on August 25, 2015
The Alliance: A Framework of Dubious Employee Benefit and Limited Application
The Alliance is a book that, within its simple prose, ostensibly advocates for a reworking of what the authors present as the current model of the employer-employee relationship. The authors presume the present relationship is comprised of “free-agent” employees constantly seeking better opportunities within the context of instability due to an “at will” employment environment, which employers utilize to maintain flexibility and adaptability in an increasingly competitive environment. The authors contrast the present work environment with a vaguely defined “traditional model of lifetime employment” in which employers provided lifetime employment, and in return employees maintained their loyalty to the employer. Needless to say, to the extent lifetime employment regime has existed in the past, it did so in a very limited, post-World War II time period.
As the authors see it, the problem is that the present work environment has resulted in eroding trust by employees of employer management, with the attendant loss of employee loyalty to the organization. The authors think the issue of loyalty so important, they emphasize the following twice; “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. And a business that isn’t investing in tomorrow’s opportunities and technologies – well, that’s a company already in the process of dying.” (Hoffman at 7 and 153.)
II. Proposed Framework
The tool with which to effectuate the authors’ framework is the “tour of duty.” The tour of duty attempts to mitigate the fluidity of employee talent by binding employees to multi-year tours, without attendant employment stability for the employee. Without going into the technicalities of each, the book identifies three types of tours of duty, (1) rotational, (2) transformational, and (3) foundational. For this writing, the differentiation between three types of tours is less important than their commonalities. The authors write that “the tour of duty represents an ethical commitment by employer and employee to a specific mission.” (Hoffman at 23.) Depending on the type of mission, these tours of duty take years to accomplish. The authors describe the rotational tour as “a structured program of a finite duration.” (Hoffman at 29.) They give an example of investment bank rotational tours that are from two to four years in length. (Hoffman at 29.) The authors envision the initial transformational tour as taking from two to five years. (Hoffman at 31.) The foundational tour is described as being the employees’ life’s work, in which both the employer and employee expect the employee to work until their retirement.
III. The Alliance Framework Specifically Benefits Employers, while Abstractly or Tangentially Benefiting Employees.
To paraphrase a piece of advice I once read; If something has a direct benefit to a class of people, and a theoretical, abstract, or amorphous benefit to everybody else, the proponent’s intentions are to benefit the former, not the latter. The Alliance concept directly benefits the employer, in exchange for abstract benefits to the employee. In effect, The Alliance is an attempt to leverage the benefits of “traditional model of lifetime employment,” i.e. employee loyalty, without having to make the commitment of lifetime employment to the employee. As the authors themselves write, “The Alliance…is a way to invest in the long-term future without sacrificing adaptability.” (Hoffman at 20.)
The authors identify with specificity the benefits to the employer of their proposed framework. The benefits to the company are summarized in one sentence, upon which the authors spend the rest of the book expanding; “An ideal framework encourages employees to develop their personal networks and act entrepreneurially without become mercenary job-hoppers.” (Hoffman at 7.) The employer gains loyalty/stability from employees, harvests the employee’s network and “network intelligence,” and capitalizes on employee “entrepreneurial thinking and doing [which] are the most important capabilities companies need from their employees.” (Hoffman at 14.)
To accomplish this, employers rely on an alliance, which serves as an instrument that in the end mitigates the potency of the single power employees have, i.e. to seek other employment. The authors argue that employers that recast careers as successive tours of duty attract and retain entrepreneurial employees. (Hoffman at 24.) Yet, employees who partake in these tours of duty are essentially dissuaded from taking better opportunities during the course of the tour, because of the consequences the authors explicitly spell out; “If an employee departs the company in the middle of his tour without any investment in a transition, he breaks the employment alliance and has to face the consequences. First and foremost, the employee will take a major hit to his credibility and reputation…[T]he employee will also suffer practical consequences. That employee will forego future benefits, such as distinguished alumni status…and favorable references.” (Hoffman at 86-87.) In an Orwellian passage, the authors write, “Someday (hopefully soon), we expect an employer or individual employee to be able to simply say, ‘They broke the alliance,’ and for the person on the other end of the phone to know what that means.” (Hoffman at 87.) The Alliance, in effect, stabilizes the employer’s workforce by reducing employee turnover, under threat of ostracism in the employment marketplace.
