An Unlikely Sharing Arrangement
Originally published on September 12, 2018 in the Montrose Daily Press.
The economy is good. Businesses are growing, houses are going up, people have more disposable income, and if nothing else, more confidence. As our businesses and organizations grow, we often find ourselves with more work than we have capacity to service. The logical thought goes toward hiring help.
So we go to the drawing board. What kind of person do we need? How much will they need to get paid? Does that line up with how much we can afford to pay? If not, is there someone out there with this skill set who would be willing to work part-time and without benefits? Would we be better off paying an agency to perform this work?
Hiring people is a risk. It is a commitment of achieving a higher payroll as well as protecting the sustainability of the position over time. By the time most of us get to the end of that decision-making matrix, the risk often seems too high and complicated, and we decide we’re better off working an extra 10 (read: 20) hours a week and doing it ourselves.
A similar process brought us to the creation of my former shared position between the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Montrose. Of that arrangement was born a second shared position at Proximity Space between Proximity, the Chamber, and the City. We like shared positions because they provide full-time benefitted positions at a marketable pay, which is more attractive in the job market.
Shared positions aren’t perfect and they take an immense amount of intention, flexibility and careful thought to be successful. If the idea is appealing to you, here are a few lessons you can avoid learning the hard way:
1. When thinking about finding a partner for a shared position, seek out other businesses or organizations with similar operating models to your own. Two small retailers, two restaurants, non-profits, etc. That way the employee can easily toggle between the two roles as though they are more like departments within a large organization rather than two separate entities.
2. Decide who will be the boss. Reporting to both of you will be a fast track to disaster. Typically in our arrangements, whomever takes on the burden of housing the position on their payroll and benefits will assume the supervisory role. Though it may make more sense to have the supervisor be the person who occupies the same office or has more experience in the skill set for which the position will specialize. No matter what, one partner should acquiesce control to the other and be respectful of the arrangement.
3. Structure the position based on needs from each organization, not by hours per week. Perhaps it is 50/50, 60/40. No matter what, be sure it is communicated to the employee that their focus is getting the work done. If they come in each week feeling like they need to spend 25 hours on one job and 15 on the other, they will feel unsuccessful nearly all the time. Instead, make sure everyone agrees that some weeks it will be more one-sided and that is okay. Along this same vein, every 90 days or so be sure you have a conversation about the share of work and compensation. It is okay to adjust it along the way.
4. Handshakes are cool, but get it in writing. This is to protect your employee primarily and both organizations secondarily. A legal agreement outlining the expectations of each side just keeps things on the “up and up.” It will lay out the job description, pay, benefits, and who is responsible for administering both. Be sure the agreement includes a bit about providing ample notice if one party should want to end the relationship. Again, this protects the employee more than anyone.
For example, with my former position, the City of Montrose administered my pay and benefits. The City then billed the Chamber of Commerce for 40 percent of the total compensation. I reported directly to the City Manager and he worked with the Chamber board of directors to ensure the direction of my work product was aptly serving both organizations. If either organization wanted out of the agreement, a 60 - day notice was required.
5. Decide who will physically house the position and who will provide equipment and software. Maybe the employee is responsible for providing all that and you will pay them a stipend. However you want to work it, just ensure you’ve thought of those things.
6. Finally, be flexible. Know this will look entirely different at the end than it did at the beginning. Perhaps, like my role did, it will grow so much that it warrants two full time positions. That is a great outcome. It shows success. Perhaps one organization will need to pay for more of the person’s time than was originally estimated. Regular conversations with the employee and partners is the only way to keep a pulse on this.
A shared position helps move forward with less risk. It provides an opportunity for two organizations to become more efficient together than they were separately. A shared position gives a creative touch to operations and best of all, it gets people working together in a way that may have previously seemed impossible.
Chelsea Rosty is the director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.