Jedi Tours of Duty with the (Rebel) Alliance

Since our book, “The Alliance”, came out last year, people have asked me to explain the different Tours of Duty. “The Alliance” shows how and why a manager and her employee should structure that employee’s work as a tour of duty—a specific mission that, if achieved, advances the business of the company, and the career of the employee. By defining the clear and explicit terms of their alliance, manager and employee can build a stronger and paradoxically longer relationship based on mutual trust and benefit.

Many people, while they grasp the fundamental concept of a Tour of Duty, don’t understand the three different variations: Foundational, Transformational, and Rotational. We cite a few examples in the book. However, with the release of “The Force Awakens,” I realized that George Lucas already created the perfect examples in the original Star Wars, “A New Hope.”

Foundational Tours of Duty

The strongest and longest type of tour is the Foundational Tour of Duty. Here, the employee plans to stay with his or her employer for the conceivable future, which could very well mean the rest of his or her career. These Foundational employees play a critical role, both as senior leaders (founders and CEOs should be on Foundational Tours, as well as some executives) as well as cultural guardians and ambassadors.

Princess Leia Organa is on a Foundational Tour of Duty. Her attachment to the Rebel Alliance is deep and permanent, and she is a key leader, despite her youth. Through her example, she is ultimately able to convert the other key characters in the movie to her organization. She is central to bringing the Rebel Alliance together and focusing them on the big mission into the future.

Transformational Tours of Duty

The Transformational Tour of Duty is a critical part of any startup, including the Rebel Alliance. Here, the employee joins an organization to focus on a particular mission. Usually, this Tour of Duty has a definite end point after the mission is achieved, which enables the manager and employee to know when to engage a possible follow-up tour of duty. Transformational Tours of Duty are a great way to bring in fresh talent that can transform the business, while the experience transforms the career of those employees.

Luke Skywalker is on a Transformational Tour of Duty. He joins Princess Leia’s cause because he is tired of being a farmboy, and yearns to transform his life. In doing so, he both transforms the state of the Rebel Alliance by destroying the first Death Star, and transforms his own career by starting down the path of becoming a Jedi Knight. He shares a mission with the alliance, and wants the outcome; however, his primary mission is being a Jedi which aligns with a tour of duty with the Rebel Alliance.

Rotational Tours of Duty

While Rotational Tours of Duty may seem less important than the Foundational and Transformational tours, they still play a critical role in the success of any organization. Unlike Foundational and Transformational tours, which tend to be unique and personalized, and thus difficult to easily scale, the lighter-weight nature of the Rotational tour makes it appropriate for massive scale, for example when McKinsey or Goldman Sachs hires a new “class” of analysts. Rotational Tours can also work even where there is less apparent alignment between the employee and the company.

Han Solo starts out on a Rotational Tour of Duty. Obi-Wan Kenobi (a “boomerang” employee who has returned to the Rebel Alliance after serving in the Clone Wars, returning for a transformational tour) and Luke hire Han, Chewbacca, and the Millennium Falcon to transport them to Alderaan to rendezvous with the Rebel Alliance. After they discover that the Death Star has destroyed Alderaan, Luke negotiates a new Rotational Tour with Han by convincing him to rescue Princess Leia for “more wealth than you can imagine.” In the end, of course, Han joins the Rebel Alliance and transforms from a spice smuggler to the heroic (but still lovably roguish) General Solo.

So if you find yourself uncertain whether an employee is on a Foundational, Transformational, or Rotational Tour, just ask yourself: “Is this a Leia, a Luke, or a Han?”

(Special thanks to Allied Talent CEO Chip Joyce for suggesting this analogy, and to my co-author Chris Yeh for a fun draft.)

This article was originally published here on December 18, 2015

Photo by LucasFilm, LTD