Unlock unicorn talent: How job sharing can help build your dream team

Unlock unicorn talent: How job sharing can help build your dream team

Podcast: finance director, part-time finance jobs, flexible jobs, finance leadership, job share jobs
Industry: finance, retail, fmcg

"The power is bringing people who think differently and who maybe have a different outlook on life, together," says Laura Walker, discussing the importance of job sharing in the workplace. In this podcast interview, Laura and her colleagues Chloe Fletcher, who job share the Senior Finance Director Transformation position a ASDA, explain how job sharing can offer unique benefits to businesses, such as creating a "unicorn employee" with different skill sets and perspectives. They also discuss the importance of multi-generational job sharing, and how it allows businesses to gain a competitive advantage. Here is Laura and Chloe.

In this podcast episode of Talk Roleshare we cover the following:

+ Laura Walker and Chloe Fletcher started job sharing to have better work-life balance and more time with their kids.

+ Over time, they realized that job sharing has made their work lives richer, as they are constantly challenged and pushed to think creatively.

+ They have both found that they are more productive when job sharing, due to being accountable to each other.

+ They have job shared in both highly strategic and operational roles, proving that it can be done in many different types of positions.

+ Job sharers have been found to have the highest level of wellbeing of any type of worker, due in part to the fact that they can compartmentalize things more successfully.

+ To make a job share successful, both parties must be organized and committed to seamless communication between one another.

+ They work three days a week each.

+ They have a system where one records voice notes summarizing their week for the other to listen to, as well as sharing a OneNote with their strategic tasks.

+ They use their Wednesday overlap day for anything that requires both of them to be there, like finance meetings.

+ Their shared inbox ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.

+ They believe job sharing is a great way to retain ambitious, diverse talent who don't fit the constructs of the traditional workforce.


Laura Walker: Our why for why we started doing it, and our why for why we do it now.

It's probably evolved. So we started to do this for childcare reasons. Chloe and I have both got small children. We both did four days, actually four day a week jobs, busy jobs, very stressful, high impact. Neither of us wanted to work four days.

So we started a job share so that we. Both work three days and get that balance right between home life and work life. Now, what it's evolved to for me is it's just become so much more than that. My home life is better because we've got this balance, got head space. I can do the things outside of work that I want to do, like running and cycling and be there for my kids when I want to be.

My work life has become so much richer. Like I enjoyed my job before, but I love my job now because I get to do it alongside Chloe and she challenges me and makes me think differently and helps me think through problems in a really creative way. And that has just made the experience of being in work so much more fulfilling as well.

What I set out to do was to make my life bit of work-life balance better. And I've made my work and my life bit of work-life balance even better than it was.

Chloe Fletcher: I think really similar. So I wanted to do this because I've got two kids and Probably, this sounds really bad, but I probably ignored my kids to a large extent like Monday to Thursday. We work in a really busy environment. It's very stressful and like I would get on the rollercoaster on a Monday and get off on a Thursday and then I would switch to home life for three days.

And I wanted to have more of a balance where like I could do a better job of being a parent. So actually my children have gone to school now they're not at home. I don't spend time with them on my home days when I'm not working. So this wasn't just about childcare, this was for me a lot more about wellbeing as well.

Actually having the mental capacity to think about other things than being at work. So what I've actually found to Laura's point is on the days off I invest in myself in a different way that I didn't do when I was working four days. So I invest myself, in my own personal development, in learning.

And that is just part of how my rhythm is going now. Now we're job sharing. Laura and I have said that we want to make this a longer term commitment. And I think we do, because like Laura says, she's like my coach. She challenges me, she develops me. She's constantly helping me do this job in a better way.

And we deliver a much better output because we are together. Because you've actually always got a coach at work. You've always got somebody who's challenging your decision, saying, are we doing the right thing? Are we coming to the right conclusion? I just think it's been like a real life-changing experience over the past nine months and it's enriched life at home, but definitely at work as well.

People get more from us because we are. Really enthused to be here. We want to be here. We're not like resenting being here at the expense of something else.

Sophie Smallwood: There was a civil service study where they surveyed people who are in job shares and they posted these results publicly and people who job shared had the highest level of wellbeing over any other way of working-- part-time, full-time, contracting, you name it. And you've just touched on why that could be, right? This idea of you want to be there, it's not a drag.

Chloe Fletcher: You can compartmentalize things much more successfully. So like on my days at home, I don't have to worry about what's happening in the office because I know that Laura's got it covered and she's doing a brilliant job here and I don't need to check into work, which I did when I was working part-time because although I had a great team and people who were in the office, I was ultimately still the person responsible for my role.

And now Laura's there on Monday and Tuesday and she's bringing her perspective, doing a great job. And I know, if she needs me, she'll call me. And that is also fine because we've got the boundaries and it's only if it's a real emergency that

Laura Walker: You might have heard of like the four burners of wellbeing and how you've only got capacity to dial up certain number of burners. And I feel like job sharing allows you to install a bigger boiler on the work burner.

You get to do a big challenging job that gives me fulfilment. But I get to also have capacity to spend time with my family, to spend time with my friends, to build relationships and to do exercise and sport. And for me, the biggest impact on wellbeing- sport is super critical to me in terms of keeping my wellbeing in the right place.

And this job share has enabled me to do the things I want to do from a health and sport perspective which has a really positive impact on wellbeing as well. So I'm not at all surprised that job sharers have the highest levels of wellbeing.

Sophie Smallwood: I was having a conversation just today with someone who was educating various stakeholders around job sharing and considering job sharing as a way of working and the reaction that comes up often is, "ooh, that sounds complex job sharing. Doesn't the collaboration and having two people in a role actually create a risk?" And of course I wanted to jump in and start stating all the things I know about job sharing, but I had to refrain and ask more questions. How would you address that anxiety?

Laura Walker: I guess there's two things in there. Is it complex and is it more risky? It's actually a lot less risky and we've had this conversation a lot. We are doing quite a high risk type job , if someone left this job right now, we would put our business at a bit of risk because of the level of impact of the project we run.

Having two people do that, if something, God forbid, was to happen to me went on long-term sick, for example. Chloe would be here. You've minimized your risk. You've got the difference between, you would not have anyone versus you would have someone 50% of the time. So I think that's definitely a benefit - you are spreading your risk from a key person risk.

Now, obviously it's not what you're aiming for, you're not aiming to be in that scenario, but genuinely disaster recovery planning, it is better. I think from a complexity perspective, our experience is certainly that with some reasonably sensible parameters, it is not more complex for the stakeholders.

So we've been very clear and we send materials to our key stakeholders - line managers, direct reports. We're very clear. We had a meeting this morning where we just went in and met a whole load of new project people and we told them our way of working, which is basically treat us as one person.

We will manage behind the scenes and you can just treat us as one person. We don't actually mind if you get our names mixed up. We haven't got a good like smash together name we get and it's not pleasant, but No, but we don't mind. And then we manage the complexity. And actually the complexity isn't that complex. We make really heavy use of voice notes.

Sophie Smallwood: Love voice notes.

Laura Walker: On a Tuesday night, I'll record a load of voice notes that Chloe listens to on the way in on a Wednesday morning. And she does the same for me on a Friday night. We have a shared inbox, and we have a shared OneNote and we just write stuff down.

Chloe Fletcher: I do think going into a job share that you have to be open eyed to that. That you take responsibility for that seamless transition. And I think it works for us because we're both pretty organized.

If you worked in very different ways, you'd have to contract on that from a start point. Working in an organized way to be able to hand things over. You have to be able to be very organized in the way you do your notes and things, but it's not beyond the weight of man.

That is a real advantage to a job share because on a Friday bringing everything to what does Laura actually need to know is so helpful. From a personal perspective to bring things to okay, let's crystallize everything that's happened and how do you move it forward?

And I actually think really helps the productivity of a role that you're doing because you think, what are the key things that I need to handover, and it really forces that accountability back to other person.

