Ben Casnocha on how to build critical alliances

The most successful collaborators typically understand that “looking out for number one” is often in the best interest of the organization as a whole. Finding time to think about—and openly discuss—your individual goals and long-term aspirations will help make you a more engaged and invested team member.

Seems simple enough, but, as our Collabosphere keynote speaker Ben Casnocha argued, many employers and employees struggle to have honest conversations with each other.

“[tweet_dis]The employee-employer relationship is broken[/tweet_dis],” he said, citing the “dishonest conversation” in which the company refers to itself as a family while employees cultivate the impression that they’ve landed a dream job that will take them to retirement.

In The Alliance, his latest bestselling book with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Casnocha makes the case for the “tour of duty.” These tours of duty are founded upon mutual investment, mutual benefit and mutual trust. Employees are given clear mission objectives that bring value to the company, yes, but are also beneficial to the career growth of the individual—i.e. which sections of your LinkedIn profile will look more impressive after you finish your next big project?

It’s possible, of course, to be at a job 10 years and acquire no new skills; it’s even possible for your pre-existing skills to atrophy. Casnocha points to former LinkedIn exec (and current GoFundMe president) David Hahn; Hahn spent nine years at LinkedIn, but it wasn’t nine years of treading water; he worked on three different missions, each of which helped to provide him growth in areas he cared about.

These sorts of transformational employees aren’t going to be driven by nap pods and BBQ shacks in your cafeteria. That’s not to say they won’t enjoy the perks, of course, but they won’t be driven by them.

“Help them write the narrative so that their market value will increase as a result of working for your company,” Casnocha said. “That may make you a little nervous… [but] if you can develop a reputation, a talent brand, as an organization that doesn’t treat their employees like they’re in a holding tank, but rather in a massive career accelerator… that will do wonders for recruiting, for employee engagement and even, paradoxically, for retention.”

Of course, having a candid chat about tours of duty—whether you’re initiating as a manager (the best case scenario) or as the employee—can be daunting, even awkward, especially in organizations that haven’t embraced transparency.

“Earn the right of first conversation,” Casnocha urged the leaders in the audience, saying it’s not enough to just ask employees to go out on a limb. “Jumpstart a cycle of reciprocity,” he said, by talking about your own values and aspirations. And keep a light on if and when your top performer eventually packs up for greener pastures. Lifetime employment may largely be a thing of the past, but lifelong alliances can and should still exist.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.