Tour of Duty


 Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

Thank you to all of our veterans for their service to our country and thank you for the inspiration for this week’s article!

Tour of duty is an employment concept adapted from the military by Reid Hoffman, former COO of PayPal and co-founder of LinkedIn, and applied to how employees and employers can engage in a more ethical manner. I love this concept!

There are three types of tours: rotational, transformational, and foundational.

A rotational tour, as its name implies, is a role whereby an employee rotates through several different assignments over a period of time. Companies like GE, with the ECLP program, as well as Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, use these types of rotational tours for new and high potential hires alike. Transformational tours are roles where things are changing quickly and there is a belief that both the employee and the company will be very different in a short amount of time. Think about this tour as what life is like in a startup or a turnaround. Lastly, there is the foundational tour, which is actually the least “touristy” of all. This tour features an employee and company that have become so intertwined that they would be hard to separate. Because of the mutual commitment, these are long term engagements.

To help make the tour concept easier to understand, let’s also look at what a tour of duty is not. A tour of duty is not a form of contract employment. A tour of duty is not an open ended engagement that lacks specific mutual goals. A tour of duty is not an employer expecting “loyalty” without giving the same.

By looking at employment from a tour of duty perspective, where there is a clear and shared focus on a mission/project/goal, it makes it easier for both sides to make clearer and cleaner commitments to the engagement.

For example, imagine a ground floor hire working at a startup. There are some explicit targets to be achieved that require commitment such as launching a product or selling to and supporting beta customers. Achieving these benchmarks results in setting new goals. These new goals allow the employee and the employer to come together to decide if another tour makes sense or if it is time to move on from each other.

Hoffman points out that the backbone of the tour of duty concept is the ethical commitment of both parties to do right by each other rather than legal commitment.

This makes so much sense because the world is a dynamic place and things change rapidly. How an employee or employer ethically responds to change is what makes a big deal. Consider the startup previously mentioned. The startup is close to launching a new product when they’re approached by a strategic buyer who makes the shareholders an offer to buy the company that can’t be ignored. The ground floor hire and the company are committed to a tour that would last through launching the product. From the perspective of the employee, selling the company results in not finishing the tour. Under this concept, the company takes the ethical approach of providing the employee with options (another tour) or support in helping the employee find their next great opportunity (reaching out to a high level network and making introductions).

Conversely, let’s consider a situation where the employee, who has made an ethical commitment to a tour of duty focused on launching a product, receives an incredible, unsolicited offer that can’t be ignored. In this situation, the employee could participate in recruiting their replacement or working with both their current employer and future employer to transition smoothly so that neither company is harmed.

It’s this focus on ethical rather than legal aspect of engagement that creates so much mutual value. Ethical commitments are about trust while legal commitments are about distrust. Companies and employees will never give their best if there is a lack of trust.

Employees, consider how you can use the tour of duty concept in your current role or in your next engagement. Employers, consider how can you change the way you hire using this concept to create tremendous results.

To learn more, check out this series of videos by Reid Hoffman.


Written byAustin Meyermann, Founder and President of Hunter Crown, LLC


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