This blogpost is not an exhaustive summary of the book. Just contains the notes I took
How did David Hahn go from a twenty-three-year-old with no business experience to one of the most sought-after executives in Silicon Valley? The answer is the unique way he structured his nine years of working at LinkedIn. Over four distinct “tours of duty,” Hahn transformed the company and his career. As a manager at LinkedIn, Hahn was also explicit about tours of duty with his team members, encouraging them to rotate to new tours of duty within LinkedIn so that they could gain operational experience across multiple areas.
The phrase tour of duty comes from the military, where it refers to a single specific assignment or deployment. Soldiers will typically serve multiple tours of duty during their military careers, much as employees will take on a number of different projects or initiatives during the course of their work at a particular company and throughout their careers.
By recasting careers at your company as a series of successive tours of duty, you can better attract and retain entrepreneurial employees. When recruiting top talent, offering a clear tour of duty with specific benefits and success outcomes beats vague promises like “you’ll get valuable experience.” Defining an attractive tour of duty lets you point to concrete ways that it will enhance the employee’s personal brand—while he’s at the company and if and when he works elsewhere—by integrating a specific mission, picking up real skills, building new relationships, and so on.
The finite term of the tour of duty provides crisper focus and a mutually agreeable time frame for discussing the future of the relationship. It gives a valued employee concrete and compelling reasons to “stick it out” and finish a tour. Most importantly, a realistic tour of duty lets both sides be honest, which is a necessity for trust.
Senior vice president of engineering Kevin Scott, models the importance of honesty even more explicitly. He asks every person he manages, “What job do you envision having after you leave LinkedIn?” He asks the same question of folks who are interviewing for jobs at LinkedIn (“What job do you want after you work at LinkedIn?”) in order to make sure the company can offer a tour of duty that will advance their future career.
- An employee’s tour of duty can be classified into one of three general types:
- A Rotational tour isn’t personalized to the employee and tends to be highly interchangeable—it’s easy to swap an employee in to or out of a predefined role.
- The first flavor of Rotational is a structured program of finite duration, usually aimed at entry-level employees. For example, investment banks and management consultancies have defined two- to four-year analyst programs. Everyone is on the same basic program, generally for a fixed period of time and for a single go-round. These programs are often explicit “on-ramps” to transition new employees from school to work, or from their previous employers to the new employer’s unique work environment.
- Rotational tours provide scalability by helping companies hire large numbers of employees into stable, well-understood roles. The standardized nature of these tours makes them easier to implement and recruit for, especially at scale.
- Unlike the Rotational tour, a Transformational tour is personalized. The focus is less on a fixed time period and more on the completion of a specific mission. It’s negotiated one-on-one by you and your employee. Most managers already spend a lot of time “managing” their people, but lack a rigorous framework for honest conversation and for defining specific expectations. The tour of duty framework lets you make this process structured and explicit, rather than vague and implied.
- The central promise of a Transformational tour is that the employee will have the opportunity to transform both his career and the company. His LinkedIn profile (or résumé) should look considerably more impressive afterward! As a Transformational tour of duty enters its final stage, you and your employee can start to negotiate a follow-up tour of duty to keep the employee at the company. Because a Transformational tour represents a more intense forward-looking commitment than a Rotational tour, the default expectation is that both parties want to invest in the long term, and that there will likely be a follow-up tour.
- A general rule of thumb is that an initial transformational tour of a duty lasts two to five years. It’s a time period that seems to be nearly universal for any organization or industry.
- Transformational tours provide adaptability by helping companies bring in the specific skills and experiences required. Dynamic industries usually have greater competition, faster-paced technological change, and a more intense war for talent. The founder mind-set is critical to success in these industries, which means companies in those industries need a higher proportion of employees on Transformational tours.
- Jony Ive at Apple. Fred Smith at FedEx. Ginni Rometty at IBM. These are people whose lives are fundamentally intertwined with their companies. These are people on a Foundational tour of duty.
- Exceptional alignment of employer and employee is the hallmark of a Foundational tour. If an employee sees working at the company as his last job, and the company wants the employee to stay until he retires, he is on a Foundational tour of duty. The company has become the foundation of the person’s career and even life, and the employee has become one of the foundations of the company. The employee sees his life’s work as the company’s mission and vice versa. The Foundational tour recognizes and formalizes that reality.
- Certain types of employees are likely to be on Foundational tours. By definition, company founders and CEOs are Foundational. For example, John Mackey started Whole Foods in 1980 and is still going strong nearly thirty-five years later. Mackey is a veritable toddler next to Warren Buffett, who has been running Berkshire Hathaway since 1965—nearly fifty years. At LinkedIn, even though Jeff Weiner has only been CEO for five years, he has become so Foundational to the company that Reid refers to Weiner as a cofounder, even though Weiner joined the company long after its founding.
- Ideally, most of the top executives of a company should be on Foundational tours. The average tenure of the executives who report to the CEO at exemplars of adaptability such as Apple, Amazon, and Google is over a decade. When teams work together over many years, they share a common background of experience, enabling more rapid communications and decision making.
- Foundational tours provide continuity by helping companies retain employees who focus on the long term. Your senior management team should consist of Foundational employees.
Your task is to build alignment with regard to the employee’s specific mission objective, not his entire life. As we’ve said, your company is not a family—you don’t have to unconditionally support your employees’ values and aspirations, but you do have to respect them.
- Three Steps to Building Alignment
- ESTABLISH AND DISSEMINATE THE COMPANY’S CORE MISSION AND VALUES
- LEARN EACH INDIVIDUAL EMPLOYEE’S CORE ASPIRATIONS AND VALUES
- WORK TOGETHER TO ALIGN EMPLOYEE, MANAGER, AND COMPANY
- The old lifetime employment model encouraged both managers and employees to look inward. Managers focused on making employees more efficient at fulfilling their job description, while employees focused on enhancing their position within the company hierarchy. But once that model began breaking down, that inward focus became self-defeating self-absorption. Today, as we’ve discussed, both company and employee need to look outward toward the overall environment in which they operate, especially when it comes to networks. Companies have to understand the employee’s broader place in the industry, while the employee should realize that his professional network is one of the key assets that can boost his long-term career prospects. At the same time, as part of the alliance, the employee ought to tap his own individual network to advance their employer’s business, because who he knows in the industry can be just as valuable to the company as what he knows in terms of skills. Thus, the alliance at work: growing their professional networks helps employees transform their career; employee networking helps the company transform itself.