I am so accountable to delivering for Laura, that you would get three really productive days. Whereas actually maybe you wouldn't have got that level of productivity previously. You get three days of absolute kind of output from each person at a really high level.

You've got to be able to convey to your stakeholders though, that you will manage it and that they can trust you. And then you have to live that. You have to make sure that when somebody's told you something, you do tell that's the other person and they don't have that experience of having to follow up because they'll try and play you off.

We've job shared for nine months, 10 months now, no, nearly 11 months. Sorry.

Laura Walker: Times flies when you're having fun.

Chloe Fletcher: If we can job share this role, I think you can job share pretty much anything.

We're like in a highly strategic role, but we've also job shared a really operational role where we were running the shared service team. So we have job shared both ends of the spectrum and proved it could work.

Sophie Smallwood: So tell us about your role?

Laura Walker: Yeah, so we've done, so two different roles. We started job sharing the head of finance shared services at ASDA. So effectively that role was responsible for all of the processes around paying suppliers and managing kind of commercial admin.

So effectively making sure that suppliers get paid accurately and customers pay the right price when they couldn't walk shelves. Hundreds of thousands of price changes. Millions of invoices paid every year. Billions of pounds worth of cash out of the business. Highly process led.

We had a team of 160 people, I think. So very operational, very much at the kind of cool face of how our business works. And in a business like ours that is rapidly changing. When somethings wrong, the consequences are significant really quickly. So we had to deal with quite reactive. Process heavy role.

So that's one end of the spectrum and job sharing that required a certain kind of way of working, which was very tactical based -managing admin, making sure we knew what was going on, leading big teams and lots of kind of dynamics around that. We have moved into a different role, which is linked to that role, but we are implementing the whole systems change.

So our entire tech platform is being stood is being changed over. Cause we were previously owned by Walmart. We are now owned by some entrepreneurs and private equity. So we are coming off all legacy systems on a new systems, and we are leading the change management program of that in the finance.

So that covers the core finance team plus the shared services team. Our role is primarily about how the change lands, how we operate our business post that change, how we set our finance function. So that is a very different role. It's very strategic, it's very stakeholder led.

We need to be working with the rest of our peers and our CFO, around how we land that change effectively. If you think there's a spectrum of how roles can happen, reactive versus proactive strategic versus operational. Those two roles are about as far away from each other as you can get.

So we've had to adapt our job sharing style and we have to approach this job very differently than we approached the first job. But I think that's what's great about it because we talk transparency, we learn as we go. And some things don't work and there's some things that we've tried and then we've gone, "oh, that didn't work. That wasn't perfect, so let's think differently for next time." But it's been really good to do two very different roles.

Chloe Fletcher: I think that's part of where the honesty in a relationship is really key because we have a really strong foundation. We're both really similar in that we know that we're learning through this and we'll have regular review periods.

We'll sit down and say, what is working, what is not working? And we'll be very honest around we need to change this. , I would say we're quite self-critical around like how, because we want this to work and we want to prove that this can work. So I think that's where you've got to have real trust in a relationship and real honesty. I think we both feel that if there was something that wasn't working, we would call it out and move it forward.

Sophie Smallwood: I find this really interesting. I've worked in large tech companies, I'm now in a start-up.

And a lot of the way you're describing your job sharing arrangement almost feels like the start-up mindset. You have to be really agile. You have to be open to feedback, you have to be able to move and iterate quickly. And I think there's are really desirable soft skills to have in an organization anyway.

So I always think, people who are job sharing are actually great candidates to promote within the organization. You want to have these really solid, soft skills in the leadership team. And one of the things I wanted to just ask you both, you mentioned you've managed large teams together, and in the past we have heard from others senior job shares that some of the more challenging parts of a job share is around difficult conversations or the HR-related things. So as a job share, how do you manage the hard conversations or perhaps performance management issues on your team?

