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The Alliance By Reid Hoffman - A Book Review

I just completed a great book titled The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh. The book tackles one of the biggest business challenges that exists today – the breakdown in the employer-employee relationship - and shows how building alliances can improve these critical relationships

The Alliance author’s bios are impressive and give them the credibility to write authoritatively on the subject:

Reid Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn and a partner at Greylock, a VC firm that has funded such notable start-ups like Facebook, Flickr, and Zynga.

Ben Casnocha is the former Chief of Staff at LinkedIn and his co-author (along with Reid Hoffman) of The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, a definitive book on career management in the modern age

Chris Yeh is a VP at Pbworks, co-founder of Wasabi Ventures.

The Alliance tackles one of the biggest business challenges that exists today – the breakdown in the employer-employee relationship. The authors frame the basis of their theory in this way:

“The employer-employee relationship is broken, and managers face a seemingly impossible dilemma: the old model of guaranteed long-term employment no longer works in a business environment defined by continuous change, but neither does a system in which everyone acts as a free agent".

There is no debate in the fact that the trust between employer and employee is well beyond strain – it is broken and we have to accept that this is a reality. As the owner of an Atlanta outplacement firm The Frontier Group I have seen this first hand as organizations have had to release good performers for the sake of cost containment, reorganization or acquisition. Many of the employees had ten years of more tenure with their organizations and seemingly thought that their positions were secure.

Given the above scenario it would seem logical that everyone should take a very cynical approach to employment where that is driven entirely by self-interest. The authors correctly point out though that this approach will also fail because what will be left is a relationship based on mutual distrust and short term thinking on both sides. 

"No one wants to risk being jilted so no one invests in the long-term relationship."

The author’s solution to this breakdown is to rethink the relationship. In their words:

“The solutions? Stop thinking of employees as either family or free agents. Think of them instead as allies. As a manager you want your employees to help transform the company for the future and your employees want the firm to help transform their careers. This win-win scenario will only happen if both sides trust each other”. 

To build an employer-employee alliance the authors say you need: 

Mutual trust – the relationship has to be honest and upfront recognizing that as an employer you cannot say that you guarantee lifetime employment only to do a headcount reduction six months later. As an employee you cannot say that you are a loyal team member while not be substantially invested in the position and always looking for a better outside opportunity. 

Mutual investment – both sides have to agree on what needs to be brought to the table. Training, time commitment, compensation, career plan, etc. 

Mutual benefit – both sides have to recognize what they bring to the table and determine if that is enough for it to be a good alliance. An employer can no longer take it for granted that simply providing someone with a job and a paycheck will be enough. The employee cannot simply assume that showing up to work every day will suffice. They have to show the value that they create. "Help make our company more valuable and we'll make you more valuable." And employees respond by saying, "Help me grow and flourish and I'll help the company grow and flourish." 

The authors operate within Silicon Valley where the demand for talent is strong. That is good reason why these alliances have been created. The honest dialogue helps planning, investment and brings stability to both organizations and individuals. 

While this works in Silicon Valley it can also work on Main Street. I am in the process of hiring a new marketing person. The position is an entry level role that manages our inbound, outbound and web marketing. In my recruiting I am approaching this as an alliance where I am looking for someone who can drive the marketing of my company further and build awareness and demand. In return I am promising to help the new employee learn email marketing, HubSpot marketing automation, SEO and human resource consulting. I am not looking for someone to dedicate themselves for a lifetime but I am expecting at least a couple of years so that they can learn, grow and add value. After this period we can reassess our relationship.

The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age is a must read. I highly recommend it.