When I was growing up in the 1980s, my immigrant Chinese parents drilled it into my head that I was to study hard and then find a good, secure job at a big company. After leaving grad school, I entered the working world in my first corporate job. About two years later, that Fortune 500 company became the first of what would ultimately turn out to be a total of three companies that would lay me off over the course of the next decade.
So much for safe corporate jobs!
Nowadays, few companies outside the public sector can offer any type of job security, no matter how big or small. And yet, we still need to invest in our employees, and we still need our employees to invest themselves in our companies.
Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, tackles this topic in his new book, “The Alliance.” Hoffman, along with co-authors Chris Yeh and Ben Casnocha, proposes a new type of employment contract centered on the idea of “tours of duty.”
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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 of our employees are free agents. Acknowledging that truth is actually the best way to convince your best people to stay. So which type of tour is right for your people and your situation?
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.
The second type of 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 horizon is long enough to allow for something truly substantial to be accomplished.
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. Note that this type of tour is not limited to founders and top management, and can be extended to special employees at any level who are good stewards and stalwarts of the company and its values.