The Evolution of the Employer-Employee Relationship: Real World Examples

November 6, 2014

In today’s “Networked Age,” says Reid Hoffman, relationships matter most.  Not surprising coming from the Executive Chairman and Co-founder of LinkedIn. In the context of the employer-employee relationship, however, there’s more to it than one might think.

“Relationships are what help you find opportunities, find resources, make decisions more effectively, and manage, essentially, a long term investment in a lifetime career,” said Reid.

Reid encourages employers to focus on developing long term, trusted relationships with their employees, using a framework of openness and honesty - what he calls the new employer-employee alliance. The benefits are numerous for both sides – employees gain clarity into opportunities available to them, eliciting stronger commitments and higher quality work for employers.

This was the foundation of the Talent Connect panel, “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age,” on which Reid joined two real world examples of company leaders who have lived and are now implementing this new philosophy themselves: Lila Ibrahim, Chief Business Officer, Coursera; and Trish Lukasik, Senior Vice President, PepsiCo.

Speak Openly and Honestly About the Relationship

Reid’s book, The Alliance, encourages employers to “speak openly and honestly about the investment the company is willing to make in the employee and what it expects in return,” and urges employees to do the same. This, he says, will allow both parties to “focus on maximizing medium-and long-term benefits, creating a larger pie for all and more innovation, resilience, and adaptability for the company.”

Adaptability, he says, is necessary for today’s organizations to compete, and the only way companies can be adaptive is to hire adaptive people.  Adaptive people are looking for transformative experiences, and in order to retain them, that’s what employers must offer.

That’s exactly what Trish feels she’s gotten out her tenure at PepsiCo. – she’s been with the company for more than 15 years and worked across every different division within the organization. She’s worked across functions like strategy, management and finance, and done everything from flip pancakes for union workers to help locate a stolen Cheetos truck. She now leads sales for a portfolio of brands including Tropicana, Gatorade and Naked Juice.

She said that while not all of her assignments were glamorous, she always kept the attitude of, “what can I learn from this?” She recognized that with each opportunity, the company would gain something and so would she. This is essential in the new employer-employee relationship – it has to be mutually beneficial.

Lila talked about the importance of being open, honest and deliberate with employees about their current trajectories and why each assignment is given to them – especially Millennials. Coursera’s employee makeup is such that 25% are under the age of 25, 75% are under the age of 35.

It’s important to start the career conversation during the recruiting process, she says. Companies should ask potential employees about which areas they want to develop, and talk about how the company can help them do so.

Coursera uses the “I like/ I wish/ I wonder” method of giving employees feedback – a very non-confrontational approach that she says works well with Millennials.

“I like that you’re doing this… I kind of wish that you focused more on this area… I wonder if you changed this behavior, if you would get a different outcome…”

Tapping Into the Company’s “Network Intelligence”

The panelists also discussed the importance of using what Reid calls “network intelligence,” a collective knowledge base built upon the experiences and interactions of each individual and their networks of friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

While a person’s network intelligence has always been available to him or her, today’s technologies make it ever more accessible - to that person and his or her employer, posing incredible opportunities for both parties.

For the individual, this is what LinkedIn is all about – the opportunity to tap into one’s network for job or business referrals, advice, mentorship, etc. For an employer, however, the opportunity is even greater.

According to Reid, having [or not having] the knowledge about what to do in a given situation can be the difference between winning and losing as an organization. But since more intelligence exists outside your organization than inside it, how can you facilitate the collection of that knowledge so that your employees can help you make the right decisions?

Lila talked about how from its inception, Coursera focused on just that. As a small business looking to grow, Coursera’s executives realized they needed intelligence beyond what they shared as a team. They looked outside the company for mentorship at the team level, from similar departments at other organizations. The process worked so well that they continued the program throughout the company, and created an active internal mentor-pairing program as well.

Trish touched on how, as an employer, sometimes you have to face that your organization may not be able to offer an employee the next best move for them. If a valued team member can find an opportunity that offers more development in an area of their focus, let them go. It doesn’t mean you have to end the relationship. In fact, she said, you may find it’s a great way to bring new experience back to the organization some day – whether you rehire that person or they remain a part of your alumni network.

This depends entirely, of course, on laying the right exit foundation.

“How you leave is important – it defines you,” she says. This goes for the employee and the employer – today’s interconnectedness makes it so.

If you missed the panel and would still like to catch it, you can watch it here.

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