Last week I finished reading The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. I really liked the book and it helped me better understand my own views and ideas on growing teams and developers. The book is small-ish and talks about several processes that are used at Linkedin. They also have online materials and tools at The Alliance Framework website.

When I was suggested to read this book I remember that I crused through the reviews and I noticed that several bad reviews had a common theme: they said that the ideas were good and interesting, but that they wouldn’t be possible to implement in a corporate company. That hinted that this book would bring out of the box ideas and naturally I was very interested.

So what were my key take aways from the book? The concepts of tours of duty and the alliance relationship.

Tours of duty

I focus a lot on growing my team members. I have periodic one on ones with them, I may elaborate a long term training plan for them. I set goals and help them get there. But something was missing. What’s the big picture? For how long should we pursuit some objectives?

The tour of duty fills right in. The company (or the line manager?) suggest a tour of duty to the employee. Naturally we should understand the desires and ambitions of the developers and suggest an appropriate tour of duty. The tour of duty will have a time frame (2-5 years) and will help the developer grow and give him experience that will be valuable in the market place. On the other hand, the developers commits to finishing the duty and bringing back value to the company.

If the employee wishes to leave before finishing the tour of duty, he or she will at least make sure that he prepares someone to replace him.

When the tour of duty finishes, we’ll need to come up with another one. So for employees, instead of focusing on promotions, they can focus on a set of tour of duties that make them evolve and bring them closer to their own objectives.

The alliance

The tour of duty works on top of the alliance between the company and the employee. We are allied with the company in achieving goals. This means that we, the employees, will bring value to the company and that the company will provide value back. It’s like a contract the benefits both parties.

What if the company doesn’t have a suitable tour of duty for an employee? What if he or she grew so much that leaving the company is on the table. The alliance framework expects that. The company will make the employees grow and get better and be more valuable. Naturally the company doesn’t want to lose talent and will work to make sure that it has valuable tours of duty to propose.

But if someone wants to leave, that’s okay. Let’s remain allies. The company sees this as a tour of duty of the employee elsewhere and actually focus a lot on the alumni and getting people back.

If previously people were expected to work for a life time at a single company, today we have people changing companies every couple of years. The alliance framework works on top of this flow and tries to take the most out of it.


This framework gave me lots of vocabulary for my own ideas. I do agree that the alliance ideas are out of the box and unthinkable for some companies. But in times where it’s so hard to retain talent, maybe the best option is indeed to focus on growing people while giving them reasons to stay.