Chloe Fletcher: We've had some good examples of that haven't we? When we managed a bigger team in the shared service area, we split the team so they had a lead kind of manager between the two of us. So we did that based on our core expertise coming into the role, because the role was quite naturally split between our different Strengths. We have had some like performance issues that we've had to manage through. And that the way we managed that was the lead person would manage it. But actually the benefit of that was you got the other viewpoint to help coach you through that conversation. And actually I think that's what we found when we went through that is one of us was leading that conversation with the individual and then the other person was brought into the conversation to say "is this a fair and due process? What would you do in this?" Actually we did end up in the example we're talking about, taking probably a different route with that individual to the one that would've taken if we were on our own because. From the colleague's perspective they've got the continuity of one lead manager, then the other person on the two days that they, the other person isn't in they are up to speed so they can help them navigate through the workload.

Laura Walker: From a practical perspective, that's how we run it. Was that we would each have regular one-to-ones, but handover key points. But then both of us were always in the big set pieces.

Yes. So we do a quarterly check-in, performance check-in as part of our normal process. We would always both be in that. But on a day-to-day basis, we kind of split it. I do think the key thing in a job share is adaptability. Not everything works in every scenario. So we've got a team now, but it's a smaller team and we are not splitting responsibility for team now because of the nature of the work we're doing and then the flow of the week.

I think you're spot on actually this mindset, this approach. The skills required in a job share, and I actually think the skills required to work part-time in a predominantly full-time environment. Are the same skills that are the skills for the future that are successful within start-ups and innovation firms. Because I think that adaptability is the key.

Sophie Smallwood: Just being a true team player, right? Because there isn't as much room for ego when you are in a job share. It is about the mutual success of the pair for the business. I will just make an observation here, which I thought was really fantastic when I posed this question.

I could see you guys going on mute really quickly, like collaborating, communicating, making a decision super rapidly. And that really is the power of effective communication. You clearly have good chemistry and a good working relationship. I could see that. You mentioned earlier that you just had a meeting recently with some people on your team.

New project manager. What was the reaction from the team? Was there anybody who hadn't come across the concept of the job sharing before? Were there any questions?

Laura Walker: We went round a room and introduced everyone, and we did a couple of minutes, like it wasn't a kind of full-on "ta-da! We do job sharing!”.

Sophie Smallwood: Why not though? It's a great example.

Laura Walker: We kind of really want to normalize this as a way of working. It's an exception in our team. There's no other job shares at our level. There's a couple at the level below us, but it isn't standard.

But it's one of those things where I think some people at first are like, "oh, that's a bit odd. I've never seen that before." They're curious. But then it just becomes business as usual. People just get it quite quickly.

One of my observations with job share, we haven't experienced a huge fear around it in our business, but I think where you do get people who aren't quite sure of how it will work, within a couple of weeks they've just got their heads around it. It just makes sense. So there is a little bit of the fear of the unknown is bigger than the genuine fears. And this is almost like really would quite like to do a genuinely open debate with someone who's against a job share.

And talk through some of these gnarly challenges because you know you are convert, like we're convert. We're having a conversation where we all know this is the best idea, but I would like to almost have a proper debate as to what goes unsaid, what do people really think but they don't stay? If you do a job share, you're not ambitious, are you? We are. I think there's certain things that go unsaid.

Chloe Fletcher: People know us, so we haven't had to sell it in because people know we're really accountable. People know we'll do a good job. People know we've made flexible working work in different ships and forms beforehand. I think it becomes more difficult when you try and go into a new business or you try and go into a new industry and people don't know you, people have the fear - it's too complex, it's too difficult. How do you do it? How do we work with stakeholders? Because for us, I think there has been a few people who've been a bit reticent about it. But we prove them wrong because we're just doing it and then two weeks later, like Laura says, you can say we've demonstrated that all those things you're worried about are advantages to them.

People just look at the disadvantages, all right, we've got to pay like 1.2 and actually we're going to have to communicate with two people, and how are you going to manage that handover?

And they're all the things that actually you've got a counter-argument. You get much more than six days work out of me and Laurie because on our home days we're thinking of inspiration, we're thinking of different ways of doing things.

You don't need to worry about the communication because we'll manage that in the background.

