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3 important ideas from The Alliance

...and 3 questions about how it works in practice

The unexpected resignation letter would be a relic of old-world management under the watch of Reid Hoffman, co-author of The Alliance - dusted off by sociologists looking to unpick where honest, open conversation fell down.

In the The Alliance, Hoffman asserts that it is time to rethink the employer-employee relationship and here we we share some of the important ideas that anchor this book and raise some questions about it works in reality.

Three important ideas from The Alliance:

1. Today’s employer-employee relationship is based on a dishonest conversation

We all know that the lifetime employment is a promise that many organisations can’t make in a rapidly changing world. Yet many employers continue to expect employee loyalty without committing security, stability or growth.

At the same time, employees are forced to pretend to be loyal only to leave when a better opportunity arises. Through many workshops with employees, we often hear how fear prevents them being honest about their aspirations within and beyond the organisation: “If I don’t pretend that I’m in it for life then I know my future opportunities in the company will be limited.”

Yet this lack of open, honest conversations is a recipe for disaster:

 

“A business without trust and loyalty is a business without long term thinking.”

- Reid Hoffman, The Alliance

 

2. It is time to rebuild the employer-employee relationship

At it’s the heart of The Alliance is an ‘agreement’ between the employee and employer where each side makes commitments that it can keep. This relies on open, honest conversations where mutually beneficial goals are set within a defined time period.

These projects are called ‘Tours of Duty’ which outline specifically how the employee will support/grow/transform the business and how the business will provide meaningful growth opportunities for the employee.

It would seem that Consultancy is primed for this Tour of Duty approach. As a graduate you typically complete a Rotational Tour of Duty aimed to help new employees experience different areas of the business. However, the power balance can shift as you progress with a heavier focus on business/client needs than finding opportunities for employees to meaningfully grow.

3. Acknowledging that people might leave convinces great people to stay

While business leaders may fear that opening up more honest conversations will encourage great employees to leave, The Alliance counters that taking an honest, realistic approach to the employer-employee relationship might increase retention.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.” - Richard Branson

The Alliance addresses the inevitable scenarios where employees do choose to leave by focusing on harnessing the power of alumni networks to continue a mutually beneficial relationship.

Implemented as the book suggests, The Alliance offers a powerful tool to engage, motivate and retain talent. However there are potentially some limitations to making it a reality:

Overall, my view was that it was a refreshing read that gets to the heart of the challenge - dishonest conversations. However, there are three areas that feel worth addressing as challenges to The Alliance.

Three important challenges to The Alliance:

1. Employees aren’t always equipped for open conversations 

The effectiveness of the The Alliance - to identify mutually beneficial opportunities - relies on both the employee and the employer coming equipped to have an open conversation about what they want and need. It sounds simple, yet the reality is that many employees find it difficult to clearly articulate what they want and how they want to grow.

While senior leaders in organisations typically get exec coaches or personal development programmes, the employee masses are often left to muddle through these important questions alone. This is an important gap that we’re tackling at GroHappy.

2. The employer needs to be able to move people to where they can add value

One might expect that corporate giants have an unfair advantage by having the scale and scope to redirect talent to Tours of Duty that benefit both employer and employee. What about smaller organisations?

Through conversations with smaller organisations, we often hear the challenge that: “We need to find other ways to help people grow, because we can’t offer the periodic promotions”.

One small media firm we met recently shared that they focus heavily on developing employees for life, not ladders. They found that, by giving employees an open, honest forum to share ideas, one employee launched a project to improve an internal process which grew into a new, global business offering. Unsurprisingly, their attrition rates are well below the industry average.

3. Do the same rules apply beyond Silicon Valley?

The Alliance is written from the vantage point of a Silicon Valley powerhouse, LinkedIn, where Reid Hoffman is Chairman. If a superb employee leaves LinkedIn, there is likely no shortage of talent to fill the spot. Indeed, the departing employee will likely remain in the Silicon Valley community where the employee-employer relationship is easily continued.

We consider this challenge as we'd love to hear about examples where organisations have implemented approaches, like The Alliance, outside of Silicon Valley. What is different? What works the same?

Mindset first, then tools

Moving from a 'closed' to 'open' is hard. It's a mindset shift that puts open, honest, realistic conversations at the heart of the employee-employer relationship.

The Alliance is a tool to help make it happen - well worth a read for business and people leaders looking to do things differently.

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