Moving Forward With Talent

A sequence in starting a business might be to: come up with ‘that idea’, create a MVP (minimum viable product), get funding, and hire talent. These actions still happen, but the notion of hiring talent is much, much deeper. Acquiring talent (like actualizing ideas) should be an integral part of a company strategy.

Moving a Startup Forward
Moving a Startup Forward

Hiring is not simply a formality. It is about building a relationship between management and employees with trust as the foundation. Getting talent is a high stakes competition for most companies, especially in technology industries. The velocity at which new services are introduced combined with a huge advantage in being a ‘first mover’ makes the acquisition of talent of huge strategic importance. Leadership cannot sit on a concept.

Back in the late 90s’, I remember reading about what Sass Institute did for their employees: free meals, help with menial tasks, programs after work, etc. Sass pioneered this commitment of providing a holistic lifestyle for its employees. Now we hear about all the amazing things technology companies do for their employees in Silicon Valley. It is a requirement because of the fierce competition to attract and retain talent. Why would a company incur all this extra expense? Talent is critical for the success of this type of company.

I read the book The Alliance: Managing Talent In The Networked Age written by Reid Hoffman (a cofounder of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh. They share a model for an employee and employer relationship called an ‘alliance’, more specifically a ‘tour of duty’. It is an implied contract (ethically and morally, but not legally binding) between management and each of its workers. It lasts for a defined period of time (2 – 3 years). At the end of the period, there is renegotiation of the terms of employment – enter into another tour of duty with the company or leave for another company. While employed, there are clear expectations for a manager and an employee. Everything is discussed in conversations.

There are many advantages of this approach. First, there is a mutually beneficial relationship between managers and their employees. Employees know their employer is investing in their future, outside the confines of an employment arrangement. Second, there is clarity in expectations. Third, employees are empowered and thrive. They have latitude in choosing their own projects and become ‘intrapreneurs”; there is a better chance they share new ideas to make the company and its products better. Fourth, it puts employees on the ‘fast track’ to start making a contribution. From the beginning, employees know what they are supposed to be doing throughout their ‘tour of duty’. Finally, it handles the huge ambiguity of an employee’s tenure (and all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering caused by uncertainty).

This last point is significant from the point of view of an employee and an employer. As an employee, you only start looking for jobs as the end of a ‘tour of duty’ nears (if necessary). So you concentrate on your current role and expect a smooth transition if you decide to leave at the end of your tenure. As an employer, you have an engaged employee who does not quit in the middle of a project.

I think this concept of a ‘tour of duty’ is a direct, honest way to manage talent in this fast-paced work environment. (Within a ‘tour of duty’, I still think the context of performance reviews should be based on a Skills-Based Approach; it is a precise way to lay out career development and expectations.)

Build a reputation with your company that attracts talent like a magnet. With a strong online presence, talented individuals learn about your culture and mission and want to work for you – a way of pulling talent to you. If you are starting out, much of creating buzz should be directed at bringing in talent. Professionals find and even suggest positions, then apply to them all based on their own initiative.

I suggest reading The Alliance: Managing Talent In The Networked Age to learn more about ‘an alliance’ and ‘tour of duty’.

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