As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I rarely witnessed family members change careers or jobs. My parents and grandparents lived in the era when employees were loyal to their first employers and often worked at those companies for their entire careers. However, in recent decades, the workplace has changed both technologically and philosophically, and the traditional model of lifetime employment is too rigid for today’s networked age. Business environments defined by continuous change can no longer create organizations that support long-term employment for all employees. As a result, the traditional employer-employee relationship crumbled.
In the New York Times bestseller “The Alliance,” LinkedIn co-founder and chairman Reid Hoffman highlights the ideal workplace scenario: managers want employees to help transform the company for the future, and employees want the company to help transform their careers for the long term. However, the win-win scenario only occurs if both sides trust each other enough to commit for a mutual investment and benefit.
Unfortunately, as Hoffman argues, trust in the business world is at an all-time low. To rebuild the lost trust, he says we must explore a new, realistic viewpoint of the employer-employee relationship: “Stop thinking of employees as either family or free agents. Think of them as allies.” By acknowledging the reality in the workplace built on alliances, employees must be honest about their own career aspirations, and managers must recognize that great employees might leave the company, and that’s okay. We must be open to this change.
Metis’ quarterly leadership book club read and discussed Hoffman’s practical guide, which is chock-full of suggestions and examples to help employers recruit, manage and retain the right employees in the new age of work. While many lessons applied to our business, the most valuable and actionable takeaway for us was the “tour of duty” assignment. The tour of duty provides employees with specific, mutually beneficial assignments that will help further their career experiences and impact the company’s bottom line within a designated time period. When the tour is over, the employee and employer have a conversation about whether to start another tour, settle into the role that was the best fit or move on from the company.
While the exercise is designed for larger companies with many cross-functional departments like LinkedIn, Google and Facebook, the same theories can be applied to startups and smaller companies alike. Instead of a large-scale project like, “launch a new product and get it to $X million in revenue,” a smaller company might task an employee with planning and hosting a quarterly event with the goal of generating five new customers at each one.
No matter the tour of duty, the goal for employees is to openly and honestly express their career aspirations and for employers to help employees master their strengths, exercise passions and ensure they feel challenged in their work. As an employer, you need to be prepared to open yourself up to difficult conversations with your employees about their career growth. The positive side is that you might discover an existing rock star employee who can help you fill a skills gap in the organization. Here are a few questions and things to consider before you get started:
Identify your strengths and weaknesses within your role.
What are your career aspirations for the next year and how will accomplish them?
What do other people think you are good at?
What makes you feel like a badass?
Does your employer know what you are passionate about both personally and professionally?
If you had the opportunity to do anything at your company, what would you do?
If you could get rid of any aspect of your job, what would it be?
Do you know what your employees love and hate about their jobs?
Are you aware of your employees’ passions both professionally and personally?
Even if your company is unable to support a full tour of duty, can you make small adjustments to an employee’s day-to-day work?
How often are you communicating with employees about their career aspirations and holding them accountable?
Is there a gap in your company that an employee can help you fill even if it’s outside their job description?
Based on the responses to these questions, instead of large-scaled tours of duty, managers at smaller organizations can make minor adjustments to an employee’s job description or day-to-day activities to ensure the changes benefit both the employer and employee’s long-term growth.