Can Tours of Duty Survive Manager Turnover?

Alexandra Levit, People Results
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(Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Alexandra Levit of Inspiration at Work). 

Last week, I presented a webinar with HR Daily Advisor, Extending the Employee Experience for Alternative Workers .The session described how to design the right experience for employees in transition, as well as those who move in, out, and around the organization frequently.

According to Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and author of the book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, a tour of duty is an employee situation that involves working full-time in consecutive roles within an organization, working full-time in consecutive organizations for the purpose of upskilling, or taking breaks or dialing down from a full-time role in an organization.

Within a single organization, a tour of duty typically lasts for a finite period of two to five years. Both manager and employee openly acknowledge that at the end of the tour, the employee may well leave the organization. “The new compact acknowledges the probable impermanence of the relationship yet seeks to build trust and investment anyway. Instead of entering into strict bonds of loyalty, both sides seek the mutual benefits of alliance,” commented Hoffman in Harvard Business Review. “As allies, employer and employee try to add value to each other. The employer says, ‘If you make us more valuable, we’ll make you more valuable.’ The employee says, ‘If you help me grow and flourish, I’ll help the company grow and flourish.’”

The best tours of duty involve the mastery of new skills, or entrepreneurial opportunities like building and launching a new product, reengineering an existing business process, or introducing an organizational innovation. Regardless, the notion of a compact is critical. The tour of duty agreement must be made between individual manager and employee and therefore cannot be legislated by HR.

At the end of the webinar, one of our participants asked an extremely good question, which was: “Turnover being what it is in modern organizations, if a manager overseeing a tour of duty leaves, what happens to the employee?” I had to stop and think about this for a moment, but eventually concluded (and shared with attendees) that a tour of duty arrangement must be communicated more widely through the organization. While an individual manager can form a compact, others should be in the loop, perhaps including the department head, a vice president, an HR rep, or even the CEO in a smaller company. This way, if the sponsoring manager leaves, the whole thing doesn’t fall apart and the employee will continue to remain engaged and activated.

Another important reason to involve others has to do with coordination. At LinkedIn, for instance, employees who successfully complete one tour of duty are encouraged to pursue another within the company. Only someone with a big picture understanding of available opportunities can effectively recommend what a high performing employee should do next, and how that interacts with tours of duty other employees might be undertaking.

Are you familiar with the tour of duty concept? Do you think it could work in your organization?

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