The CIO Reading List: The Alliance

As a CIO, you know the value of finding, developing, and retaining talented workers and the incredible challenge it has become in today’s highly competitive market.

The CIO Reading List: The AllianceThe Alliance is a book about understanding the state of loyalty and trust between employers and employees today—and how to rethink how to build relationships for a stronger, more stable workforce. Authors Ben Casnocha, Chris Yeh, and LinkedIn Cofounder and Chairman Reid Hoffman believe there currently exists a “fundamental disconnect in modern employment” where working relationships have become too transactional, and it’s hurting everyone.

They argue that employers are struggling to retain a more transient workforce and feel reluctant to develop their competitors’ future workers as a result. In turn, employees feel disposable and vulnerable. Both sides are hedging their bets, and everyone’s worse off for it. In The Alliance, the authors offer a new relationship model between employers and employees that aims to rebuild “mutual trust, mutual investment, and mutual benefit” in the modern employment framework.

Developing talent with “tours of duty”

Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh make the case that our professional relationships have not kept pace with a rapidly changing world. Where old industry titans used to offer “lifelong employment in exchange for loyal service,” today they’ve been disrupted by lean, hungry, agile competitors with different values. The disruptors prize a flexible, entrepreneurial, and innovative workforce over individuals with deep specialization in a single discipline.

But in withdrawing the guarantee of long-term employment, employers are actually doing less to nurture the traits they seek. Without stable footing on which to grow, employees plan their careers in ever-shorter increments, ready to leave at any moment to pursue personal ambitions or development opportunities elsewhere. Employers, the authors argue, must acknowledge the fast pace of business change, and work with it for the mutual benefit of both sides.

The authors champion a new spin on career progression. “Tours of duty” are short-term, objective-oriented engagements that explicitly guarantee forward momentum for both sides. Employer and employee put their cards on the table—about what they want to achieve, how they plan to grow, and to what degree their long-term ambitions are compatible—and devise a mutual strategy.

The book outlines three formats for tours of duty: rotational, foundational, and transformational. For me, the first two aren’t new ideas. They rationalize existing working practices into the alliance model—i.e., new starters “rotating” around the business to learn the ropes, and “foundational” visionaries whose careers become fundamentally entwined with their companies (think Jony Ive at Apple, Fred Smith at FedEx, or Ginni Rometty at IBM).

Transformational tours of duty, on the other hand, are where I think “alliances” can be really powerful.

Making alliances transformational

The transformational tour of duty sets the employee on a course to complete an initiative that is transformational both for the company and for the employee’s experience and skill set.

“A transformational tour is personalized,” the authors write. “The focus is less on a fixed time period and more on the completion of a specific mission. It’s negotiated one-on-one by you and your employee. … The central promise of a transformational tour is that the employee will have the opportunity to transform both his career and the company.”

The company’s “transformation” might be launching a new product line, hitting pre-agreed revenue targets, or achieving thought leadership in a specific market category. For employees, a successful tour might mean gaining technical, functional, or managerial experience, developing knowledge in a new area, or building a personal brand inside (and outside) the company that makes them more marketable.

Some tours pursue large goals, while others represent small but definite progress toward larger milestones.

Tour after tour

Though a “tour of duty” inherently has a limited scope or time frame, alliances aren’t always short-term. The book is packed with examples of high-profile LinkedIn alumni, whose initial tours evolved into multiple successive tours—some for their entire career.

Other Posts in the CIO Reading List series:


What the authors lay out here is not a way to define employment as short-term, but a way to keep employees engaged for the duration of their time in your company. This focus on a short- and medium-term value exchange, paradoxically, can lead to longer and more successful employment relationships.

For CIOs constantly battling attrition, rapidly shifting needs, and a job market where essential talent is scarce, The Alliance provide a formula that can build more resilient teams and longer-term, better-engaged employees.