A generation ago, loyalty to the same company might have been rewarded with the expectation of steady employment, promotions, and a celebratory send-off at the end of it all festooned with things like a gold watch and a pension.
Today, company lifers are the exception, rather than the rule. Workers have grown accustomed to the reality that at any moment the ground can shift beneath their feet and that innovation brakes for no man.
That’s why the writers of the new book The Alliance, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and two fellow entrepreneurs, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, argue that companies need to completely transform their talent management strategy, with managers and employees rethinking how they interact—and what it is they hope to get out of one another.
Casnocha, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and frequent speaker on talent management, points to the mutual wariness that can exist between the top floor and the shop floor at companies to explain how comprehensively the workplace dynamic needs to be transformed.
"When there’s no trust, neither side wants to invest in the other," he says. "The company might tell an employee, ‘The last person like you stayed 12 months, but the moment a recruiter pinged them, they ran to the next bright, shiny object—so why would we want to invest in you?'"
"The employee might say to the company, ‘You say I’m part of this family, but the moment momentum shifts in the business or new skills are needed, what’s to stop you from letting me go?'"
Those questions can get answered, he goes on, when both sides have a frank discussion about expectations from the start and agree to form "an alliance."
Basically, the idea the book lays out is to nudge the employer-employee relationship away from being transactional, to one where employees act more like free agents in professional sports. Workers sign up for a "tour of duty," in the author's parlance, which starts with hiring managers getting a feel for what the employee’s passion is and where their strengths might best fit into the organization.
Instead of agreeing to carry out the implications of a static job description, Casnocha says, employees under this management model "basically promise to help transform the company while they’re here in a specific way, with the expectation that the company in return commits to invest in them during that time."
It’s as if the authors are saying the traditional hiring process is a little like a film director casting for a part. Just like the search for an actor who can stick to an already-written script, employers often look for workers who fit into a neatly prescribed box.
The Alliance, to continue the movie metaphor, would involve the film director and actor sitting down to craft the actor’s role together, making it up as they go along.
Given the book’s inclusion of input from an entrepreneur whose company has reshaped the way we think about resumes and professional networks, The Alliance not surprisingly features stories of LinkedIn employees whose careers have unfolded according to these kinds of arrangements.
Eda Gultekin is one such example. She’s the global head of solutions in LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions group, and the authors explain how she’s approached her career an adventurous spirit.
She’d had a childhood dream of being an engineer, so right out of college she seized on an opportunity to design sprinkler motors. She liked the work, but she also liked dealing with people, so she headed back to school and got a master’s in engineering and management from Stanford University.
After that came what the authors of The Alliance would describe as the "tour of duty" Gultekin performed as a consultant at Bain.
She became a top performer there, but she still wanted something more. So she reached out to a friend who used to work at Bain and was now at LinkedIn.
Gultekin, her former Bain colleague, and Mike Gamson, at the time LinkedIn’s vice president of Talent Solutions, crafted a "six-month tour of duty" for her at the social networking company. At the time, LinkedIn thought there might be a churn problem among some customers, so it was decided that Gultekin would figure out whether that was true and what solution might be warranted.
Over the course of her early time at LinkedIn, the authors say it was clear she fit in well. So Gamson and her former Bain colleague approached her with the suggestion that they further round out her role at the company.
As the next tour of duty progressed, so did the refinement along the way.
"If you buy the premise that you don't have to start a company to be entrepreneurial, that raises questions for managers," Casnocha says. "If employees who approach their careers in an entrepreneurial way are showing up to work for you, how to do you manage them and lead them without smothering them?
"It requires a managerial framework for recruiting, managing, and retaining talent by emphasizing mutual investment and engagement between management and employees. And those investments are all defined in conversations between managers and employees."
Having that conversation helps engender loyalty among both sides, he says. Concluding The Alliance with their version of Bob Dylan’s maxim that "he not busy being born is busy dying," the authors go on to warn that a business without loyalty is a business without long-term thinking.
"A business without long-term thinking is a business that’s unable to invest in the future," they continue. "And a business that isn’t investing in tomorrow’s opportunities and technologies is a company already in the process of dying."