Recently I read The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. Although I think the authors took a few too many chapters to explain their thoughts, I really did like the concept they titled “Tours of Duty.” A Tour of Duty is simply a formal or informal arrangement between an employee and employer. This arrangement defines the parameters of a work assignment that the employee will take on that will both develop their career and advance the company at the same time.
This is not a new concept by any means. It has existed in the military world for eons and I was introduced to it when I started in business back in the early 90’s. Essentially, it is an assignment with a defined term, expected personal development outcomes, and expected business outcomes. The employee is motivated to successfully execute the Tour of Duty so they can be promoted or get moved to a choice assignment, etc. (as defined by the agreement with their employer).. The business benefits because the employee is completely engaged in the process and is typically adding significant value to the business.
The authors of The Alliance specify three types of Tours of Duty
- Rotational – this type of tour has a short duration and is typically focused on entry level employees. The new employees are brought into a business and rotated through multiple business areas to give them a solid understanding of the business. It can also be used to train employees that are making a transition inside a business to a different role.
- Transformational – Although this tour typically does have a timeline, the focus is more around the achievement of some sort of business objective (i.e., improve performance with an underperforming business unit, start up of an office in a new world area, increase sales with a new or existing account, etc.)
- Foundational – this tour is typically used for those employees who plan to make the business the foundation for their career. If the business is in alignment with this employee, they can structure assignments that allow the employee to advance from where they are today to some role high up in the organization. The examples cited from the book are; Jony Ive at Apple, Fred Smith at FedEx and Ginni Rometty at IBM.
Employees can thrive in an environment like this because they have clear direction for a defined period of time. Their career and development expectations are clearly understood by management and addressed as part of the Tour of Duty arrangement. This means that the employee has autonomy, purpose and mastery (the three keys to an engaged workforce according to Daniel Pink in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us).
This results in an engaged employee who is motivated to be at work every day and is interested in advancing themselves as well as meeting company objectives. In an environment like this the employee is not going to be looking at opportunities outside because of the great opportunity they have inside the company. Hence you are boosting employee productivity and retention all at once (not to mention the huge benefit your business also receives)!
How will you utilize the “Tour of Duty” concept in your business?