Top sharing: “We had to win them over”

Top sharing models still lead a “wallflower existence”. Wrongfully so. Evelyne Meyer and Adrian Schüpbach from Credit Suisse explain in an interview why such models can be a competitive advantage - as is currently the case during the corona pandemic. They share a leadership position with a workload of 60% each.

The interview was conducted by Kathrin Ott from the Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion / Women Back to Business. Evelyn Meier and Adrian Schüpbach answered together – naturally. 

The two of you have shared a management position since last fall. How did you come to regard this model as the optimal solution?

First of all, it should be mentioned that the two of us have worked together closely for years in various functions in different areas of the bank. And throughout this time, it was always a matter of questioning the status quo and discussing new ideas. For some time now, we have been looking at alternatives to long-established working models, and particularly looked at options of (a) top-sharing in detail. And the longer we looked into it, the more we came to the conclusion that this model has a lot of advantages both for us and for the employer.

How did you divide the tasks and management responsibilities?

We made a conscious decision not to divide tasks and responsibilities, so we decided not to specialize. This means that we need to be equally knowledgeable about all issues. This is absolutely essential, both as a basis for our decision-making and for our stakeholders. Because regardless of who is “on duty”, employees, partners or superiors can be sure that their concerns are being addressed and dealt with competently at all times. In our opinion, this is absolutely crucial to the success of this set-up. A prerequisite for this: We always ensure that we coordinate and document well. This additional effort is more than compensated for by more sustainable decisions (there are always two brains involved), good documentation of management work, leveraging any bias against processes, etc.

What are your experiences so far?

In brief: Exclusively positive and motivating! Looking a little closer, we really do see this working model as a success factor for the future, especially for particularly demanding functions or management functions. As already mentioned, not only are there always “two brains” at work, but substitutes for vacations and illnesses are guaranteed. Together we bring with us well over 40 years of professional experience in a wide variety of areas and, above all, we have individual views that are incorporated into the decision-making process. 

One of the most impactful experiences – probably for all of us – is the situation surrounding the Corona pandemic. From one day to the next, we have all been catapulted into a crisis scenario. To hold a responsible position in this extraordinary situation in pairs and to have two points of view, two pools of ideas, a sparring partner, twice the flexibility on resource planning is incredibly valuable.

There are companies where it takes a lot of persuasion to implement top sharing. How were you able to persuade your superiors to do this?

Top sharing was not yet established as a model in our company, which meant that we had to do a lot of convincing. One clear advantage was that our manager is generally open to new working models and has known us for several years and can assess our personalities. But we had to do a lot of convincing – on the one hand specifically for a function with a content-related concept and on the other hand we had to win over the management for the working model. In the end, we are happy and proud that both things worked out. And we are aware that we were given a great opportunity and at the same time we now must prove that the model works!

How do your superiors feel about this today?

We like to quote our boss: “was my best decision ever”. It was important for him that the model did not create additional complexity in the system – not only in his interaction with us, but also in our cooperation with our employees and peers.

Was there any hesitation internally and also in your environment about your shared management responsibility?

The reactions towards us were positive throughout. We had to prove ourselves in the first few weeks. But very quickly we were able to convince those around us of the advantages. Of course, we also benefited from the fact that this model was discussed internally – not only by us, but also by our current supervisors and former supervisors.

In the company, you are role models for other managers and employees. Do all your colleagues now also want to work part-time? Are there any rules on this?

We have clearly “sensed” interest in this working model from a number of employees. Naturally, we motivate these employees to examine their situations and the possibilities with their superiors so that such a model can be further established.

HR has provided information and guidelines on the topic of “agile working” and on the various working models, which must be taken into account. Rules are important, but from our point of view the most important thing is the discussion between employees and their superiors – they are best able to assess whether the model can work in a specific area and whether the specific organizational framework allows it.

Is the division of roles accepted by the employees or is there a risk that the two of you will be played off against each other?

So far, we can say quite clearly that the division of roles is accepted by the employees. Since we document our meetings and decisions very precisely, we are very well prepared for any meetings and talks and can also retrace and build on any previous discussions/meetings that the top sharing partner may have had.

 

In which areas are you more successful and efficient than before? Where do you see the advantages?

Decisions are made in a more holistic, structured and well-founded way – “two brains”, two worlds of experience, two networks, two temperaments and two views which flow into the discussion and form a solid basis for making decisions.

Sustainability – Since we do not divide our tasks, but instead are both responsible for all activities and decisions, we inevitably have to document our work very well. We make full use of the technical possibilities available today.

Mental power – during longer meetings we can complement each other very well. This means that if the energy level of one of us drops, there is at least the hope that the other one’s is not in a downward spiral at that moment.

Better arguments – in meetings where both of us are present, we can make sure that all arguments are put on the table. If one person speaks, the other person has time to think about it and then he or she can add to it or double it.

It is also very important to have a sparring partner who is in exactly the same boat and can act without bias. We are judged as one person, so we share success and failure for better or worse. Accordingly, both always push for the optimal outcome and are not afraid to voice criticism, suggestions for improvement, concerns.

What challenges have you faced in the last months due to the shared leadership?

First of all, we had to organize our work – how do we use the systems, how are authorizations assigned, where and how can we replace each other, where are the drives we use, what about the telephones and so on – in other words, very banal workplace organization. The first insight was that the working world does not actually provide for such a model. But with several workarounds and additional effort we were able to get pretty close to the target solution.

Another very important point is the coordination and understanding among the top sharing partners. As we have already been working in similar functions simultaneously or consecutively for more than 20 years, we have an optimal starting position. We know very well how we work business-wise, what values we have and what one decision of the other might look like.

What would you like to share with other people who are looking for top sharing?

Find a top sharing partner, convince the manager with arguments and your personality, be prepared to invest the additional effort at the beginning as an investment in a sustainable and successful working model – for you and the company.

About the Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion

The Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion at the University of St.Gallen advises companies on the topic of Diversity & Inclusion. Flexible working models are one of many measures to promote diversity. We would be pleased to accompany you on your way to a comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion strategy!

 


 

Adrian Schüpbach joined Credit Suisse in 2003 as Global Head of Sponsorship, Exhibitions & Event Service. Since then he has held various management positions at Credit Suisse. Today he is Head Cash Service (Switzerland) AG in a top sharing role. Adrian Schüpbach holds an Executive MBA from the University of Zurich, Yale and Fudan, a Master of Science from the ETH Zurich and completed the CAS in Digital Leadership & Transformation from the University of St.Gallen.

Evelyn Meier has been with Credit Suisse for more than 15 years as a manager in various areas, particularly in Sponsoring and Communications. She is currently Head Cash Service at Credit Suisse (Switzerland) AG in a top sharing role. Evelyn Meier holds a Master in Management, Technology, and Economics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and a Master (lic. Phil. I) from the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Zurich.

Credit Suisse AG is one of the world’s leading financial services providers. The strategy builds on the core strengths of Credit Suisse: its positioning as one of the leading institutions in asset management, its distinctive competencies in investment banking and its strong presence in its home market of Switzerland. They take a balanced approach to wealth management, with the aim of benefiting from both the large asset base in mature markets and significant asset growth in Asia Pacific and other emerging markets, while serving the key developed markets with a focus on Switzerland. Credit Suisse employs approximately 47,860 people.