A few weeks ago, I wrote about Reid Hoffman’s book Alliance and his innovative ideas on how to structure the employee company relationship. One issue that some people raised to me was it sounded great, but if your company does not believe in creating tours of duty, it was not very useful. I am not much for giving non-actionable advice (hence why I am not a consultant ☺), so I wanted to address the situation by discussing what you can do to leverage this powerful concept even if your company does not.
What is a tour of duty
I do not want to go into too much detail since you may have read my post in October, but to recap: A tour of duty occurs when the employer and employee mutually agree on a finite project, with goals for the employees contribution. It also includes how the tour of duty will benefit the employee. To create a fictitious example, say Uber wants to open the Las Vegas market to its service. When recruiting a VP, rather than pitching them on working for Uber for life, the hiring manager specifically lays out that the task will be a two-year project to penetrate Las Vegas. The employee will need to work with the legal team to counteract the local taxi companies and then recruit drivers. The candidate would learn how to lobby local governments and launch a location-based tech product. Both agree that at the end of the two-year tour of duty, there may be another tour of duty at Uber that is mutually beneficial or the employee might use the skills he learned to help another company.
Create a tour with your boss
While many companies are too large or slow-moving to adapt the tour of duty concept, if you have a good relationship with your boss you may be able to do it on a personal level. This takes the normal “SMART” goal setting to the next level and more importantly makes it bi-directional. You should work with your boss to determine a specific tour with a defined timeframe and goal as to what you should achieve. It may be building and launching a new product, it may be repositioning your product on the market or possibly launching a new feature in a game. It could also be something more nebulous but also time-framed, for example moving the customer service team from mediocre to industry leading in two years.
Importantly, you also must recognize and work with your boss to ensure the tour of duty helps progress your career. Integrated with the plan for the tour is how it will make you more valuable, from providing bullet points on your LinkedIn profile to learning new skills that prepare you for your next tour of duty either at your current company or with a future employer.
Create a tour for yourself
If your boss is not open to creating a tour of duty with you or you are not comfortable discussing it with them, you can still capture many of the benefits of a tour of duty individually. Start by defining the tour. What in your current job do you want to accomplish, how will you do it and how long will it take. Again, you need to look also at what you need to do so your career is at a higher level when the tour is over. What skills will you have added, will you have spoken at conferences, will you make new networking contacts, etc.
Conversely, even though you are creating the tour yourself keep in mind a successful tour is two ways and make sure you focus on providing your company with significant value at the end of the tour. Although tours of duty recognize you are effectively a free agent and at the end of the tour could change employers, keep in mind that many free agents stay with their current team and employer and you want to optimize that option.
In addition to moving your career forward, a tour of duty often will help you maintain your sanity. As Hoffman points out, the current environment where employers claim they want you for life, you claim you want to stay with them for life, and neither believes it, creates a very dishonest environment. Rather than worrying every day what your company will do, is there a future for you, etc., the tour of duty captures the reality of employment in this day and age and allows you to understand how your future will evolve. Whether your employer, your boss or you drive this decision, having a tour of duty eliminates much of the worry people currently put themselves through.
- Tours of duty are a great way, both for companies and employees, to have a strong employment relationship given the current environment where people are largely free agents.
- Even if your company does not recognize the value of going to a tour-of-duty employment model, you can structure a tour directly with your boss and capture most of the benefits for both sides.
- Even if you cannot structure a tour with your company and boss, you can build one yourself that both adds value to your company as an employee and progresses your career.