Wednesday, August 13, 2014're still here? Term limits for employees

After 3 years, all employees, especially ones at large companies, should receive a personalized pink slip from the CEO. The content would read:
"Dear Ex-employee - it has come to my attention that you are still here. Why haven’t you left yet? We have innovation to conduct and disruptive business models to evolve. Why aren't you working as our advocate at a client? Or for a business partner? Or somewhere in our supply chain? Why didn't you leave and start a company we want to buy? Good luck, thanks for your contribution. Now beat it."

Having labored in the bowels of a sprawling global multinational company for a decade and a half I have strong feelings about how long employees should work in one place. Their level of engagement often diminishes over time and the only thing they get really good at is navigating the processes and policies of the mothership.

Three years should be the top end, the limit in this current climate. And it should get shorter in the next decade. People should understand when they are hired that they will have a few years at most to contribute, to learn the ropes, to take advantage of any educational opportunities, to internalize the culture, to build their network and establish their credibility and value. Then they will be dumped.

Given the rate and pace at which companies are changing and business models are evolving, this only makes sense. There are going to be way too many interesting opportunities available to potential employees. It is unrealistic for a company to think they can entice anyone to stay in their employ for very long. But don't take my word for it.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today's learners will have 12-15 jobs during their working life. Because they want to - not because they have to.

Successful companies' models will evolve and change so that certain aspects of their organizations will increasingly become unrecognizable. In order to accommodate these kinds of seismic shifts, companies will have to be much more fluid in how they manage employee acquisition and retention but more importantly - termination.

It is a model that has been practiced by consulting firms for decades. An evolution of the up or out approach. If you don’t make partner within a certain amount of time you are expected to find a "different opportunity". Hopefully at a client.

Put simply, after a specified (read: short) amount of time, the corporation should ask employees why they are still collecting a paycheck - no matter what their historically documented level of contribution is. Disruptive globally-tentacled business models require too much agility and flexibility to let workers just wallow and proselytize.

Employees should have this guidance from day one. As part of the on-boarding process, talk about off-boarding. Describe the parameters. Ask them to do their best. Know that their tenure is limited. Build it into their plans. Make it a part of their psyche. Then tell them to get to work...for the duration.

This model is going to become key as work writ large is conducted more and more on a project basis. Teams of people from different disciplines will come together to work, resolve an issue, solve a problem over a certain time frame and then disband to move on to the next engagement. MIT professor Tom Malone shares this insight eloquently in his terrific book "The Future of Work".

So whether you are comfortably ensconced in your current employer’s bosom or are considering taking a job at a rapidly evolving company, I hope for your sake that you get a pink slip sooner than later. It will serve you well in the long run.

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