Tours of duty vs old-school promotions: everything old is new again

Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh spoke a while ago on NPR’s OnPoint about their HBR article with Reid Hoffman, Tours of Duty: The New Employer/Employee Compact. People calling in seemed to have two main concerns: either they didn’t want the tour-of-duty life, or they worried that this was creating two classes of employees.

And they’re right: it does mean there are different kinds of employees. There are employees who place a higher value on security and building on existing knowledge, and those who place a higher value on innovation and building new kinds of knowledge. But that isn’t different from in the past.

A high-potential employee in a very traditional company of lifetime employees had the same kind of tour-of-duty experience as Casnocha, Yeh, and Hoffman are suggesting, except that they may have had a little more help picking their next tour. They’d be in a role for a few years, and then they moved on to the next role, horizontally or vertically, because they’d achieved the goals set for them. The company’s talent management and succession planning programs would suggest what they needed to learn next.

Casnocha, Yeh, and Hoffman are trying to reinstitute help in picking a next role for new-economy jobs. If (like many people) you know you’re likely to switch companies within five years, they say your manager should help plan what you’ll achieve and learn at this company and, if you complete that plan, support finding your next project even if it’s somewhere else. That intentional progression of responsibility is harder across organizations, but losing it does an injustice to great employees.

Since we know that knowledge spillovers (partly due to employee mobility) are a driver of innovation clusters, employees and companies who think this way are also good for whole groups of companies. Some people will stay and become mainstays of their companies, building firm-specific human capital; some people will move and drive innovation for a whole region or industry.

If someone’s done great work for me, I’d rather be part of that conversation than have the employee decide they aren’t learning enough and leave unexpectedly. I’d want the chance to define a new role that they might choose to stay for. And if they have an amazing opportunity elsewhere, what goes around comes around – they may refer my next great employee from their new company, when that person wants to move in turn.

About Jennifer Berk

I'm an analytics and data leader with a marketing and product mindset. I like online newspapers, science fiction and fantasy, and ugly fish.
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