In a meeting with several executives, one expressed frustration with staffing and the inability to retain talent today. He said, “The moment you invest in these young guys, they leave! It’s unbelievable.”
In today’s rapidly changing world, the traditional notion of employment is being challenged. I had an uncle who worked for United Airlines for 30 years. It was pretty much the only job he had. That just doesn’t exist anymore. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) is ushering in a new era known as the fourth industrial revolution, which is transforming the nature of work and the dynamics of labor markets. As a result, individuals are now expected to change jobs multiple times throughout their careers, creating a need for a new approach to employment.
Embracing a New Perspective
The concept of a “tour of duty” is appealing to me. Coined by Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, the tour of duty represents a commitment between employer and employee to a specific mission expected to last for a finite period. This approach recognizes the mutual benefits that both parties can gain. The company gains new products, customers, and profits, while the employee gains new skills, experiences, and connections.
“Tours of duty are about recruiting, retaining, and developing entrepreneurial employees.” – Reid Hoffman
Organizations can better attract and retain entrepreneurial employees by adopting the tour of duty approach. Rather than making vague promises of valuable experience, companies can offer clear tours of duty with specific benefits and success outcomes. This allows them to point to concrete ways in which the employee’s market value will be enhanced while they are at the company and in future endeavors.
The Benefits of the Tour of Duty
Building Trust Incrementally
One of the key advantages of the tour-of-duty approach is its ability to build trust incrementally. Instead of expecting complete loyalty or job security from day one, both employer and employee commit to smaller steps and prove themselves to each other over time. This incremental commitment deepens the relationship and allows for more open and honest communication about goals and time horizons. Trust is essential for a successful alliance between the company and the employee.
Relieving Pressure on Managers and Employees
The tour of duty approach also relieves pressure on managers and employees alike. By providing a finite term for the tour, typically lasting several years, it offers a clear focus and time frame for discussing the future of the relationship. This clarity benefits both parties, as the employee has concrete reasons to stick with the company and finish their tour, while the company can plan for the future and make strategic decisions based on the anticipated duration of the employee’s tenure.
Reskilling and Adaptability
The changing nature of work requires individuals to continuously reskill and adapt. The tour of duty approach allows employees to build a portfolio of competencies over time as they pivot from one tour to another. This enhances their employability and provides them with diverse experiences and the opportunity to acquire new skills. As a business owner, this may be one of my most valuable things. I can’t afford to have people stuck in the mud and unwilling to adapt and learn. Companies can benefit from adaptability by accessing a wider pool of talent and fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.
LinkedIn and Netflix
LinkedIn, the professional networking platform, has successfully implemented the tour of duty approach. When Reid Hoffman founded the company, he offered employees the opportunity to embark on a two to four year tour of duty. If they made significant contributions to the business during this time, the company would support their career advancement through another tour of duty at LinkedIn or positions elsewhere. This approach engaged employees and allowed them to enhance their portfolios of skills and experiences.
Another notable example is Netflix, the streaming giant. Instead of treating employees as family members, CEO Reed Hastings declared that they were a team. Managers are encouraged to identify employees who would be fought hard to keep if they were to leave for a similar job at a competitor. For those who don’t fit this category, generous severance packages are offered to create openings for new talent. This approach acknowledges the reality of job mobility and focuses on creating appealing opportunities to attract and retain top talent.
The Future of Jobs and the Need for Reskilling
The rapid advancement of technology and automation is expected to reshape the job market. According to the “Future of Jobs Report 2020” by the World Economic Forum, humans perform 67% of current work tasks, while machines and algorithms automate 33% of them. By 2025, the rate of automation is projected to increase to 47%. While this may result in job displacement, it is also predicted to create 97 million new roles globally.
Investing in educating and skilling new and existing employees is crucial to addressing this shift. Competency models for job roles should be developed, outlining the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors required for expected performance. The World Economic Forum’s report highlights the top skills for 2025, including analytical thinking, active learning, problem-solving, creativity, leadership, and technology use.
The future of employment lies in embracing a new perspective, the tour of duty approach. This approach acknowledges the changing dynamics of the job market and offers a mutually beneficial commitment between employer and employee. By adopting tours of duty, organizations can attract entrepreneurial talent, build trust incrementally, and foster a culture of reskilling and adaptability. In this era of rapid technological advancements, the tour of duty approach provides a framework for navigating the evolving world of work. As Reid Hoffman once said, “Tours of duty are about recruiting, retaining, and developing entrepreneurial employees.” Times are changing, and with it, how we think about employment.