IV. The Alliance Framework is not Universally Applicable, Not Particularly Beneficial for Employees, and Could Have Implications for Human Resources and Legal Liability Implications.
The Alliance fails to present a universal model to change the employer/employee relationship. The framework that The Alliance advocates seeks to remedy a particular employment phenomenon that is not universally distributed. The Silicon Valley tech industry relies on a highly educated and highly trained workforce. These employees predominately hold degrees in S.T.E.M. fields. The number of jobs far outpaces the availability of workers, resulting in the fluidity of employment relationships not found in other sectors. At best, the framework would be applicable to these particular set of circumstances, including highly fluid employment environments that are project focused, like the launch of a new technological product.
Even if the alliance framework were more widely applicable, the concept does not appear to offer any real advantages for the employee. While stabilizing work turnover and making available employee “network intelligence,” the benefits to employees appear to be tangential and abstract, i.e. making employees “more valuable by making them more adaptive and skillful.” (Hoffman at 20.)
On the downside for employers, the creation of personalized tours of duty and the heavy management investment in individual employees, including the drafting of specific tours of duty, is resource intensive and would necessarily impact the work of Human Resources, particularly because of the implications of employment law vis-à-vis the quasi-contract nature of said agreements. The legality of provisions within these tours of duty could impact liability of the company. For instance, would promises of the manager be attributable to the employer for purposes of litigation? As discussed in this class in some detail on August 3rd (“Transactions Within the Employment Relationship”), “Numerous actions might be required or requested that affect the status of employment or working conditions. Such transactions often trigger rights, responsibilities or restrictions determined by federal, state or local laws.”
For instance, does a tour of duty that is expected to last several years take into consideration the possibility of an employee’s pregnancy? Would such a regimen impact any class of employee more harshly than other classes? These are questions that would necessarily implicate the overall function of the organization, and for which the expertise of Human Resources, by necessity, would be involved.
The Alliance framework attempts to address and mitigate the fluidity of a particular employment condition found in a niche industry, but is not universally applicable to more traditional employment environments. To the extent the framework can be utilized, the benefits to the employer are well defined, whereas the alleged benefits to employees are abstract and theoretical. The implementation of such a regime would necessarily require a significant commitment of resources, as well as the expertise of Human Resources.
on July 4, 2014
The Alliance is one of the most extraordinary books I've ever come across in my 28 years of experience as an executive search consultant and global expert on talent and leadership. It couldn't be more timely, and I have no doubt that it will have an extraordinary impact in the years to come. An absolute must for professionals and leaders.
The book is truly outstanding because it presents a war-tested method for helping individuals and organizations advance through a neat process of building effective transformational alliances between employer and employee, in clearly defined tours of duty.
The repetitive and successful experience of the authors practicing what they preach, as well as the many individual and organizational examples, make it at the same time credible, engaging, and practical.
The fact that their recommended practices have proven so successful in the Silicon Valley is particularly powerful, given the brutal competition for talent in this market. In addition, the Silicon Valley is an imperative place to watch as a vivid picture of what the rest of the world will look like in a few years when it comes to attracting, retaining, motivating and developing knowledge workers.
It is extremely well written, brief and to the point while still full of invaluable real examples. It is also as inspiring as practical, even including a very useful appendix with a model to use for defining a transformational tour of duty with an employee.
This book could not be more timely. From an employee perspective, the environment in which we are living demands constant learning, and properly crafted transformational alliances are one of the most effective ways to continue growing, changing, and learning. From an employer's standpoint, the upcoming shortage of critical talent due to globalization, demographics, and depleted pipelines of qualified successors make it urgent for leaders and organizations to become much better at attracting, retaining, motivating, and properly developing high potentials.
The Alliance is a must for any professional willing to stay competitive in today's volatile world, and even more essential for managers and leaders who want to succeed by surrounding themselves with the best, and helping them thrive.
on September 28, 2014
In the past forty years, the relationship between employers and employees has changed. Lifetime employment has become a thing of the past while talent is now expected to hop from job to job. While this state of affairs offers unprecedented labor mobility, it also reduces trust. Employers don't invest in their employees as much because they don't want to waste resources on people that won't stay. Employees aren't loyal to their companies because they feel that they are expendable.
