employer-employee relationship

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Tours of Duty and Start-Up Uncertainties

The Tour of Duty in The Alliance Framework is a commitment by both an employer and employee to completing a mutually beneficial mission objective. Generally, a Tour of Duty spans a three to five years, but the duration can vary for many reasons. The point, though, is it’s a pretty significant amount of time: the purpose is to make a big impact, and that usually takes a few years.

We advise a lot of early stage companies whose future is very unpredictable: three to six months is often the realistic time horizon anyone can think about. For both the employer and employee, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and frankly, a lot of people cannot handle it.

So how do you implement Tours of Duty in such an environment, where it seems unrealistic to make commitments beyond a few months or less?

Let’s say an employee of a start-up expresses this to the CEO.

“As an employee who really wants to be part of this company’s success, I have a concern. I really need management experience for the sake of my career growth, and I’m concerned whether I will get that here.”

The CEO feels that there are too many uncertainties with the business to make any kind of commitment at this point. He really likes the idea of a Tour of Duty and wants to keep this employee engaged and committed, but he doesn’t want to make false commitments.

Is a Tour of Duty possible and is it a good idea? My answer is: definitely.

Here’s how to think through it: what the CEO can say, and how a Tour of Duty can be crafted despite the uncertainties.

1. The most important trait to the employer-employee relationship is trust, and the way you build trust is through honesty and open communication.

“I have six months to get version 1.0 out the door, and then I have three months to get another founding round or we run out of cash. That’s the reality of the situation. Everything is dependent on those things happening.”

2. Identify alignment and acknowledge misalignment, or potential misalignment. 

“We are aligned through the next few months: we both want version 1.o rolled out and to raise another round. Of course the company needs it, and it will be a career boost for you to have been a part of that success. If those things don’t happen, I realize we’ll be misaligned: we certainly won’t be in a position to hire anyone.

“I think you have potential to be a good manager and I’d be happy to give you that opportunity. I don’t know when we’ll expand staff to give you that experience, though.”

3. Suggest a realistic commitment.

“What I can commit to is this. Let’s get through version 1.0 and hopefully a successful fundraising. I will then give you some team lead experience for version 2.0.  If you’re successful, you’ll be manager material, and though I don’t want to lose you, if we haven’t grown sufficiently, I’ll help you find a management job elsewhere.”

4. Craft a Tour of Duty.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll write an brief Tour of Duty: you likely want more details in a real one.

Mission objective: Complete Version 1 (duration: 6 months); Support fundraising (duration: 3 months); Successfully lead a team for the version 2.0 release (duration: 15 months).

Results for the Company: Version 1.0 successfully rolls out on schedule; company raises next round; company has a new team lead and potential manager when needed; company successfully rolls out version 2.0.

Results for the Employee: Experiences the completion of a version release and successful fundraising; succeeds in leading a team for the next version release and demonstrates management ability.

Even in a highly uncertain situation with some formidable constraints, with honesty and open communication, Tours of Duty are possible and helpful. Of course, circumstances may make a Tour impossible to complete: indeed they can fail.

However, for both successful and failed Tours, being honorable to one another, makes you become allies. And that’s a huge win.

5 Operating Principles of the 21st Century Manager

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By Marla Gottschalk

When we join an organization today, we rarely envision a long-term relationship. In fact, we anticipate that our career path will take us to many different workplaces, with varying missions and supervision. The days of The Organization Man are long over — and when Whyte penned this 1956 classic, no one could have envisioned the forces that would impact today’s workplaces. Gone are the promises that were once made when we entered organizational life.

More than a half century later — today’s managers have struggled to keep pace with the evolution of modern organizations.

The operating social contract between employee and employer has been forced to flex significantly. Whyte’s best seller depicted a qualitatively different contract within organizations, as compared to those developing today. In that previous world of work, organizations had the luxury of offering security and a predictable future. Employee commitment was derived from — and exchanged for — the promise of career-spanning employment. Today, these promises are not often made. As such, the operating social contract becomes dependent on other elements that might prove valuable. This includes the development of alliances which contiguously advance career development and help achieve organizational initiatives.

We have been relying on an outdated foundational view of management, yet forcing its application to modern times. With dismal employee engagement figures and a recovering economy prompting turnover, the time for change may be now. We need to select, develop and support today’s managers with all of this in mind.

Here are 5 key operating principles of a 21st century manager:

  • A firm belief in transparency. If we expect employees to be transparent about elements of their work lives, they deserve the same in return. Without this aspect, the trust we desire to build will never develop. This should begin early on at the recruitment phase and continue over their tenure. This also demands the perspective that the more we can share about the critical elements of our work lives, the better we will fare as an organization. (Breaches in transparency can result in devastating consequences.)
  • A deep respect for individual differences. This requires a non-judgmental perspective concerning both work style and individual career goals. We are not all alike — and our career paths will reflect this fact. Great managers will acknowledge differences, and align our strengths with the work.
  • A practice of encouraging “connection”. This is a foundational belief that if we forge lasting connections — our work will improve dramatically. This includes embracing diversity in both opinion and perspective, each and every day.
  • A commitment to career building. Taking the above elements further, managers must be skilled at the conversations that support career growth. This involves a cache of skills which can target skill building, not only valued by the organization, but by the employee, as well.
  • A love of the job. Last, but possibly most critical — is the desire to manage others. Without a committed connection to this role, it is inevitably difficult to motivate contributors and build trust. We push too many toward the role, who do not possess the required skills or interest.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is a Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.

Photo Credit: rkit; Pixaby