Sophie Smallwood: I'd love to take you up on that debate. We'll have to make that happen at some point. I wrote down, rest is productive. You said on your days away because you're away. You have head space. You can think about it. It's not like you feel compelled to have to work.

But yes, the space gives you the creativity needed. The other thing that you said, which I think is a really good point, is the ambition piece. I have not heard that very often.

I've heard it maybe once when I was fundraising, and actually it was a question that an investor had asked me "why would a company want to hire job shares? They're not as ambitious". Wow, you really don't get that people out there who are really ambitious also have other things that they need to do in their lives.

Hello, diversity, equity, inclusion. I ended up saying no to him before he could say no to me. But how do you actually job share on a day-to-day? Let's get into the practicality of it. How do you job share to prove them wrong?

Chloe Fletcher: So in the practicality of it, we do a three-day, three-day split.

Laura works Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. We try and have our core handover day to do things with the team or anything difficult to handover. So anything that requires both of us to be there and it's easier for us both to be in. We have a finance board with our leadership team who would both try and be part of that because it's easier to like both part of that debate. And that's working well because like actually our team has adapted to put a lot of the big set pieces that we want on a Wednesday.

Laura works at the beginning of the week on a Tuesday night. She will record 15, 20 minutes’ worth of handover notes, which will cover the key topics that we're working through. So we've got in our OneNote a really clear, like shared to do list of the key strategic things that we're after and we'll each update that each week as to where we are on that.

Laura Walker: What we use voice notes for is nuance. You can't get across in an email, oh my goodness, I have this really fascinating meeting about this, that, and the other.

And this person said that. And I think what the meant was. And that sets us up for the right conversations.

Chloe Fletcher: I think we should also touch on our handover song.

So you have to start your handover with a song on your voice note that has to summarize how your week's gone. I get in the car on a Wednesday morning, I'll listen to my voice note and I'm like okay, it's either been a really great week or we've got some work to do.

We use the handover notes. We both come in on a Wednesday, we have some time in the morning where we hand over the key things. But the key thing is that I can walk in on a Wednesday and if I see my boss I can answer any question that he's got because I've listened to Laura's handover notes.

We're never compromising each other in terms of like feeling the job share is not working. So that for me is a big proof of the job share is working because you can walk into the office confident on a Wednesday that I'm up to speed with what's going on and I can be challenged by one of the leadership team and I'll know the answer or I'll be able to let you know enough of the answer to hold my own until we've done a decent handover. And then we have Wednesday where we have our pieces that we need to both be in. Wednesday is a bit of a manic day, isn't it?

It's always very busy. And then I take over the reins and do Thursday, Friday. We do handover notes on a Friday. The key thing is like our shared inbox is really critical. So anything that goes to Laura, comes to me. We've got really open policy with all our stakeholders that anything you send to Laura, I will see too.

We manage each other's calendars.

Laura Walker: I think one thing though, it does go back to this adaptability and being honest and taking points and time to check, because we haven't always got this right, like we've got ourselves the kind of bare pits that we sometimes fall into are trying to be too perfect.

So Chloe's bit of walking through the door and you bump into the boss and do you know all the answers? Sometimes we get obsessed with that and we want to make sure we know everything and sometimes it's fine to. "Seriously, I've just walked through the door give me two minutes." So perfection is a bare pit.

And then the other one I think is a bear pit that we sometimes fall into. Either going over things on our days off, or both being in things. We recently reset our threshold for where we will dial in because some things happen that you want to be in when it's not your working day. So we recently said we're just going to set some very high bars, some clear parameters on what we will come in for. For example, we will change our days to go to things that are really important, but only if we're given appropriate notice. So like we've got finance board, it's normally on a Wednesday.

If we'll get a couple of weeks’ notice we'll flip and we'll come in on the day that works. But if it moves two days before, we'll accommodate if we can, but our lives are important as well. Don't feel like you have to. So I think that's the bit where we constantly have to adapt. Chloe always talks to me about FOMO as well.

