Nowadays, few companies outside the public sector can offer job security, no matter how big or small. And yet, companies still need to invest in their employees, and still need their employees to invest themselves in their companies. So how do companies and employees create a mutual understanding that’s both authentic and realistic?
Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, tackles just this question in his new book, “The Alliance.” Hoffman, along with co-authors Chris Yeh and Ben Casnocha, proposes a new type of employment contract centered around the idea of “tours of duty.”
The expression comes from the military and refers to a period of time devoted to an assignment. In the employment context, the authors use the concept to indicate “an ethical commitment by employer and employee to a specific mission. We see this approach as a way to incorporate some of the advantages from both lifetime employment and free agency.”
The reality is that all employees are free agents, capable of leaving a company at any time. And the paradox is that acknowledging that truth is actually the best way to convince the best people to stay.
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A rotational tour of duty is often appropriate for new or relatively inexperienced employees. The mission here is for both the employee and the employer to be able to assess the fit and potential for a long-term relationship.
A transformational tour gets its name from the idea that both the employee’s career and the company itself will be transformed. These are personalized missions that are negotiated one-on-one, and typically last between two and five years. This time is long enough to allow something truly substantial to be accomplished, allowing learning, execution and eventual transition onto the next challenge.
A foundational tour should only be undertaken when there is exceptional alignment between employee and employer, because it refers to the employee becoming one of the foundations of the company and the company becoming foundational in the life of the employee.
These are appropriate when, according to the book, “The employee sees his life’s work as the company’s mission and vice versa,” and are intended to be permanent. This is not limited to founders and top management, and can be extended to employees at any level.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a Charlotte-based executive coach.