days if the role works because they're working with different customers.

Sophie Smallwood: Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned one to ones and performance reviews. So, for example, from a one to one perspective, obviously, if it's one that happens every week and you're doing two separate one to ones, that's an extra hour or so or 30 minutes, it seems like something like that could be easily solved if the two people, in essence, have there one to ones together and it's an hour and then they each get 15 minutes one on one. Those are pretty simple sort of challenges, I would say.

Derrick McCourt: I think we have almost two different types of one to one that you expect to have with your manager. Some conversations are about the business and that feels highly appropriate to share those conversations with three or more employees. But when it comes to your personal development, you as an individual, then it always will feel with that kind of one to one needs to be done as a one to one because it's about you.

Sophie Smallwood: Absolutely. So let's pretend for the last question here that you were having coffee with another leader in a different organization and she or he wanted to get your thoughts on what you gained and also what you lost by having job share in your team. In essence, the benefits and the non benefits of having a job share team. What would you say those are?

Derrick McCourt: So what have I lost? Absolutely nothing. And I'm not saying that because I'm on this podcast and it's what I think you want to hear, but genuinely, absolutely nothing. Have me and my team had to put a bit of work up front to make sure that this works and work on simple things like change or operational expenditure model, just to support the fact that this doesn't get counted as two heads. It's just one. And we're just measuring it on the OpEx cost of PNL things to make this practical. So that requires a bit of work upfront. But once you get that settled, it's just about having the faith and the confidence to do it.

Sophie Smallwood: Who do you work with, Derrick to sort of manage those aspect that it's not considered as two headcounts. Was it H.R. that you work with?

Derrick McCourt: A combination of H.R. and finance. Finance is probably the biggest piece. We've changed the global operating model. Now, Microsoft, where we look at the PNL based on, not the number of heads, but on the cost basis versus the flexibility within that cost to make positive decisions like this rather than feeling restricted. If I was in a decision where I wanted to do the right thing on role share but I was effectively losing a headcount to do it. That would be a crazy situation. So you do actually have to shift sometimes internally the way you measure things and account for things.

Sophie Smallwood: Got it. And we'll close off by you telling us all the amazing things that you gained with the role shares that you worked with.

Derrick McCourt: The most important thing is the employees have had the experience. We use Yama as our internal social network. Again, unprompted, one of our team put up a post and in terms of his own words of the experience that he's had in terms of role share, actually what it's meant for him and his family and his children and you kind of go that stuff in terms of employee loyalty, staff retention, just the happiness of the individual, the productivity of that individual. Those are the things that really make a difference. And so there is no downside to this, provided you do the hard work up front to ensure that it's going to be successful.

Sophie Smallwood: I'd love to touch on the productivity because I think this is one of the things that's hard to quantify. Generally speaking, when it comes due to working flexibly, because people work flexibly in many different ways. But in this particular story we're sharing around the gentleman who's sharing a role and is very happy. You mentioned that productivity. What does that look like and how is it that he was perhaps more productive or equally productive, hopefully, more in the shared role capacity?

Derrick McCourt: Yeah, I haven't really taken a is he more productive, less productive view. But I know for that individual the major customers that he's working on and the kind of feedback that we get in terms of his engagement and the great customer outcome that he is driving. So all of that is incredibly positive. You know what? That was all there with the same individual beforehand and it's actually part of the confidence in doing role share with that individual because the track record is there. But the cool thing about the person who is role sharing with him is that was an external hire. So somebody who was working part-time for another organization joined us. Super talent, so excited to have her on board as part of the team. But frankly, if I hadn't role share capability in my organization, frankly, that person wouldn't have shown the interest in Microsoft in the first place.

Sophie Smallwood: And why not just part-time over role share in these instances? For example.

Derrick McCourt: To be honest, in that particular instance, the way we've managed the workload by putting two people on a different customer set, it could be part time, quite honestly. But we like the role share idea in this example, because due to this kind of connection between the two individuals across that customer base, they'll each take holidays at different times of the year. So having a little bit of cover across the customer base makes sense for us. So just two people collaborating on that actually gives us an increased productivity because there is we're creating that overlap.

Sophie Smallwood: And also another benefit in that instance, even though they both have their own portfolio of customers, is that in one of the days where one or the other is not in the office, if something were to come up for a customer, the other person could step in. Right. At least escalate the issue, get the right person within your greater matrix internally to handle the issue.

Derrick McCourt: Yeah, absolutely. The roles that I have are not support roles. For example, they are very much on the front foot, proactive engagements with customers. The work is very planned and the opportunity for the individual to be planful is there. So those emergency situations shouldn't come up that often, but you just may get a query even internally about something that's happening with a customer, and having that overlap and shared responsibility makes common sense.

Sophie Smallwood: Great. So I think that was really good insight. Derrick, to get your perspective. Before I close, was there something that I didn't ask that you would want to maybe say in regards to sort of this general topic?

Derrick McCourt: Just I think in general for whoever listens in, I would encourage you to go down this route because it has absolutely worked for us. I think in our technology industry, we want to have an industry that represents the world around us. So having flexibility in roles is absolutely critical for us and showing that leadership is obviously critical for us. But actually, with an evolving workforce, work patterns, work styles, the opportunity to attract and retain a different type of employee that you wouldn't normally attract is there, and that as we grow our footprint in this space, I think it's what excites me most.

Sophie Smallwood: And that was Derrick McCourt, general manager, customer success at Microsoft UK. In one instance, he took a chance on a role share working model to retain talent. In another, he took a chance, which brought him great talent, who otherwise may not have applied for the role. That's the magic. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk with Roleshare.


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