The organization man used to spend a lifetime at a company. He’d start out as an assistant and end up with a nice office and a pension, maybe even running the business. He gave up his best years but got a good retirement. Now no one expects to spend his days working for one institution, unless it’s the Mafia.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, knows this well; he makes his living helping people hop from job to job. And he’s proposing a way for employers to benefit from this rootlessness. In The Alliance, which he co-authored with entrepreneurs Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, he suggests companies align with these roving employees, keeping them engaged by setting up “tours of duty” involving specific tasks such as managing groups, then mining the networks they form.
The tours are divided into three levels: The first focuses on learning a company’s basics; the second involves a task, such as starting a department, that changes the employee and the company; the third is about preparing to lead. Employees must commit for the duration of each tour in a “mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players.” Hoffman even suggests a term sheet explaining what the company expects and what it offers, whether an exchange of contacts or help finding a job elsewhere.
Networking looms large. A good practitioner of the book’s advice definitely has a picture on her LinkedIn page and an active Twitter account. When hiring, Hoffman says to “consider if a candidate is connected to the right people and has the realistic ability to leverage those connections.” Unsurprisingly, he encourages reunions for workers who leave a company.
This book could only be written in today’s Silicon Valley and not, say, from Wall Street or a corporate law office, where the deal is already too stark: your time in exchange for big dollars. Hoffman’s ideas have grown out of an environment where young workers with elite backgrounds and big personal dreams are feverishly recruited under the guise of changing the world. Businesses compete on perks, and managers hire well-educated people with highly transferrable skills for whom life is a breezy jaunt through decisions about which job offers great money, a not-objectionable mission, and appealing co-workers. But Hoffman leaves out an important consequence: Once employees make this choice, they give up their most creative, healthy years to endlessly sit in front of a monitor. Most of their work will have little to do with personal development.
It’s a problem LinkedIn must face when trying to hire smart kids. Hoffman’s company is one of the Internet’s great successes—and one of the most boring companies ever. It posts résumés. Imagine thinking all day about ways to make résumés more interesting and flexible. For many, accepting that job would require an enormous paycheck or some clever talk about talent development, teamwork, and transformation—in other words, the promises of a book like this, which serve not only to empower employees but also to keep them from thinking too deeply about what they’re doing.