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10/9/2013
04:01 PM
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What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?

Talent management needs a new paradigm to better serve people hardwired to be loyal followers.

Modern employment is a complex and troubled marriage, rife with uneven power dynamics. At-will employment is codified spousal abuse. And to frame it like it's Tomorrowland is another reason hbr.org deserves a DDoS attack.

A Yellow Wood

Internal mobility is for suckers! I wish someone had told me that when I was young. It's the illusion of choice from an institution that doesn't have your best interests in mind. I don't care how well-intentioned your manager is or how caring and authentic that HR rep seems. The next time that you hear those two comforting words, visualize Kathy Bates and prepare for a hobbling.

So of the three candidates for loyalty, this first one, loyalty-to-company, is a non-starter.

The second and third -- loyalty-to-leader and to self -- are only slightly less problematic. Jumping to a different company just to work for someone you've worked for previously is like divorcing your spouse and marrying her clone.

Flying from interesting job to interesting job to look for challenging work and learning opportunities is admirable, but it sends a strong signal to future employers that you might be amazing, adventurous, a real rock star but aren't worth investing in for the long term.

Talent clearly needs -- I'd even say deserves -- a fourth choice. This has stopped being about Frost's "road not taken." We need a new path that plows through the damn woods.

I don't have the complete answer, but your next career jump needs to start with a person or institution that is:

1) outside your current company's context.

2) knows you well enough to sell you -- and I mean the real you.

3) represents your financial interest over that of your future employer's.

4) is thinking about your career's long-term horizon.

Most recruiters provide No. 1. The best ones add No. 2. The clever ones will tell you that they address No. 3 because they get a percentage of your salary, which means they make more when you make more. (Never trust the clever ones!)

As for No. 4, if you're a recruiter in the existing paradigm, why would you jeopardize the only relationship that currently pays your bills, i.e., the one you have with the hiring corporation? It's madness. There's no legitimate placement service out there that represents the gifted hacker or the hands-on tech exec who's open to new challenges, new industries.

How is the current model for recruiting not a massive conflict of interest? Searches for top talent are driven exclusively by companies. It's like being in the most expensive real estate purchase of your life and having to fall backward into the arms of the seller's broker.

Our exploration for a better model for talent management should look to the sports and entertainment industries for inspiration. There, you'll find managers and agents who stay with talent for the long haul. And we should look at talent management as an ecosystem, the way a scout starts with the young baseball player and hands him off to a manager who specializes in maturing young talent.

We certainly have superstars in tech. We just lack the Jerry Maguires: the nurturing super-connectors who care even more about the relationship after the placement is made and the percentages are paid.

It's time hackers had advocates in their corner, not the employer's. Protection against the power imbalance. An unbiased and motivated supporter who could guide them from task to task, job to job, industry to industry, with the long view.

Epilogue: The Last Gasp

I just reread this midnight rant and I'm so very obviously thinking about leaving Big. There's no sordid backstory. No drama. It all ties back to issues of identity and meaning.

The unspoken truth is that I dread being identified socially with this brand, this Wal-Mart of financial services. Not because it's evil, mind you. But because its culture is like an aging dictator, proud of the order he's wrought and oblivious to the suffering.

Social events in my personal life drain my battery even more now because of that inevitable question strangers seem hardwired to ask. My stock answer to "Where do you work?" has become, "In my head, mostly." And then -- very Gary Larson-esque -- I drop to the floor and feign death until they walk away.

Or at least I do in my head.

I'll start the process tomorrow: Update the resume (the first time in 12 years) and send out feelers to old friends with the shameful starting line of "Hey, it's been awhile."

I'll even upgrade to LinkedIn Pro, the career equivalent of buying a lottery ticket.

That's the best part of cathartic writing. Thanks to this process, I'm done with loyalty-to-company and -leadership. I'm going to try out loyalty-to-career for a change, even though in the financial services sector the path of followership generally isn't career suicide. Enough of us are lemmings here that the ones who aren't understand and even forgive the weakness, hiring with the hopes of growing their own herd.

If there were a fourth option, a path through the yellow wood, I'd certainly try it. The air would be clean, the view breathtaking and the company invaluable.

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jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Moderator
10/30/2013 | 4:02:37 AM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Interestingly enough, Spock was highly loyal to his captain and to Starfleet (but they were equally loyal to him). Indeed, Vulcans, as portrayed in Star Trek, don't strike me as very good mercenaries.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Moderator
10/30/2013 | 3:35:22 AM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
I think it's perfectly reasonable and proper to be loyal to one's employer when that loyalty is reciprocated. But if the company is focused exclusively on the bottom line; employees and customers be damned (I don't think I've ever seen a company that treats its customers better than it's employees), then you probably don't want to be working there anyway, and if you do, then it's only fair to see to it that you are paid the absolute maximum that the market will bear (one good mercenary deserves another). After all, loyalty to one's family and self are important too. And loyalty up never exceeds loyalty down.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2013 | 11:52:41 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Good rant. Most companies are not in the business of personal fulfillment, no matter what the HR folks say. The best ones treat you fairly and give you opportunities to learn. Your job/company will never fulfill all aspects of your life, and that's ok. I've seen friends let their jobs become their identities and they change. Loyalty to company strips away the sense of humor they had in younger years. But this can happen to the most self-aware, independent-minded people too, without them even noticing. Coverlet makes a great point that your job becomes your identity almost through osmosis because it leaves you so little time to create an identity in other areas.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/16/2013 | 7:03:07 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Who said the mentor "stole" me? I am talking about the power of introductions. You can meet mentors through professional and alumni organizations who will never steal you, but can advise you and connect you.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/16/2013 | 1:32:53 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
For me loyalty is about the long view, faith and trust-- an understanding that long term human relationships are more important than short ones (or institutional ones) and that history is as relevant in decision making as present and future concerns. This is why a lot of examples of disloyalty (in every context) are classic replays of short term gratification winning over long-term objectives.
C6Silver
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C6Silver,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2013 | 4:25:20 AM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
It would seem my record of never being called pithy stands. It's a lifetime achievement...

