The New Social Contract

Image courtesy of Flickr/The U.S. Army

It’s no secret that the relationship between employee and employer has changed dramatically in recent years, as the economy shifts back into growth mode and a new generation of workers stampedes into the workforce.

Among the most profound shifts foreseen is on employee tenure: Unlike their parents’ generation, members of Generation Y — those born roughly between 1980 and 2000 — are much more likely to hold many different jobs throughout a career.

Whereas many baby boomers enjoyed fulfilling three-decade careers with a single company, millennials appear more keen on finding a new job every two or three years.

This has dramatic implications for talent managers, argue Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, authors of “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.” Specifically, they argue that the new employee-employer social contract should be thought of as a “tour of duty.”

Casnocha and Yeh, two of the book’s authors, talked with Talent Managementon the topic. Edited excerpts follow.



Ben Casnocha
Author of "My Start-Up Life" and co-author of "The Start-Up of You" with Reid Hoffman
Written for NPR's Marketplace and Newsweek
Appeared on CBS Early Show, CNN and Charlie Rose



How has the employer-employee relationship evolved?

Casnocha: For so long, the employer-employee relationship was organized like a family — the expectation was long-termemployment. Then we moved to the opposite extreme of companies treating employees like free agents. What we are proposing in our book “The Alliance” is companies forge a middle ground between the two, in which both sides come together and build trustincrementally, so an employee does not pledge lifelong loyalty and the company does not promise lifetime employment, butinstead both companies talk about a realistic period of time they can commit to each other to accomplish something meaningful that can be mutually transformative for bothemployees’ careers and for the company.

How can this be implemented?

Casnocha: It’s a conversation that happens between manager and employee that starts in the recruiting process. When you’re trying to recruit an entrepreneurial person, that person is going to want the promise of career transformation, and he or she is going to want clarity around what that relationship is going to look like.

The manager and employee at the outset of employment sit down and define a tour of duty that can be mutually transformative. Over the course of that tour of duty, the manager and employee regularly check in with each other, talk about how it’s going, tweak it as necessary and make sure the employee’s aspirations are being fulfilled and that the company is being transformed in the way it needs to.

This kind of scenario is going to require trust. How can that be built?

Casnocha: One of the critical reasons why we think that these honest conversations don’t happen naturally is because a lot of employees are not empowered or do not feel they can be open and honest about their career aspirations, their expected timeline or the fact that they could be interviewing at other companies.

One interesting litmus test that a manager can run to see how high the trust in their manager-employee relationship is, is if one of your employees was interviewing at another company, would he tell you? Would heinvolve you in that process; would he be open? Ideally in a relationship where both sides trust each other, they’re honest about whether their needs and aspirations are being fulfilled. When an employee feels they’re going to best get career transformation elsewhere or the company feels the employee’s skillsets are no longer relevant for the company, they can have an open and honest dialogue about that fact and work collaboratively to find a solution. In so many workplaces, employees do not feel they can be open about anything, especially tricky situations likeinterviewing at other companies.



Chris Yeh
Vice president of marketing for PBworks and general partner at Wasabi Ventures
Founder and chairman of the Harvard Business School Technology Alumni Association
Earned two degrees from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School



How does a tour of duty build structure?

Yeh: When most people are at a job, what they think about that job is that they have a job title. It’s as if we’re at a party, and I ask, “What do you do?” and you say, “I’m a product designer.” People focus on the title, but the title is just a label. In the alliance, the tour of duty focuses on specific things people are trying to accomplish. As a result, instead of having your time at a company defined by a series of titles where the only change occurs when the job title changes, your time at a company is defined by the series of missions that you accomplished, a series of things you actually did that have an impact.

How can talent leaders turn this mindset into a strategy?

Casnocha: The alliance is relevant to the full life cycle of employment. It starts when a company is recruiting a great employee and trying to close an entrepreneurial candidate. A constructive way HR can play in that process is by coaching recruiters at the company on how to talk about the alliance with candidates, how to talk about the promise of career transformation, and to begin the process of building trust through honesty about the likelihood that someday the employee will leave the company.

Executives at LinkedIn ask candidates when interviewing them for jobs at LinkedIn, “What kind of job do you want to have after you work at LinkedIn? I’d love for you to come work here, but I know you’re not going to be here forever.”

The second stage is managing employees, fully engaging them, allowing them to do their best work. Talent leaders can help coach managers on how to have high-quality career conversations, how to define the tour of duty with employees.

Finally, the retention of great people, when an employee is loose in the saddle, when the employee is ready for more career development, when an employee has been with the company for a few years already. How can you engage your great people to retain them if that’s what’s mutually best, or potentially not retain them and welcome them to the corporate alumni network and embrace the fact that while employment may be over, we can still have a lifetime relationship with our people?

While the day-to-day burdens of management tend to fall on line-level managers, talent leaders can play a useful role in coaching managers and introducing materials and content to help recruiters and managers have more honest conversations.

Yeh: One of the things we emphasize with the alliance is that it’s a great way to recruit entrepreneurial employees. In this day and age, we have a new generation of employees, and all survey results show they are the most entrepreneurial generation that has ever existed. In order to appeal to these entrepreneurial employees you need to be able to offer them more than just a number of hours and a salary; you need to offer them a relationship where you’re an ally and you’re helping them progress their career. You’re making concrete commitments.