Loyalty is scarcer than ever, and the notion of lifetime employment at a company is long dead. Still, too many employers and employees are pretending jobs are as stable as they used to be.
The key to developing honest and mutually beneficial work relationships is to think of a company as more like a professional sports team than a family, argue LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneurs Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh in their upcoming book “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.”
While thinking of your company as a family has a nice ring to it, it creates a pretense with employees of “a lifetime relationship with a sense of belonging.” If the company institutes layoffs, the employees let go will feel a sense of betrayal, and those who stay may begin to question how the company values them.
The authors write:
In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Imagine disowning a child for poor performance… Unthinkable, right? But that’s essentially what happens when a CEO describes the the company as a family, then institutes layoffs…
In contrast, a professional sports team has a specific mission (to win games a championships), and its members come together to accomplish that mission. The composition of the team changes over time, either because a team member chooses to go to another team, or because the team’s management decides to cut or trade a team member…
Teams win when their individual members trust each other enough to prioritise team success over individual glory; paradoxically, winning as a team is the best way for the team members to achieve individual success.
They note that the family analogy can still be utilized for how employees treat (rather than work with) their coworkers: “with compassion, appreciation, and respect.”
The way to establish this relationship of trust and upfront honesty is by getting managers to assign employees to a “tour of duty,” the authors say. They distinguish three kinds:
A rotational tour of duty “isn’t personalised to the employee and tends to be highly interchangeable.” This “tour” can be an entry-level role meant to transition a recent graduate to work or a new employee to a company’s culture, and this would last one to three years. These kinds of tours can also be for programmatic positions, where the employer and employee understand the job won’t lead to promotions.
A transformational tour of duty promises the employee an opportunity to transform both his or her career and the company. Goals are negotiated one-on-one, and the initial tour usually lasts two to five years. After the objectives have been achieved, the improved employee can move up in the company or transition to a new one.
A foundational tour of duty makes the employee a “steward of core values” for the company, and is like a marriage, where both parties anticipate that the relationship will be permanent and “assume a moral obligation to try hard to make it work before ending the relationship.” The authors say that top executives of a company should ideally be on foundational tours.
Managers do not have an obligation to support all of an employee’s values and aspirations, the authors say, but they do need to at least respect them. The tour of duty’s mission is the overlap between employee interests and company interests, growing larger from rotational to foundational, with almost complete overlap for a foundational employee.
By establishing an alliance between the company and its employees through these different tours of duty, a company can “invest in the long-term future without sacrificing adaptability,” much the way a dominant professional sports team operates.
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