New HR Strategy: Tours of Duty

HR Associations Now July/August 2015 By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

A new HR approach is reframing the talent wars. Ben Casnocha, LinkedIn's former chief of staff, says workplace tours let employees focus on a specific, finite mission.

When Ben Casnocha talks about workplace "tours of duty," he isn't referring to the hugely popular video game. But the former LinkedIn chief of staff is not surprised this unusual recruitment and retention approach is rapidly gaining fans, too.

"Organizations increasingly recognize that talent is everything … so, to attract the kind of entrepreneurial employee who seems responsible for most of the exciting innovation in today's world, they must offer a different kind of value proposition," says Casnocha, a keynoter at ASAE's recent Finance, HR & Business Operations Conference.

As described in his book The Alliance, workplace tours of duty let an employee zero in on "honorably accomplishing a specific, finite mission." Back-to-back tours are common, providing stability to those who seek it, while single tours give friendly closure to those ready to leave.

Although tour agreements are not legally binding, guidelines exist for appropriate departure before the mission is over. This ensures "both sides have some predictability and comfort, so they can fully focus on execution and can talk openly," Casnocha says.

Tours come in three varieties:

  • transformative: a two- to five-year, customized deal to bolster an employee's career development and ensure organizational talent stability
  • rotational: rapid-change projects that enable workers to gain varied expertise fast while being assessed for their cultural fit and potential
  • foundational: for CEOs, founders, and others with near-permanent alignment with the brand

Casnocha sees great potential for the approach in associations and says the battle for talent to drive both nonprofits and for-profits is clear: "To succeed, organizations must reframe how employment works."


[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Workplace Tour of Duty."]

Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a contributor and books editor for Associations Now.