In other companies, employees fail to fully invest in their current position because they’re constantly scanning the marketplace for new opportunities. That's because we live in the at-will era. In the at-will era, employees have been encouraged to think of themselves as “free agents,” seeking out the best opportunities for growth and changing jobs whenever better offers beckoned. We know that our team members are likely to leave the company at some point. Recognizing that fact doesn’t temper our interest in investing in them. On the contrary, it fuels it. Assuring our team members that it’s more than okay to talk together about their career, even if it doesn’t include Bunny Inc. in the future, helps establish an atmosphere of open honesty and helps them understand that we are aligned in our interest in making them better. We think that acknowledging that team members might leave is actually the best way to build trust, and thus develop the kind of relationship that convinces great people to stay with us.
We think of "employment" as an alliance: a mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players: the team member and the leader. Team members need to tell their leaders, "Help me grow and flourish, and I’ll help the company grow and flourish." To create and manage such alliances, we use "The Alliance" framework; a framework born in Silicon Valley and written by Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh, one of our mentors.
At the core of the alliance is the concept of a "tour of duty." A "tour of duty" represents an ethical commitment by leader and team member to a specific mission. By casting careers at Bunny Inc. as a series of successive tours of duty, we feel we can better attract and retain entrepreneurial team members. People with the founder mind-set drive change, motivate people, and get stuff done.
All non-temporary members of the team must have at least one tour of duty set at any given time. There are three types of tours of duty:
- A "rotational" tour of duty offers short missions for team members that can be onboarded programmatically. It also assesses the potential future fit at Bunny Inc. They usually last one to three years.
- A "transformational" tour of duty offers mid-term missions that will transform the career of the team member and will transform the company. They usually last two to five years.
- A "foundational" tour of duty is a life-long commitment. For Bunny Inc., the team member becomes a leader of our vision and core values. For the team member, Bunny Inc. becomes the tool he/she will use to fulfill his professional life goals.
Once a tour of duty is agreed upon, the leader and team member have periodic talks about the team member's contributions and whether the company is helping him/her meet his career goals.
Well before the end of the current active tour of a team member, the leader and team member discuss together what to do next. There are generally two possible outcomes of this conversation:
- The team member and the leader define a new tour of duty within the company. Part of the commitment a team member makes during an initial tour of duty is to seriously consider Bunny Inc's proposal for a second tour of duty. In many ways, a follow-up tour is the ideal outcome for all. Follow-up tours can be shorter or longer, depending on the nature of the mission. Before embarking on a new tour of duty, the team member in question should help recruit and train a successor to carry on the previous tour’s project.
- The team member and the leader conclude there isn't going to be a new tour of duty. Losing a valued team member is one of a leader's greatest fears. But it happens, and for many valid reasons. No company has ever been able to retain all of its top performers in perpetuity. We can hardly be expected to welcome this outcome, but even so, a planned exit is better for the company than being blindsided. We discuss potential departures openly and honestly. We always help our team members assess their options, even if those options include working at other companies.
If a team member is considered to have completed his tour of duty in good order and submits a proper resignation letter, he/she will remain in good standing with the company after his/her departure and will join Bunny Inc's alumni network.
The process below describes how we handle tours of duty at Bunny Inc. The process starts even before a job offer is made! All team leaders are required to read the book The Alliance before getting started. It's a short 3-4 hour book.
Click on the image to view the full version.
P.S. Some of the phrases and definitions above have been copied verbatim from the book The Alliance. The authors deserve all the credit. Thanks to Santiago Jaramillo, Omar Duque, Abelardo Duarte, Jun Loayza, and Tara Tyler for providing ideas, reading, and commenting on drafts of this article. In particular, thanks to Tania Zapata for having discovered and introduced this idea to our team.