Human Resources

Redefining Workplace Relationships: The Power of Alliances

By Sarah AlexanderSeptember 25, 2015

How should companies manage talent? How do they deal with the trend of average employee tenure declining decade over decade? In Qualtrics’ TalentWeek Webinar – Managing Talent in the Networked Age – Chris Yeh, co-author of The Alliance and Founder of Allied Talent, discusses how companies can recognize their employees’ talent and engage them in order to avoid the mistake of driving them out.

Although the United States and China are tied for the most engaged workforces in the world, only 19% of each country’s employees stated that they feel engaged at their work. What makes an employee engaged? Most employees say that it’s someone talking to them about their progress and encouraging their development, feeling like their manager cares for them, that they know what is expected of them, and that they know their job impacts their company’s business in a positive way.

According to Yeh, companies have struggled to do this, toggling between the extreme metaphor that their employees are ‘family’ and a ‘one-day contract’ model, where employees are kicked to the curb the minute they fail to provide direct, measurable progress. Yeh argues that both of these models have serious flaws and that companies need to strike a balance.

But how do they do this?

Yeh has developed a framework called, ‘The Alliance,’ an agreement between two separate independent parties that respects their independence but helps them work together by spelling out how each will contribute to and benefit from mutual goals. In Yeh’s framework, he recommends employees have ‘tours of duty,’ which can either be rotational, foundational, or transformational.

As an example, a transformational ‘tour of duty’ would include a specific mission that a candidate is employed to accomplish. That mission has success conditions, which spell out how the employee will benefit from the mission and how the company will benefit from the employee accomplishing the mission. This way, the employee always knows where his/her relationship with the company is going, why it exists, and he/she can refer back to the ‘alliance’ agreement whenever necessary to check progress, as opposed to waiting until the annual review for feedback.

So, why is a framework like ‘The Alliance’ effective?

Yeh cites two reasons: (1) stable career paths are disappearing, so employees must chart their own paths, and (2) most conversations in the workplace are broken, honesty and trust are no longer present. But how can managers reinsert trust into their relationships with employees?

As Fred Kaufman of Conscious Capitalism said, “Trust is built by making and keeping promises,” and in Yeh’s opinion, both managers and employees need to do this. The family metaphor above falls apart, because employers can’t keep their promise to keep employees ‘in the family’ forever; the ‘one-day contract’ model falls apart because employers can’t make any promises at all.

Companies need to find a middle ground. To do so, Yeh recommends a conversation in which managers say, “We will help transform your career” and “We realize you may not be here forever, but we want to make this stop one of the most important so you build skills and market value,” and “When you’re done here you can do things you could never do before, and you will look back at this time as the highlight of your career.”

In turn, instead of saying what they think managers want to hear, candidates say, “Here is how I will try to transform the company and deliver bottom line results,” and, “I can’t promise I will always be here, but I can promise that I’ll do my darnedest to make a contribution while I am.”

Often the next question is, “But what about when they leave?” Here, Yeh’s recommendation is to build a lifelong relationship with your employees. Alumni of your company can be your most powerful tool to refer talent who will fit with your culture and also to refer business. In today’s networked age, alumni are already judging companies on sites like Glassdoor, so it is in those companies’ best interest to maintain a positive relationship with their past employees.

Bringing this all together, Yeh refers to his approach to employee engagement as “advanced common sense”. Instead of promoting employees to management without any instruction, companies need to provide them with the tools and support to have open and honest conversations with their employees and to treat talent with the respect they would want themselves.

Yeh leaves us with one thought, “If we were able to build a world in which managers and employees had honest conversations and had relationships that were based on mutual trust and mutual benefit… that’s a place where people are going to be more productive, where the cultures are going to be more honest and more open, and where ultimately all of us are going to benefit.”

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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