In an era of mass digitization, Montreal came up with a four-year strategic plan to become “the #1 smart city in the world”. Of course, if it plays its cards right, digital could be a great opportunity to revive its economy through new jobs and GDP growth.

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(Net)Working In The Digital Era

The Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, advance robotics and, once mature, augmented and virtual reality could actually lead to significant economic growth, both for the public and private sector.

This new dynamic has created a communications revolution placing transparency at the centre of consumers’ and employees’ concerns. Today, anyone with an Internet connection can reach almost instantly millions of others around the globe; humans, bots or objects.

And yet ironically, as we shifted from the stability of long-term investments to the adaptability of short-term cost-cutting measures, loyalty became scarce and relationships now rely on mutual self-deception.

We praise startups for their management mode, we treat failure as a graduation ritual, but we still haven’t reconsidered the way we treat employees.

Can we be honest?

Perhaps those of us who fear being replaced by robots or automated programs in the near future don’t fear new technologies as much as managers and their general lack of adaptability in today’s fast paced environment.

Employees are seen as job-hoppers and opportunists, while employers can fire their staff at any moment and for any reason. As a result, neither side trusts each other nor truly profits from the relationship.

The answer, as LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman suggests in his latest book, could be found in a new framework re-balancing power, resulting in an alliance not meant to last indefinitely, as in the long gone industrial era, but as long as both the company and the individual benefit from it.

By speaking openly about both parties’ mission alignment, trust can be built and lead to better retention of valuable assets. For example, one ex-Google employee gave her ‘two years notice’ before starting the job, explaining she wanted to start her own company (which she did). Still too few businesses allow for this kind of honesty (without retaliating).

Personalization: not just for consumers

By crafting personalized “tours of duty” matching each employee’s objectives and career goals, managers create teams whose loyalty and dedication to the job generate ROI which largely surpass the resources dedicated to managing them.

The idea is quite simple: instead of hiring resources based on a static job description and for an undetermined duration, three “tour of duty” types describe different types of relationships to match specific needs.

The rotational tour is meant for young graduates and technical staff. They are generally not positions leading to a manager role. For example, a programmer could never want to become tea lead for various reasons.

This one to three-year tour allow both parties to learn more about each other, master the environment and acquire new skills. Although negotiated individually, this tour usually comes with a standard frame.

A few months before completion, the manager and the employee can decide together if they want to pursue the relationship and at which condition. A replacement can be found with the help of the employee finishing her tour and, in case she transits out of the company, it should be without hard feelings.

These conditions do not necessarily equate to a rise or a change in job title; it is not a power struggle. The objectives should however differ from one tour to the next. For the employer, to allow its resource to progress according to his career plans. For the employee, to transform positively the business by his contribution.

Lateral moves (within different services, teams or projects) allow a fresh view brought by an employee who’s already familiar with internal processes and the company’s culture. For example, allowing a copywriter to be assigned to a different creative team. The company avoids shortcuts and corner cutting and the employee avoids stagnation.

Quite the opposite, the foundational tour can spread on decades, closer to the previous model from the industrial era. Meant for company leaders, executive personnel and a few key members whose loyalty has been flawless and who wish to remain indefinitely with the company, this tour can only be offered if the employee’s value match the company’s perfectly. Think founder, public figure, etc.

Between these opposites is the transformational tour, meant for ambitious and star employees as well as those who have already completed one or multiple rotational tours and whose loyalty allows for a deeper commitment (on each part).

These tours are negotiated individually, tailor-made and do not fit any predefined job description. The employee transforms her career by adding skills and experience to her portfolio while the company is transformed by the employee within the limits of her specific mission to grow the business.

Depending on the type of job, industry and experience level, tours of duty can last anywhere between six months to five years, and regular follow-ups allow for an open conversation to take place about everyone’s satisfaction (to download a statement of alliance template, click here).

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The Alliance also underlines the importance of a strong corporate alumni network both for recruitment and customer referrals. But its most controversial advice might be for companies to start mining intelligence from their employees’ external networks to help solve problems, learn about emerging trends, competitors’ focus, or the outside world’s perception of their own brand.  

Seen as risky or downright threatening to existing business structures, this approach could nevertheless create an environment of transparency and trust, where skills can be acquired rather than being a prerequisite, stakes are discussed openly and lateral moves made possible.

Text by Audrey Raby
Picture by Ryan McGuire