It is this lack of trust that "The Alliance" seeks to alleviate through a simple brilliant idea: employers and employees should be honest about the transitory nature of jobs and look at them as "Tours of Duty" where an employer gets something concrete accomplished for the company while the employee gets an experience that will help them develop their careers. In short, employer and employee form an alliance. Through this experience, everyone gets what they want, and on top of that, everyone is left happier.
It's a brilliant idea that seems highly relevant to American society. This book is worth reading just to get a good understanding of this simple idea. Unfortunately, there isn't all that much other than this idea in the book. It feels like it could have been published as a Kindle Single. Overall, an excellent, if quick, read.
on September 2, 2014
The tsunami of change presents two choices: Whine or Work! Having spent my entire adult life engaged and intrigued with the workplace, I find this book to be full of power and possibility when it comes to 'harnessing the power of skills, experience, & people productivity.' Like anything else, it will only work if you do. I have shared three of my favorite take-a-ways for your consideration:
(1)The Mind-set of employees, functional networking, & Corporate Alumni Networks
IT IS THE MIND-SET: A founder mind-set and a start-up mind-set doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to start your own company….An employee alliance is one that encourages entrepreneurial behavior. Having employees focused on the start-up of their career is a good thing; employees who don’t feel a pressing need to invest aggressively in their own careers probably won’t be capable of the quick, decisive actions that your company needs to adapt and grow. It is called “A founder mind-set.” They drive change, motivate people, and just get stuff done.” ~~”The Alliance”~Hoffman, Casnocha, & Yeh
(2)NETWORKING ON STEROIDS; INFLUENCING OTHERS TO ACT!---….If more companies studied corporate alumni networks, they would see that the cost of investing in alumni is much less than they might think, and the returns are much greater…Four Reasons to Invest in an Alumni Network… ”~~”The Alliance” pages 128-132
(3)This quote is just the tip of the iceberg:--“…There is a misconception that network strength equal your number of social media followers. Rather than fixating on raw numbers, consider if a person is connected to the right people and has the realistic ability to leverage those connections for useful information or to influence others to act….Knowledge is not valuable unless shared….Networking is an integral part of a mutually beneficial alliance…All else being equal, you learn how to measure network strength systemically…Lifetime employment might be over but lifetime relationship remains the ideal….”The Alliance” pages 110-127
on August 6, 2014
Here's a scary thought: What if we actually told the truth at work? An awesome premise fleshed out through the lens of the talent/company relationship in The Alliance. I've worked for a 25 years and the idea of a company being a life long solution or truly being a "family" in the misguided way it's used often has long been set aside.
Unfortunately I've mostly sat befuddled on what to do about it.
I've spent an awful lot of time doing my best to navigate work without explicitly addressing how to thrive personally and professionally while also providing the company the value it should expect and receive (and it's not just profits... see below!). This book has opened my eyes to a model that will work for me and is alive and well in companies like Linkedin and others.
Personally I prefer business books that not only get to the point but do so in a way that I *gasp* actually enjoy the writing. The authors have a way of expressing the concepts in a matter of fact way with humor that had me laughing out loud on occasion.
I love the "Tour of Duty" idea . I can manage people and my career in a new way to fit personal and professional goals to this new mid term way of thriving. (Candidly, it's one of those great ideas that is so simple it's a "I could have thought of that, but didn't" idea, like South Park or Instagram.)
This quote really got me:
"...the company helps the employee transform his career; the employee helps the company transform itself and become more adaptable"
and no, I'm not particularly sharp, it was just one of the few things in the books in italics, and for good reason.
(Spoiler alert!!!!) If you can read the whole book through first and you will be delighted reading Appendix B's Top 9 Lists and you may, like me, think THAT'S why I loved reading this book. And, candidly, wonder based on the top 2 for each of them how the hell they got anything done.....
The book will be a reference and tool for me. I feel like I have a fresh start.