Redesign the Employer-Employee Relationship

Back in the 80s and 90s, you could expect someone to spend a lifetime working for just one company. Today, working with the same organisation for more than 3 years is considered a ‘long time'.

It has become normal to move jobs every few years. For employers, this can be expensive and inefficient. Most employers address this challenge by working harder on their employee retention initiatives. That’s a fine strategy but what if we also re-designed the employer-employee relationship to embrace this reality.

At the moment, when we hire, we structure the job as a long term opportunity. The assumption is the candidate will join the company, perform, get promoted and stay indefinitely.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn proposes an alternative way to structure jobs. Inspired by how soldiers serve in the military, he calls this new way, "a Tour of Duty". While serving with the military, a soldier’s ‘job’ in structured into missions. Each mission is called a tour and a soldier might serve on multiple tours during their career.

Hoffman suggests that there are three types of tours at the conventional workplace.

Rotational Tours

These are structured programs with a set duration. It is commonly used by larger companies to transition new employees from school to work (commonly known as management trainee programs).

While this type of tour is common for junior hires, it’s also relevant for employees of all career stages. It’s a structure that can be used for programmatic jobs that are highly structured like blue collar worker roles. The objective of the rotational tour is to assess if there is a fit between the employer and employee. If there is, then the relationship can be extended into another rotational tour or into a transformational tour.

Transformational Tours

Unlike the rotational tour, the transformational tour is highly personalised and is mission-based. An employee is hired to achieve a specific set of objectives over a set period of time. The idea is that both employer and employee embark on a mission that is mutually beneficial (employer gets results, employee gets to learn and grow).

Foundational Tours

Finally, foundational tours are like marriages. It's a relationship where the employer and employee are deeply committed to each other. This type of relationship is most common for founders and CEO type employees.

Ideally, as an organisation grows, it’s senior executives also start to develop foundational tour type relationships with the organisation.

Build Trust with Tours

Rotational and Transformational tours have set durations which may last between 2 to 5 years. At the end of the tour the employer and employee get to meet and decide if it makes sense to embark on a new tour together. If the employee does not want to, then the employer can support the employee in transitioning to a new business or propose a very different type of tour within the larger organisation.

Tours are more practical and it cultivates trust between the employer and employee. When both employer and employee are transparent about the reality that their relationship may not last a lifetime, it allows them to be more honest with each other. That trust and honesty is the building blocks of a great culture and working relationship.

To learn more about the Tour of Duty, read Hoffman’s book titled The Alliance.