I actually wrote another few sentences which I decided not to publish but will come back to here. My concern was that my statements around cost/benefit would sound too mechanical and give the wrong impression that we should consider the relationship within business to be ripped directly from the planet Vulcan playbook. I believe this is what you are keying on within the final paragraph of your reply. I do want to suggest that while it comes down to a cost/benefit that doesn't mean that the relationship needs to be cold and inhuman. Even our most quantitatively based decisions can be handled with dignity and grace and we are allowed to have an emotional opinion.

Having said the above and employment is a contract between the employee and employer. It is our duty as employees within that contract to act in the best interests of the company as long as it does not cross moral or legal bounds (that is part of their side of the contract). So within the framework of a contract just what role does loyalty have to play? My definition says none. Once you get past the idea you have friends at work or people you look up to at work or people who look up to you, there still remains a contract. As a result loyalty is just a warm and fuzzy way to say that the benefits I or the company are receiving right now outweigh the costs and therefore the contract remains active.

To come back to my original question though, what is your definition of loyalty? I loved the article but I didn't get that one key aspect and as long as we may have different definitions, it is hard to discuss what should replace it.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
10/15/2013 | 8:43:15 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
So you have an outside mentor that steals you away from Big (loyalty intact to mentor). But now you have to find a new mentor because he is no longer outside the company. You find one and he professes the benefits of Upstart. You jump ship again. Loyalty to the mentor is intact, but your now past mentor? Last I heard we go through a dozen jobs and half a dozen companies in our professional careers. You now have a lot of past mentors especially if you are a "geographic" employee. So where does this leave loyalty (the topic of the article)? Looks like to ourselves.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/15/2013 | 7:20:01 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Yes. And that option is tied (for me) to the two alternatives for loyalty that I intentionally left off this piece because they each deserve their own light.

They are loyalty to clients-- something that can happen within Big but shines brightest in Small. And loyalty to employees-- and I mean those that you pay with your own money.

Starting a company offers something very special at the intersection of those two.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/15/2013 | 7:13:16 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
First, appreciate your thoughtfulness and what was obviously an investment of your time. 500 words is almost a column. :)

I wasn't trying to explore passive loyalty (if that's even a term). The idea of staying at a firm for 20 years because you don't want the rollercoaster of career changes doesn't (for me) qualify as loyalty. Loyalty is an active virtue and metaphorically, like a muscle (ie., grows with exercise, atrophies without it).

That said, your first point still resonates because you're essentially saying that "intent is important." Can't argue with that.

I'm on the fence with your second point because of the emotional complexity to that cost-benefit analysis. As much as I like to believe that I'm a rational person (and I'll speak just for me), my experiences demonstrate otherwise. And I suppose that's part of the problem: only one side of the loyalty-to-company relationship can act without emotion.

Good points. Will have to reflect on them.
C6Silver05
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C6Silver05,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2013 | 5:53:16 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
I think what is missing here is a definition for GǣloyaltyGǥ and how one views real loyalty versus self/business interest in name of loyalty.

If you are an employee and you have worked for the same company for 20-years does that make you loyal? By the same token if that company has allowed you to work for them for 20-years does that make them loyal to you? I would suggest that the vast majority of the time what we think is loyalty is really self or business interest. In my view for loyalty to have meaning it has to come with actions that rise above self/business interest and stem from a more emotional place where someone elseGs interests are put above your own.

In the example of the 20-year employee I would first really want to explore why that person remained with that company or leader. Do they really view that person or company in a way outside of self-interest? If you dig you are likely to find other factors that really led to their staying. Perhaps the burden of looking for a job was
not palatable, perhaps there wasn't anything out there perceived to be better,
perhaps the known has become so comfortable that starting over is unthinkable, etc. On first blush it is easy to say this employee is loyal but dig deeper and it is self-interest that has kept this person at this company or with this boss for so long. On the flip side, what does it mean for the employer? If they promote a long-time
employee or choose to lay someone else off it can easily be perceived as the
company being loyal to their longer-term employee. Yet, if you look closer do you find that it was perhaps easier and less costly to promote someone they know versus the cost and unknown of a new hire? Perhaps this employee was spared in the RIF process because the value they produce is actually greater than the value of the person they eliminated? Is the company really taking an action out of
loyalty or is a cost/benefit analysis that is then packaged and sold as loyalty?

In the business world loyalty has always been more marketing and perception than reality whether you are coming from the employee or employer view. While I am sure there are cases of true loyalty my guess is those are far rarer than realized. Every day you are making decisions about what is in your best interest and companies are also making decisions about what will most benefit it. If the results
come out to value both parties it can be called loyalty. If the results benefit one party it can be considered disloyalty. Neither is true. Loyalty doesn't need to be replaced in terms of employee/employer, it just needs to be exposed as a cost/benefit analysis. If we frame it that way than decisions can be quantified and explained rather than becoming emotionally irrational.
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