I like work and there's certain things that I want to be here for. And Chloe was going to a meeting with some external people a few weeks ago and she was like, you need to embrace the jomo. Like just embrace the joy of missing out. Because I just wanted to go and it was like, no, I don't need to be there.

Went back to the parameters and then said I'm not going to be there. And it wasn't that I didn't think Chloe could do it was that I just wanted to be there cause I just thought it would be enjoyable.

Chloe Fletcher: But I think the key to me of proving it works is that nobody's coming back to us and saying, oh like this is really hard work. We haven't had any feedback from our key stakeholders or our boss saying, I'm having to repeat myself, things are falling through the crack. You haven't delivered on this. We've managed to really move our project forward, making really great progress and that's being recognized, I think, isn't it?

Laura Walker: The exact opposites are actually, we have. Our job has expanded in the time we've been job sharing. We have expanded our role in our team twice.

Because it's working. That wouldn't happen if it weren’t if we hadn't proved it.

Chloe Fletcher: And I think it's quite interesting because the people we work for, I don't think you would've necessarily said they would've been people who would've pioneered a job share, but they've been really great at pioneering a job share.

I think we probably had a reaction that I wouldn't necessarily have expected if I'd have, before we got entered into the conversation around job share. We have had no real barriers put in our way to stop us doing this. It's been a real recognition of this is a great way for us to retain talent.

It's a great way to bring two minds together that have really complimentary skillsets that you wouldn't find. And I think that's been really refreshing for me, that actually that has been embraced, hasn't it?

Sophie Smallwood: It's a way to retain ambitious, diverse talent who don't fit the constructs of the traditional job design of the past. And ultimately we're moving forward and the landscape of the workforce is shifting - with gig, freelance continuing to grow. Companies are really having to think about how do we retain talent. Or what will happen is they will just be left with the people who are happy to just do that one full-time job, which I believe eventually will be uncool.

So it's how do you keep that cool talent who's really ambitious but doesn't fit the mould well, job sharing right here.

Laura Walker: Yeah, to get the best people you need a diverse group of people. If you have people who only want to work a certain way, you are going to get only a certain kind of people. We see in our organization younger people coming through. We actually see it right across the spectrum.

So we've got a brilliant job share at the minute and, used to work for us, a brilliant job share that is a colleague who is very close to retirement and a colleague who has just come back from maternity leave. And that is just profound in how it's bringing together this colleague who's only going to retire, has been here for 48 years, bringing together her experience and depth of knowledge, with someone reasonably early in their career. Bringing that together. The meeting of minds there is just outstanding.

Sophie Smallwood: Multi-generational job sharing.

Laura Walker: I saw an article the other day about stacking the generations, baby boomers versus millennials or whatever. The power is bringing people who think differently together and bringing people who maybe have a different outlook on life together.

And I think that for me, job sharing really does that. In our business we're a retailer, so our core customer is mums. And this job share allows two mums to be sat at the table where the big decisions I'm not saying that all women have to job share, but we have a different perspective, and we bring that different perspective into our business.

And I think flexible, working in all forms is going to become more and more common. At the minute, businesses that embrace this sort of thing, give themselves a competitive advantage. I think that competitive advantage will be gone in five years because I think this will be the norm.

Chloe Fletcher: I think also it does help to solve some challenges for businesses. If you are challenged on headcount and you can only retain a certain amount of people, if you can retain two people who bring completely different skillsets, you're gaining a lot more as business.

I was reading about how with a job share you create a unicorn employee. It might have been on some of the stuff you guys shared, but it was around how you can create something that you can't find in the market through a job share. Like I think that's what you get with me and you because we've got really different backgrounds.

You've got really different skillsets. You wouldn't find that in one FTE, but actually by bringing us together, you create this unicorn who can then go and conquer the world. You can't get the ideal employee who ticks all the boxes on your job spec.

It doesn't exist in many cases, but through bringing a job share together, you can do that. At the same time, retaining like talented people who don't want to work in a traditional way.

Sophie Smallwood: Exactly, the unicorn thing is one thing we've been talking about a lot and I love that you remember that.

And I think I found you a new name. Meet, meet the unicorns.

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