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The Alliance: A Leader’s Guide To Building A More Aligned, Motivated Team

The Alliance: A Leader’s Guide To Building A More Aligned, Motivated Team

August 07, 20237 min read

We wouldn't buy a product that didn't work as promised.

We wouldn't continue to invest in a relationship that didn't make us feel the way we wanted to feel.

We don't wash rental cars.


Because all things considered, we like to believe that whenever we invest time, money, love, or energy in something, that investment will be rewarded.

Put another way, we all prefer win-win outcomes to win-lose.

So why should our attitude towards work be any different?

In their terrific book, "The Alliance," authors Reid Hoffman (the founder of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh make a strong case that it shouldn't.

They argue that the companies that will "win" in a highly mobile, highly-networked world are the ones that foster open, honest, symbiotic relationships between employee and employer; the ones who treat employment as an alliance – "a mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players."

The "deal," as they describe it, would define in detail how a particular role or set of responsibilities benefits both employee and employer.

Essentially it's a new conversation between employee and manager that sounds something like this: "Help me to grow and flourish, and I will help the company [and you, personally] to grow and flourish."



It's impossible to overstate how deeply the "The Alliance" concept resonated with me.

So many of the talented executives with whom I work have, at some point in their careers, started to question the time, energy, and trade-offs that success in their role requires. In other words, their motivation to do the work they have to do waivers.

They question whether the work, role, and financial rewards are "worth" it.

While I don't have any data to back this up, anecdotal evidence suggests that performance plateaus once this question ("Is this worth it?") enters the mind.

Executed well, the "alliance" solves this problem.

The employee clearly understands the value of the time and energy invested and the trade-offs made. The employee and manager understand why the work matters – to the organization and the individual.

Likewise, the "alliance" answers the "Is it worth it?" question for employers, too.

According to a 20 2 Towers Watson study, while 50% of global employees want to stay with their current employer, most felt they would take another job at another company if it would advance their career.

In an employment market where millennials and tenured executives behave like "free agents," companies understandably ask, "Is it worth investing in this employee given the chance that he or she may leave our firm?" "Is it worth it to build the skills of our existing workforce – or just hire new?"

The "alliance" approach makes these questions easier to answer.

Based upon mutual assurances, this arrangement allows both employee and employer to, according to the book's authors, "invest in the relationship and take the risks necessary to pursue bigger payoffs."


The "alliance" concept seems an elegant solution to the attraction, retention, and engagement problems plaguing organizations, large and small.

Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh point to the success of Silicon Valley companies – a business environment where the alliance concept has already taken root – as proof of concept.

They argue that the real secret of the success of companies like Apple, Google, LinkedIn, and other Valley stalwarts is not the prevalence of "young geniuses" but instead the way these companies "use the alliance to recruit, manage and retain an incredibly talented team of entrepreneurial employees."

I agree. That said, replicating the success of Silicon Valley in implementing the "alliance" framework in other industries will be hard.

For this to happen, three major roadblocks will need to be overcome:

1. Employees And Employers Need To Get Clear On What We Are Trying To Learn, Do, Build, And Develop – And In What Time Frame.

From an employee perspective, the "alliance" only works if you take ownership of your professional growth and start thinking practically – and proactively – about where you are, where you want to go, and what skills, resources, or experiences you need to get there.

Suppose you can't articulate to your manager what you want to learn, do, build, or accomplish over the next 6,  2, or 24 months. In that case, it's unlikely that they'll be able to scope a role and set of responsibilities that will keep you engaged, committed, and energized over that time.

In the same vein, employers (specifically C-suite executives and managers) must spend more time and energy scoping roles and responsibilities to ensure that they continue to reflect the go-forward needs of the organization – and its employees – instead of relying simply on legacy job descriptions.

Can it be done? Yes.

But it will require both employees and employers to adopt longer-term perspectives concerning corporate performance and professional development, respectively.

Can a longer-term perspective be achieved? Yes.

But that will require a few courageous early adopters to prove that this path forward is as mutually beneficial as it appears. It will also take time.

2. Millennials Must Take Responsibility For Their Engagement And Performance

Millennials are oft-criticized for wanting too much, too quickly – roles, responsibilities, and job titles inconsistent with the amount of expertise and experience they have.

The "alliance" framework will work if high-potential Millennial talent sheds their sense of entitlement and adopts a more measured and thoughtful approach to professional development.

The speed at which these organizations and industries can fully realize the potential of the "alliance" will be proportional to the rate at which these mid-to-senior level leaders commit to helping younger talent move up the ladder and potentially out of the company faster than they could ever do.

While it will always be the manager's role to help their staff craft a job experience that aligns well with both the needs of the organization and the employee's expectations, in an "alliance" world, these "rising stars" must take greater ownership and accountability for their performance and experience. They must not feel entitled to the next great development opportunity but, instead, feel comfortable discussing with their manager to understand what skills they need, why they need them, and what they might do to develop them most effectively.

The "alliance" creates dual accountability for employee engagement and performance in many ways. The buck may stop with the manager, but employees must take more direct responsibility for their work, how they do it, and the meaning they give it.

3. Managers And Senior Leaders Must Let Go Of The "Pay Your Dues" Mentality

The people with perhaps the most to lose in a new, "alliance-oriented" world are the mid-to-senior-level executives, men, and women who worked their way into management positions without any promise of "mutually-beneficial outcomes," people who have achieved professional success by "paying their dues."

These are the men and women who have built the organizations they work for, the men and women who often put the organization's needs ahead of their own.

If anyone should feel entitled to job security and employer loyalty, it's them.

For better or worse, the speed at which these organizations and industries can fully realize the potential of the "alliance" will be proportional to the pace at which these mid-to-senior level leaders commit to helping younger talent move up the ladder and potentially out of the company, faster than they could ever do.


Ask any senior business leader about the "things that keep them up at night," and concerns about attracting and retaining top talent will always surface.

The Alliance framework offers an intelligent solution to the problems facing employees and employers in a world where top talent and skill is more mobile and transferrable than ever.

That said, broad-based adoption of this approach won't be easy.

Success in this endeavor requires that employees and employers let go of the way things were, clarify how they want things to be, and trust in each other like never before.

Want To Create A More "Aligned" Team?

Click here to schedule a time to speak with us about how you can leverage 'The Alliance' in your organization.

We'll share our simple, 5-step playbook for helping employees and managers clarify and communicate their needs more effectively.

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Ben Sands is an executive coach and founder of Sands Leadership.

Ben Sands is the perfect mix of coach and consultant and he has been coaching me to higher levels of clarity and meaning for almost 10 years! In leadership and life, we all have a lot of big decisions to make and Ben has taught me is how to make those big decisions confidently, and in a values-aligned way. His coaching is an investment that has paid off exponentially.

Alex Budak

Professional Faculty,

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business & Author,

Becoming A Changemaker