Summary: jobs in EA organizations are often unusual in ways which makes candidates uncertain if they want to have that job indefinitely (e.g. people may have a less prestigious title because EA's tend to be “overqualified”). Hiring people through a "Tour of Service" which is time-bound and has specific outcomes can address these concerns. An example summary of a Tour is: join CEA for two years with the goal of doubling the percentage of respondents to the EA survey who say they made an important connection on the EA Forum.
If you think all your people will give you lifetime loyalty, think again: Sooner or later, most employees will pivot into a new opportunity. Recognizing this fact, companies can strike incremental alliances. When Reid founded LinkedIn, he set the initial employee compact as a four-year tour of duty, with a discussion at two years. If an employee moved the needle on the business during the four years, the company would help advance his career. Ideally this would entail another tour of duty at the company, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.
The central aspects of the Tour of Service model are, to my mind:
- Time limited (usually 2-4 years).
- Target concrete outcomes in which the employee’s work will benefit the employer.
- Target concrete outcomes in which the employee will be benefited by working with the employer.
Importantly, the final point may be oriented around ways in which the employee would be more employable at other organizations.
Note that the Tour of Service (both in the original version and CEA’s) is an informal and non-legally binding agreement. The legal structure of employment is unchanged (which, in the US, usually means "at will" employment).
Probably the easiest way to understand Tours of Service is to look at examples. These examples are all from actual Tours of Service of CEA staff.
Service Objectives (benefits to employer)
We the company expect this current Tour of Service to encompass the time it takes for you to execute the following objectives:
- 100% increase in the percentage of respondents to the EA survey who say they made an important connection on the EA Forum.
- >5,000 “hot leads”/year are handed off to group leaders or other CEA teams through products you create.
- The EA Forum improves event discoverability, such that 30 event attendees per month are attributable to the Forum.
Service Results (benefits to employee)
Here is what a successful tour of duty look like for you (knowledge, skills, accomplishments, recognition, etc.):
- Recognition from CEA leadership and group leaders as someone who can successfully complete large, full-stack, technical projects with diverse stakeholders.
- The impact of having built a pipeline that >20% of new, highly-engaged EAs will have gone through at least part of.
- A portfolio of open source contributions to successful projects which can be shown to prospective employers.
Here is a full Tour of Service that I wrote for myself when I first joined CEA in 2018:
- We the company expect this current tour of duty to encompass the time it takes for you to execute the following mission objectives:
- Each team managed by you (events, community health, tech, grants) has a clear strategy with success metrics
- Top performers have high morale and are retained; substandard performance is addressed.
- New CEO can be brought up to speed easily.
- I expect this tour of duty will last approximately the following amount of time:
- Until a new CEO starts (approximately end of 2019).
- Here is what the results of a successful tour of duty look like for the company (product launches, process improvements, sales, etc.):
- Each team has a Google doc with a one paragraph mission statement, one page summary of goals and plans for the next quarter, and metrics for tracking those goals. Everyone on the team and Max agrees with the Google doc. The new CEO feels equipped to work out a strategy regarding these teams, and notably whether they should be spun out or terminated.
- Morale numbers are consistently high (>5) in 15Five and there are no unwanted departures. Coaching, performance improvement plans or other remediation is rapidly implemented in the case of underperformance.
- New CEO can pass the newlywed test with your reports after a short number of conversations and reading documents you have prepared.
- Here is what the results of a successful tour of duty look like for you (knowledge, skills, accomplishments, recognition, etc.):
- Recognition in the EA community as someone who can implement robust processes, solid best practices, and turnaround underperforming teams.
- Skill of creating metrics for hard to define areas, which will be necessary for almost any position involving strategic work in EA.
- Positive relationships with directs, which are relationships that will last and potentially benefit you throughout your career.
- As we approach the end of this tour of duty (approximately 6 months to go), you and I should discuss what you would like to do once the tour of duty is complete, either by defining a new tour of duty at the company or discussing your transition to a different company.
Use at CEA
- The majority of staff at CEA are not on a Tour of Service. A couple people on the online team and a couple on the events team are on them; I don't think anyone on the groups or community health teams are on them.
- However, I think it has got us a few key hires we wouldn’t have otherwise.
- The major downsides are:
- It’s quite hard to make precise plans that last 2+ years. In general, I’ve solved this by making a precise plan and just updating when that plan no longer makes sense, but this doesn’t seem ideal.
- Like any other unusual hiring practice, people sometimes get confused. A decent fraction of our candidates think that a tour of service means that we are only hiring them for a limited-term engagement, and they worry about their job security. I’ve iterated on various ways of phrasing this, but haven’t found anything that completely works.
Next steps if you would like to use one
- The Alliance introduces this concept in depth and contains a template tour of service agreement.
- This video series gives a shorter introduction.
- I was partially inspired by 18F, who has successfully used the model to attract technologists to the US government.
- You are also welcome to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Next steps if you would like to be hired under one
- CEA is hiring. As of this writing, our open positions are:
- Office Manager - Boston Biosecurity Hub
- Managing Editor - Asterisk Journal
- In-House Legal Counsel
- EA Hub Office Manager
- UI, UX, or Graphic Designer
- Product Manager
- Full-Stack Engineer
- (Please note that only some of these positions are Tours of Service by default – different hiring managers have different opinions about Tours of Service. I would suggest contacting the HM if you have questions.)
- If your employer does not currently offer Tours, I would suggest pointing them to this article. My experience is that EA hiring managers are often pretty willing to try new things if it will let them hire people they wouldn't otherwise have access to.
I prefer the term “tour of service” over the original “tour of duty” as being less militaristic, and have made other slight naming changes to the original model throughout this document
Note that I am the “you” in this document (and also “I”, but that was me pretending to be my manager...)