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.

Workplace Trust Is Scarce: How To Build More of It


By Chip Joyce

“Trust is a great force multiplier” — Tom Ridge

During a break in our managerial workshop “How to Be an Ally with Employees”, we ask attendees to share stories about a challenging boss they’ve experienced, but share the story in a humorous way. We’ve had some truly funny stories shared by quite a few very talented story tellers. However, it is clear that the incidents were hurtful at the time they occurred.

Many of the attendees tell stories about one of their very first bosses. It’s critical to consider why that would occur.

One explanation, is that we tend to stop trusting managers (and organizations as a whole) after a couple of early-career betrayals. This would certainly limit our exposure to more disappointment. At the very least, we are leery to trust as time marches on, with good reason.

Most managers will tell me that their employees trust them — and some of them are visibly upset when I tell them to question that premise. “Why wouldn’t they trust me? I’ve always been truthful with them!” or “We can talk about anything—of course they trust me!” It is a difficult reality to embrace.

There are a lot of reasons why your employees may not trust you. Admittedly, most of the reasons have nothing to do with you, their present manager. The reasons they might not trust, could be related to past managers, or your manager or the manager two levels up, or what happened in the department on the other side of the building, or what happened in their parent’s career at the hand of a poor manager.

Our relationship with workplace trust is complicated. Your employees often have major trust issues before they’ve stepped through your door, and— with all due respect —you are naive, if you believe you’ll start with a clean slate.

Many managers don’t like the idea that they are not given the benefit of the doubt. They believe they deserve to be trusted unless they have broken break trust in some way. But that just isn’t the reality.

We often have to break down walls and rebuild.

A CEO told us that he was “betrayed” by his COO, who had helped him build the business for over a decade. The COO had resigned with two weeks’ notice. For whatever reason, he wanted to do something else, had been interviewing and ultimately accepted an offer. The CEO felt betrayed because the COO never let him know that he was restless and was seeking a new experience. I questioned if the CEO had explored with the COO as to why he’d never shared his thoughts. The CEO expressed that he had. The COO expressed, “I didn’t trust that you’d understand, I worried that you’d be angry, that you might simply fire me.”

That CEO assumed his COO trusted him, when in reality this hadn’t been confirmed.

Trust in the business world (as measured by the proportion of employees who say they have a “high level of trust in management and the organization” they work for) is near an all-time low. (The Alliance, Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh)

There is a trust deficit in the workplace. You, as a manager, need to realize that you must earn each employee’s trust. You need to demonstrate that you are in fact a counterexample to this widespread crisis of mistrust.

Here are a few ideas to explore:

1. Put trust on the table. Share a story about how a manager may have betrayed your trust. Describe your emotions at the time, how you handled or mishandled it and how it affected you. Acknowledge how it made you more wary of trusting managers, or whatever is true for you.

2. Discuss widespread mistrust in the workplace. Express that you take this very seriously because of the interference with not only the success of the business and careers, but also with relationship building among coworkers.

3. Explore experiences. Ask your employee about their own history with managers and whether they felt their trust had been betrayed. (Be sure to practice active listening skills). Accept what you hear as gospel and exercise empathy.

4. Acknowledge that trust is earned. Discuss that trust is built upon mutual plans together, with each side recognizing commitments to one another. Then follow with another plan, and another—with each completed plan layering a foundation of more trust.

5. Capture the dynamic. Structure these plans within Tours of Duty, as described in The Alliance.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent. He brings the Alliance Framework to organizations worldwide.

Photo Credit: morgueFile

Why The Performance Review Should be a Performance Preview


By Chip Joyce

When I first read “Get Rid of the Performance Review!” by Samuel L. Culbert in The Wall Street Journal, it entirely convinced me, that a traditional performance review “destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line. And that’s just for starters.”

Six years later — I have come to believe that requiring managers to conduct yearly performance reviews undermines even the best of managers, by actually destroying employee trust. As Culbert writes:

“To my way of thinking, a one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense. It’s a negative to corporate performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work. Even the mere knowledge that such an event will take place damages daily communications and teamwork.”

Culbert asserts that the performance review is “intimidation aimed at preserving the boss’s authority and power advantage” and the mind-sets of the boss and employee “work at cross purposes”. Furthermore, “The boss wants to discuss where performance needs to be improved, while the subordinate is focused on such small issues as compensation, job progression and career advancement.”

Clearly, all parties are not united — or seeking the same outcomes. This is where things begin to unravel.

I believe that most managers dislike the traditional performance review. However, their companies ultimately require it. Furthermore, most managers do not intend to intimidate. However the system forces them to play the role. No matter how they try to cushion the trust-crushing blow of the performance review, it is perfectly designed to draft them as bullies.

The typical performance review unfolds something like this: The employee makes the case for his good work and consequent worthiness for a raise, and then, as Culbert puts it, “the boss comes up with a story to justify the predetermined pay” by criticizing the employee sufficiently such that, hopefully, he no longer feels confident in the value of his work, feels fortunate he still has a job considering how poorly he is valued and he will work harder out of fear of being fired.

Does anyone actually believe that encouraging someone to feel badly about themselves —  and fearful for the future of their career — motivates them to do their best at anything?

It’s a truism that most people quit their bosses, not their jobs. However, how many people quit their bosses because of an unfortunate performance review? I know quite a few people and I’ll wager you do, as well.

I have been there, myself. You may have also experienced this.

I suspect that more times than not, the performance review forces employees to think worse of their manager. Now that would be an interesting study, wouldn’t it?

(Incidentally, the performance review can be especially cruel to women.)

Instead of the performance review, Culbert recommends a performance preview:

“The alternative to one-side-accountable, boss-administered/subordinate-received performance reviews is two-sided, reciprocally accountable, performance previews. . . .

The boss’s assignment is to guide, coach, tutor, provide oversight and generally do whatever is required to assist a subordinate to perform successfully. That’s why I claim that the boss-direct report team should be held jointly accountable for the quality of work the subordinate performs. I’m sick and tired of hearing about subordinates who fail and get fired, while bosses, whose job it was to ensure subordinate effectiveness, get promoted and receive raises in pay. . . .

The preview structure keeps the focus on the future and what “I” need from you as “teammate and partner” in getting accomplished what we both want to see happen. It doesn’t happen only annually; it takes place each time either the boss or the subordinate has the feeling that they aren’t working well together.”

If you want to be a great manager — to attract, manage, and retain people to do great things for your company — you’ll need to really get to know your direct reports, ensure that you know what they want out of the working relationship, and commit to helping them get it.

In exchange they are helping the company to achieve valued goals.

In order to do this, you must develop a trusting relationship (See my partners’ book The Alliance on how to do that) with each contributor — and then ensure you don’t destroy that trust by subjecting them to a performance review.

In a nutshell, here’s the secret sauce: An employee who trusts that his manager, and who genuinely supports his aspirations and values, may not need a traditional performance review to direct behavior and motivate him or her.

He will give you his best, simply because he is proud to be on that manager’s team.

Now that’s a win-win scenario.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent. He brings the Alliance Framework to organizations worldwide.

Photo Credit: morgueFile