Leading Together: Job Sharing and Co-Management at SAP

In January, SAP began offering a job-sharing option for all management positions. In this model, two part-time employees share one management role.

Cawa Younosi, HR director for SAP Deutschland and SAP SE in Germany, talks about the new level of flexibility that the model provides.

Q: Last September, you sent a communication to 22,000 employees announcing the co-leadership program, which began at the start of this year, initially only in Germany. Can you explain the background to it?

“From now on, we will be advertising all management roles in Germany as positions that can, in principle, be held by two employees,” says Younosi.

A: It has been possible, in principle, for two employees to share a management role at SAP for a number of years now. This sort of job-sharing option is particularly appealing to women. Because what we’ve witnessed often in the past, at SAP and elsewhere, is that when they return to work after parental leave, women – particularly those who previously held management positions – have found it difficult to pick up and carry on where they left off. Many of those who have elected to work part-time have found it simply impossible to fit a full-time role into a 20- or 30-hour week.

Last year, we began advertising selected positions as co-leadership roles. This means that two qualified candidates can apply for a position together and share the role. From now on, we will be advertising all management roles in Germany as positions that can, in principle, be held by two employees.

So you need to find two people with the right qualifications who both want to work part time. How do you go about finding matching applicants?

That’s the most difficult part of the process. We need a tool for collecting candidates’ preferences and storing them anonymously in a single location. How many hours would you like to work per week? What are your qualifications? Where would you like to work? When will you be available to take up a part-time role? It works like a dating site. If two candidates’ preferences match and the potential co-leadership duo get on, then they will have the same chance of securing the position as a single candidate applying for the position full time. We started off using the SAP Jam collaboration tool to match co-leadership pairs in October, but the downside is that the  data entered in SAP Jam can’t be anonymized. That will change, however, when a new tool becomes available in the second quarter.

Who is this offering aimed at?

We designed it chiefly with parents in mind who wish to reduce their working hours after the birth of their children. But it’s also a great model for managing challenges such as time differences. For example, it might work really well for a global team to have two part-time people sharing one management role ‒ one based in Germany and the other in the United States. It could also be an ideal solution for experienced managers who have opted for semiretirement. They could reduce their working hours and share their management responsibilities with a younger colleague. The added advantage being that that valuable management expertise would be passed on and not lost. Other employees this model might appeal to are those who want more time for hobbies, who need to care for sick relatives, or who simply do not want to devote all their time to their jobs.

Having a management role when you work 20 hours a week is a challenge that requires confidence. Which particular challenges do “co-leaders” face?

What many people wonder, naturally, is how on earth it’s possible to perform a management role part-time that was hard enough to handle as a full-time employee. The simple answer is: You can get your work done even if you work fewer hours. It’s a question of placing greater emphasis on delegating and prioritizing tasks. We offer coaching to help employees improve these particular skills, which are vital for any manager anyway, whether they work part time or full time. Co-leadership has already made a successful start at SAP: Currently, more than 80 employees in Germany ‒ most of them women ‒ work part-time in management roles.

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