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Perpetual: Reads | The Alliance

Our summer series of book recommendations to empower talent and fuel brands.

Review by Lauren Rath

The Alliance by Reid Hoffman is a must-read for anyone who is leading an organization, managing people, or working in the talent management/development space.

The book covers the following topics – some in more detail than others.

  • What all innovative companies do with their best employees (e.g. LinkedIn, P&G, McDonald’s, Boeing, and all of the big four Consulting firms)
  • How to rebuild trust and loyalty with employees in a world where lifelong careers don’t exist anymore
  • How to retain top talent by encouraging constant professional development through ‘tours of duty’ or missions
  • Why it pays to empower and encourage employees to build their personal brands inside and outside of the organization
  • The unique role that alumni organizations can play, when managed correctly and invested in

The book starts by addressing the dishonest relationship between employers and employees in pointing out how often an organization will tout that their people are their ‘most important asset’ and yet, when Wall Street comes knocking, employees are often the first to go. Because of this mistrust, top talent is constantly looking over their shoulders and entertaining what their next move may be – often outside of the organization.

As such, the book’s main focus is on how to recruit, manage, and retain the best ‘entrepreneurial’ talent in what we know as a classic win-win approach or what the authors coin ‘The Alliance’. It is this first section that is, by far, the most effective (and actionable) on ways to drive engagement. Especially in a world where Millenials and Gen Zers are essentially requiring us to reshape the workforce. To drive engagement, the authors recommend setting up assignments as ‘tours of duty’ to ensure clarity in what is expected of the employee and what professional development they can expect on the way. The three types of ‘tours’ are:

  • Rotational: isn’t specific to the employee; it’s typically a structured program for a finite duration usually targeted to entry level employees that are entering into stable, well understood roles. Rotational tours allow you to assess the long term fit between employer and employee – then personalize a ‘follow up tour’ if the individual does well.
  • Transformational: is personalized – focus is on the completion of a specific mission – structured and explicit; the central promise is the employee will have the opportunity to transform the company and her resume; assume there will be a follow up tour 2-5 year tour of duty. The transformational tour allows employees to contribute something substantive and provides adaptability.
  • Foundational: this is for the person whose life work is intertwined with that of the company. It’s often relevant for CEOs and company founders such as John Mackey at Whole Foods or Warren Buffett; but should not be restricted to senior management; another example given were engineers at Boeing because it’s such a specialized set of knowledge and skills.

Having honest career conversations is at the heart of each type of tour. As part of these conversations, it should be extremely clear how the organization will benefit and how the employee will benefit. Additionally, the authors offer a very clear and helpful overview of the types of conversations to be having with talent as these tours kick off, and exactly how and when to be having them. Additionally, offers additional resources on statements and conversation starters to help you implement these tools.

The additional topics that were covered around employee branding and alumni network felt somewhat tangential, in what felt like an effort to make the book longer. Rather than filling in the space with these topics, I would have preferred to have seen greater thought and direction put into how to train managers on adopting the tour of duty mindset or including statistics and data around how to convince the CEO and management team on the importance of these efforts, since their buy-in is crucial to success of this approach. Another build could have been how to roll this out into a company that isn’t as progressive and forward thinking as LinkedIn when it comes to talent solutions. 

Additionally, I felt as though while there is a strong focus on top talent in organizations, the authors seem to spend less time discussing the ‘corporate middle class’ – those steady performers who are so consistent and offer such a depth of organizational knowledge. Yes, we know it is important to keep them in the organization, but how do you keep things interesting for them when they’re on what is referred to as a foundational tour of duty?

The Alliance hits the nail on the head with the way they recommend approaching career conversations. It is an extremely quick read and has the potential to have transformational effects on acquiring, developing, and retaining the right talent in your organization.

I would award The Alliance four stars of five.

While you’re at it, check out these other reads that are along the same lines:

The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman
High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay
What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz