According to Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and author of the book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, a tour of duty is an employee situation that involves working full-time in consecutive roles within an organization, working full-time in consecutive organizations for the purpose of up-skilling, or taking breaks or dialing down from a full-time role in an organization.
Within a single organization, a tour of duty typically lasts for a finite period of two to five years. Both manager and employee openly acknowledge that at the end of the tour, the employee may well leave the organization. “The new compact acknowledges the probable impermanence of the relationship yet seeks to build trust and investment anyway. Instead of entering into strict bonds of loyalty, both sides seek the mutual benefits of alliance,” commented Hoffman in Harvard Business Review. “As allies, employer and employee try to add value to each other. The employer says, ‘If you make us more valuable, we’ll make you more valuable.’ The employee says, ‘If you help me grow and flourish, I’ll help the company grow and flourish.’”
The best tours of duty involve the mastery of new skills, or entrepreneurial opportunities like building and launching a new product, reengineering an existing business process, or introducing an organizational innovation. Regardless, the notion of a compact is critical. The tour of duty agreement must be made between individual manager and employee and therefore cannot be legislated by HR.