The Alliance: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 8th, 2014 by bobmorris

AllianceThe Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age
Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

How to cope with the “fundamental disconnect of modern employment”

What is the “fundamental disconnect” to which Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh refer? They assert that the current employer-employee relationship is based on a dishonest conversation. How so? “Today, few companies offer guaranteed employment with a straight face; such assurances are perceived by employees as naive, disingenuous, or both…Many employees have responded by hedging their bets, jumping ship whenever as new opportunity presents itself, regardless of how much they profess their loyalty during the recruiting process or annual reviews. Both parties act in ways that blatantly contradict their official positions.”

I agree with their observations, viewed as generalizations with wide application. More often than not, employers and employees really do view each other as adversaries rather than as collaborators. I also agree with them that there is another type of relationship that would be of much greater benefit to both employers and employees. “Our goal is to provide a framework for moving from a transactional to a relational approach. Think of employment as an alliance: a mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players. This employment alliance provides the framework managers and employees need for the trust and investment to build powerful businesses and careers.”

They urge supervisors to promise their direct reports, “Help make our company more valuable, and we’ll make you more valuable.”

They urge direct reports to respond, “Help me grow and flourish, and I’ll help the company grow and flourish.”

So, what we have in this book is a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective process or system by which to establish and then strengthen an employment relationship that is a mutually-beneficial partnership, an alliance. So viewed, it is still possible to think in terms of a team (how people work together) and of a family (how people treat each other). Allies serve their own best interests by doing all they can to help each other produce more and better work and it is also in their best interests to treat each other with compassion, appreciation, and respect.

It is no coincidence that many (most?) of the companies on the Fortune‘s annual lists of those that are most highly admired and the best to work for or also on Fortune‘s annual lists of those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their industry. I suspect that these same companies also have the lowest attrition rate of valued employees and the highest number of applicants per the position that does become available.

Here specifically are several of the business issues that Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh can help their reader to address:

o Building alliances with employees without guaranteeing lifetime employment
o Adjusting the alliance approach to different types and levels of employees
o Building alliances with entrepreneurial employees whose ultimate values and goals differ
o Determining the nature and extent of employee networking and personal branding while “on the job”
o Managing an effective corporate alumni network with limited resources

Recent data generated by major research studies conducted by Gallup and Towers Watson (and other prominent firms) indicate that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. workplace are actively and productively engaged; the others are either passively engaged (mailing it in) or actively undermining efforts to achieve the company’s goals. The employment relationship that Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh endorse offers, in my opinion, the best approach to increasing substantially the number of actively and productively engaged employees. It is in their best interests, their self-interests, to do everything possible to add value to the organization that employs them if they are convinced that their employer is doing everything possible to increase, perhaps even accelerate their personal growth and professional development.

Before concluding their book, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh observe: “Improving the microcosm of workplace relationships can have a major impact on society — job by job, team by team, company by company. The alliance may seem like a small thing next to macroeconomic proposals like overhauling the education system or reforming our regulatory regime, but it’s a small thing we can all adopt today that will generate big cumulative returns in the years to come.”

These remarks remind me of the fact that, in 2004, led by Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and his leadership team, LEGO was transformed – “brick by brick” – into one of the world’s most innovative as well as most profitable and fastest growing toy companies, in ways and to an extent once thought impossible. It seems to me that, leaders of other organizations that need to be transformed would be well-advised to consider a strategy of achieving that “alliance by alliance.” Just a thought….

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One Response

  1. […] The book is by Reid Hoffman, cofounder and chairman of Linkedin, and Ben Vacnocha and Chris Yeh. There’s a terrific slide deck up summarizing the book’s key premise and suggested strategies in this Business Insider article. And you can read Bob Morris’ well-written and informative review of this new book on his website. […]

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