Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Proprietist Tour of Duty

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and VP of PayPal, has adopted an unorthodox approach to employment. In the traditional relationship, an employee is hired and more or less guaranteed employment for life, given that he or she doesn’t severely under perform or do anything nutso.

Hoffman’s approach, the tour of duty, is a different take: an employee is hired for a 2 to 4 year period, much like a contract. At the end of the tour of duty, an employee is either hired on for another tour, promoted to a different role, or, if he under-performs, his tour of duty is not renewed. The 2 to 4 year designation reflects a typical project life-cycle.

“Oh great, so in other words, it’ll be easier now for companies to fire or layoff employees.” It will be easy now to great rid of under-performers, yes, but it’s not a surprise anymore. Employees will know from their reviews whether or not they’re performing poorly, and they will know when their “contract” ends, so they will have plenty of time to prepare. Right now, terminating a poor performer in the government or in corporate America is a cumbersome and difficult process.

“Oh great, so in other words, no more company loyalty.” Superstars whose contracts are constantly renewed will have plenty of loyalty. The employees who don’t have loyalty because the idea of a tour of duty threatens them probably wouldn’t have much loyalty under a normal employment arrangement either. Those who are confident in their ability to deliver at least adequate performance have nothing to worry about. Those who hide behind rules and dodge responsibility would need to simply step it up.

The concept of a tour of duty is a very proprietist approach to work. In today’s working world, loyalty to your company is not epidemic when two-thirds of the entire workforce answer that they are actively seeking or thinking of seeking another job. What matters is not loyalty to a particular organization or institution, but commitment to your job and the folks who make up your network.