1. Change one job
Changing beliefs about how senior level jobs can be worked is about culture change; and in an ideal world all organisations would approach the issue at a strategic level. The reality is that sometimes an opportunity to change things happens at an individual level. A senior manager bravely requests a change to her working pattern, or a hard to fill vacancy provides the impetus to reconsider existing working arrangements. In these circumstances you may need to take the Pret A Manger approach and change your organisation one job at a time.
Bear in mind that if your organisation has a formal job evaluation system, changing job content may impact on job grading.
Changing the way one individual works will undoubtedly have an impact on colleagues. Providing coaching support to enable the post holder to manage relationships with co-workers can help smooth the process.
2, Change a team or department
In team based environments tackling the issue at the team level is likely to result in more creative and more satisfying work-life balance solutions for everyone involved. Enabling a group of co-workers to identify balanced ways of working opens up new possibilities. As working arrangements become more flexible, the organisation is likely to appear more attractive to potential employees seeking better balance. Working with a single team can also develop into a "Pilot Project" for a wider subsequent roll-out.
This short outline (.pdf) suggests an approach for moving an entire team to a more flexible working arrangement.
3. Review HR policies and organisational practices
Occasonally an organisation will be highly committed, in principle, to more flexible working for everyone. But somehow it's just not happening in practice. The organisation may be culturally ready (see below) but existing policies and practices complicate matters. For example, training or promotion policies may fail to recognise and support flexible working practices.
A review of existing policies and practices may be all that's needed to take the organisation to the next level.
However, if it transpires that deeply held unconscious biases around how senior jobs should be worked are continuing to support outdated practices, then it's time to tackle the organisational culture.
4. Change the culture
In their report "Reframing the Business Case for Work-Life Initiatives" Ellen Galinsky and Arlene A Johnson from the Families and Work Institute proposed a five stage model of the journey organisations take towards fully embracing work-life balance.
At Stage One the focus is on child care and supporting those employees that have caring responsibilities. Stage Two is a broader work-life focus, often accompanied by the development of relevant HR policies.
Stage Three is reached when hearts and minds have been won and the benefits of enabling work-life balance for everyone are accepted. The focus now shifts to culture. Until your organisation reaches this point, flexible working arrangements are likely to remain as piecemeal concessions to support specific employees. Once the culture becomes fully supportive, flexible working can move up the agenda as a strategic issue. It's also the point where the possibility of flexible working for senior managers can become a reality.
How do you know where your organisation lies on this journey? This Cultural Audit tool (pdf) has been developed using an evidence based approach.
You may also find this case study (.pdf) of how one employer tackled the issue interesting.
Report: "Hours to Suit: Working Flexibly at Senior and Managerial Levels" (Volumes 1 & 2) available from Working Families
Book: "Women's Work, Men's Cultures" by Sarah Rutherford, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 9780230-283701
Article: "End of the Zero Sum Game" by Stewart D Friedman, Perry Christensen and Jessica De Groot, Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec 1998
HBR Blog "Increase Workplace Flexibility and Boost Performance" by Scott Behson