The Alliance: A Manifesto For 21st Century Talent Management
I probably read more than one hundred human resources, leadership, and business books a year (e-readers are amazing) and I rarely have time to review them. Most are great books in many ways. (I”m preparing my reading list, stay tuned.)
In this article, however, I’d like to discuss an important new book which is well worth a read: The Alliance by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh.
While the book is not really a “how to” manual, the notoriety of the author and the clarity of its concepts create a manifesto for management I think is badly needed.
In brief, Reid’s team describes a new “employment contract” taking place – one where workers and employers work in a free agency-like alliance. Each party gives to the other, and as long as both are gaining value, the alliance works.
You, as an employee, “invest in the company’s success” by offering your creativity, time, energy, and commitment. The company, by contrast “invests in you” by offering you money, professional development, career opportunity, and mentorship.
These ideas are not all new (our Simply Irresistible and talent management research covers many of these topics), but the authors packaged them particularly well. For example, Reid’s team believes “company as family” is a dead idea. Families are committed for life – employees are not. He prefers to call it a “team” – using the sports analogy. In sports team mates come together for money and opportunity, and then they move to other teams when the opportunity arises.
Here in Silicon Valley this paradigm is 100% true. There are so many hot companies right now that engineers, product, marketing, and sales professionals can find better jobs in only a few weeks if they want to look (Dice’s 2014 survey showed that 30% of software engineers feel they could find a better job in 60 days if they looked).
Tours of Duty
The authors heavily promotes the idea of “tours of duty” as the model for talent mobility. That is, people should change positions regularly in three models:
- Rotational: changing jobs to give you personal growth and exposure to new disciplines and work
- Transformational: changing jobs to help the company improve its mission and move you into jobs that add increasing value to the business
- Foundational: you are committed to the company for the rest of your career and you will move into a new position with 100% commitment to doing what the business needs.
These three models correlate very well to our research on succession management, which shows that companies evolve from simple “replacement planning” toward career development and ultimately to what we call “facilitated talent mobility.”
Fig: Bersin by Deloitte Succession Management Maturity Model
Some companies force and encourage internal mobility by setting rules. In one well known Silicon Valley company you, as an employee, are entitled to “leave your position” and take another position in the company every two years, regardless of your bosses opinion. This means that all positions are open to internal candidates and internal candidates must be given preference.
These kinds of “rules,” which make talent mobility possible, are harder to implement than it sounds. Focusing on internal mobility is fairly easy when a company is small, but once your company grows and managers are being held to high performance, its tricky to prioritize an internal candidate (who may be less qualified) against an external candidate (who may be an expert).
Companies often build scoring systems to help compare internal and external candidates, because over-bias toward internal candidates can sometimes create a culture which is almost “too in-bred,” a problem I saw at IBM when I worked there in the 1980s. Many companies only offer these rotational assignments to HIPOs (high-potentials), which is a more old-fashioned approach to these “developmental assignments.” I think Reid’s point is that everyone and every organization needs manage this way.
A New Work-Employer Relationship
The big value of the book is that Reid and team clearly make this point: 21st Century Management is different. We need to engage people from the very beginning of their work life, tap into their collective intelligence even after they leave the firm, and build alumni networks to create an extended network as our “alliance workers” move on.
I spend a lot of time with large businesses around the world and I believe many people still do want “lifetime employment.” While those with specialized skills in high demand (ie. software engineers, sales people, analytics experts) are highly mobile, many workers are not. These individuals still do want a “contract” with their employer and they are very motivated by a job that gives them stability and a feeling of family. So while the book’s message is very much where the world is going, many companies will thrive with a more “family-oriented” model in many locations.
Constantly Reinvent Yourself
One thing to remember: today’s sought-after skills are tomorrow’s commodity. In the early 2000s Java engineers were commanding $200,000+ salaries because the world was rapidly shifting toward web-based architectures. Today that skill set is more of a commodity and these high-tech gurus have been replaced by BigData gurus as the “most sought after” skills on the internet.
One day you are “sought after” and suddenly you may wake up to find that “holy smokes, I’m not so hot any more.” As Reid’s earlier book The Startup of You and Tom Peters great book Brand You discuss this issue well. If you aren’t focused and clear on your strengths and continuously reinventing yourself you are probably becoming slightly “less mobile” every year. We as modern professionals have to be relentless, never-ending, learning machines.
As “The Alliance” points out, this is a new world of work. We have to let go of our definitions of “safety” and “security” and remind ourselves (as both managers and professionals) that our job as workers is to always add value, wherever and whenever we can. Employers will no longer “keep us around” because of our tenure – and as scary as that sounds, it will make us all better in the long run.
This book will force you to see the future, it will show you new models of work, and it has the eminence and perspective to make your entire team think. I know Reid’s team considers this a “work in process” and we look forward to following their work to help organizations implement many of these great ideas.