Saturday, 17 December 2011

A small glass of milk each or a tall one together ?

Ever seen a job advertisement or an internal job posting that reads, “we’ve clubbed the roles of sales manager and marketing manager into one … please pair up with someone and apply … the selected pair would share performance accountability and performance rating” ?

Most likely not.

Because, free market liberalism is based on the ‘liber’, the individual. With individual freedom, come individual responsibilities, individual aspirations and individual life. That’s what we are all comfortable with. Even if we cry ourselves hoarse about teaming and collaboration.

And, because, there is a role of sales and marketing director to which these two roles report. Such an arrangement is common, and exists for very good reasons. It enables job-autonomy, job-focus, and command-n-control. Under the watchful gaze of the director, both the managers don’t rub too much against one another. When the director goes on vacation, the managers manage J.

But I’ve often also heard stuff like, “we now have too many sales and marketing directors”. Or, “it’s a nightmare to make the sales and marketing managers see eye to eye”. Or even that, “the sales and the marketing managers are very good, but none fits the bill yet to become the sales and marketing director ... so let’s hire someone from outside”.

Then I begin to wonder about possibilities and experiments.

And examine job-sharing. The most common way to job-share is to split a role into two distinct roles and staff each with a part-time resource. Split the territory. Another way to job-share is to staff one role with two part-timers. Split the time and effort, and combine complementary skill sets. The latter is easier said than done, and such examples are hard to find even in the most progressive of organisations. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Looks like it will happen anyway, given its merits, and given the direction our world of work is taking.

If we could staff one job with two part-timers, then we could surely combine two jobs and make a full-timer pair do the combined job. The model is exactly the same; of making two people do one job, share accountabilities and outcomes. The advantages are the same. So are the rough edges we need to iron out to make both these types of arrangements work. What if the two people don’t collaborate ? What if one is viewed as better and overshadows the other ? What if one carries the load and the other fence-sits ? What if they privately demarcate territories and return to old ways ? Etc.

In the example of the pair of managers, the minimum advantages are those of learning from each other, collaborating for better results, and feeling secure in the company of the other. The maximum advantages could be all these. Plus the pair doing their combined job and also that of their boss. Far-fetched ? Ok. So the pair could do theirs and some of the job of the boss. Numerous such pairs in the organisation adding their respective deltas could mean at least a few bosses less. Or leave those few bosses with more time to take on more responsibilities and deliver more results. Or even take care of some complaints of a peer's role being better in comparison to one's own.

That brings me to a job-share experiment that may sound even more far-fetched. We all know of good people who turn underperformers at this or that time, for this or that reason. What if each of them could bring in a deserving person who they job-shared with to turn things around ? Assess the newcomer against organisational standards, offer a contractual position, pay from the salary of the underperforming employee, limit and review the period of association – whatever.

Don’t be so surprised. I know a person who had regular job-related conversations with a pensioner dad to turn things around for himself. Ask him if he would gladly pay a part of his salary to his dad or not.

It's not just about under-performers. The rapidly changing business environment demands new skills from the best of performers. Limited or extended duration job-shares with folks who already have such skills might relieve them, their superiors and their trainers. At least in a few cases; don't you agree ?

Two minds are better than one.


  1. Absolutely agree ... so far companies have done this either for succession preparation (e.g. Intel has a 2-in-a box process) or for allowing for flexible work arrangements for routine and administrative roles only .. high time companies start using complementary skills for one role rather than hiring too many Sales Directors and causing Turf Wars ...

  2. There are two ladies in Europe who always present themselves as a pair for one job. It's been working for them for many years. I think they've written about it in HBR too.

  3. This article also refers to it