Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Alliance": Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn explains a strategy for the 21st century workplace, benefiting both employers and "The Talent"

Authors: Reid Hoffman (Cofounder and Chairman of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha, Chris Yeh

Title: “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age

Publication: 2014, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press; ISBN 978-1-62527-577-6, 194 pages, hardcover, relatively large print and small pages; 8 chapters and a conclusion

Amazon link
Author’s link:

Fareed Zakaria recommended this brief book recently on his Global Public Square program on CNN.
The authors start by recounting what we know: that the world of lifetime employment with one company or organization is gone, most of all for blue-collar people in manufacturing, but pretty much everywhere else, too.  My own father was a manufacturer’s agent, paid on commission only, for Imperial Glass (in Bellaire, Ohio), representing the company to mid-Atlantic retailers, from 1940 (when he married) until 1971, when he was forced to “retire” but was called back because the replacement couldn’t do as well.  That provided a stable financial world for my parents to bring up me in Arlington VA.  That’s gone now, too.

The employment world began to unravel in the 1980s, particularly toward the end of the Reagan decade as hostile takeovers became more common.  The growth of “shareholder capitalism” put pressure on old-fashioned employment practices.  This is a subject of moral controversy now in the debate over inequality, especially wealth inequality, as explored in Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” (July 22). 

But the authors argue that the idea of lifetime employment can be replaced a “teamwork” concept which can be temporary, somewhat like that of a pro sports team where players can be traded or become (“Curt Flood”) free agents.  This is first implemented by the “tours of duty” concept, which can be “rotational” (most common), “transformative”, or (for executives) “foundational”.  A good example of a “rotational” tour was my first job at RCA at its Princeton Labs (David Sarnoff Research Center) in 1970.  The “operations research trainees” was to have assignments at several company locations.  I went to Indianapolis (“a nice place”) and later Cherry Hill, NJ.    The authors describe how rotational tours work at Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn work.  No doubt, if I could get into a time machine and be 19 years old now, and in an appropriate university program, I could prepare properly for one of these and would love it. In my time, we faced a military draft.  I wondered, what about national service?

The authors also talked about network intelligence, and encourage employees to use their own social media accounts at work, within certain limits, which would be more liberal in technology companies than, say, in banks.  (I wonder about proprietary products and trade secrets.)  He also promotes alumni networks, with some continuing perks.

Another idea comes to my own recollection, the notion of "piecework" as an alternative to layoffs, that Lincoln Electric in Cleveland used in the mid 1990s.  But "piecework" is not a set of "tours" or part of an "alliance".
This whole concept would have been problematic for me in the 1990s, even as my employer at the time (USLICO, to become ReliaStar and finally ING) promoted Team Handbook and Total Quality Management, the buzzwords of the mid 1990s.  USLICO specialized in selling life insurance to military officers.  During my time there (1990-1997), I became involved in the controversy over the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military and began to prepare my own first book.  I saw this as a “conflict of interest” (eventually leading me to transfer to Minneapolis in 1997), but in those days you could lead a double life, even online.  Since social media (most of all Facebook) became so dominant (by about 2008), that approach to a “double career” is no longer possible.   Indeed, I was approached numerous times over the years to become (in “retirement”) a salesperson or agent for financial products and life insurance, but I can no longer “pimp” with my own social contacts, except with my own media.  Yup, I might have to “pimp Kickstarter” soon.   

Update: May 22, 2015

Vox has a story by Ezra Klein, "LinkedIn founded Reid Hoffman on the biggest lie employers tell employees, here.  Reid has interviewers ask, "What is the best job you would like Post LinkedIn?"
He is also big on reference checking, makes a case for hiring friends, and believes in studying "A History of Philosophy". 

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