One of the most vexing challenges for growing companies is how to deal with people – both current and new employees. While some of the former have the skills and are ready to increase or change their scope of responsibilities, others may resist. Reassigning existing employees who are not up to the task is only part of the problem. Another challenge is this: setting expectations for new employees.
Let’s say that the manager determines that a new employee needs to be hired. The relationship of that new employee to the company might need to have a different understanding than the employee-employer relationship which has historically been in in place. This is especially true when hiring young employees who have different expectations of what the employer-employee relationship should be, as will be highlighted below.
In the books The Startup of You and The Alliance, Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin, demonstrates clearly that while the actual relationship of employees to companies has changed dramatically, the legalistic and transactional nature of the relationship generally has not. Whether regarding the idea of lifetime employment, the expectation of moving up within a company (the corporate escalator) and providing training to the employee in exchange for loyalty, both employers and employees know full well that in the new economy, neither party is really that invested in the other – no matter what each says. Employers have short-term horizons that might mean dramatic and rapid changes to the current business, including altering the staff and eliminating positions. Knowing this, employees, if they know what is good for them, are in a constant “scouting mode,” seeking the next, better opportunity because they never feel secure. This is really a “lose-lose” situation..
So what should the relationship be between a no-longer paternalistic company and the employee, not wanting to make a full commitment for fear of being jilted down the road? In The Alliance, Hoffman and his co-author argue that the relationship should be similar to a “tour-of-duty”: a relatively short-term assignment that gets the employee to focus and support the company’s goals for a defined period of time, in exchange providing the employee with additional skills and experiences that make them more valuable at the company or with a new employer. It is also a way to build trust incrementally and bi-laterally so that the most valuable employees have a path to longer-term retention if they want to make a commitment to the company.
Implementing a tour-of-duty relationship requires moving past the lifetime employment expectation framework. For example, employers operating in the paternalistic mode once viewed job hopping as negative, demonstrating either a performance or commitment issues. Presently however, job hopping may signal something very positive – that the individual is constantly pursuing new challenges and could be a short-term asset, which might indeed grow into a longer term asset after their tour-of-duty is completed. Human resource departments need not have a largely obsolete discussion that uses terms like “team” and “family” when doing so is disingenuous.