2 min read

Retaining junior employees

Junior developers require a big upfront investment to level them up but often end up leaving as soon as they start making real contributions to the company

The approach I use was originally created by Reid Hoffman. His insight was to break an employee's tenure into distinct, mission-driven "tours" rather than viewing their time at the company as an open-ended commitment.

This approach explicates expectations on both sides so that:

  • The employee can see that success in their work is aligned with their personal growth, and they can have the confidence to put their head down and grind.
  • The manager can invest in the employee knowing, they have a dedicated team member that's motivated to perform at the best of their ability.

If you set up the tour of duty correctly, most employees will see it through to then end.

So, how do you create a tour of duty?

Usually, it involves an individual and their manager creating a document that outlines:

  • The mission
  • The specific outcomes to be achieved
  • Timeline (6-24 months)
  • The specific career benefits to employee

It’s important to point out that a tour of duty is not a legal document, and its power merely comes from the social contract between the employee and their manager.

At the end of the tour, you either part ways or, ideally, create another tour with a new mission. This cycle creates natural points to re-adjust the employee's role and responsibilities to ensure they are constantly being challenged and making meaningful contributions to the company.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this framework. Explicating these basic items upfront makes a huge difference.

Some Q&A for those considering implementing one of these:

Q: Under what circumstances would you not use a tour of duty?
I’ve found that they’re particularly well suited to early-stage startups (< 50 employees). Once a company starts adding formal career tracks it becomes increasingly hard to manage.

Also, tours are best used with ambitious individuals who want to rapidly build their careers. Without that drive, the mechanisms don’t seem very useful.

Q: Are tours of duty specific to developers?
No, I’ve used them for many types of roles at all levels of seniority.

Q: Doesn’t this framework encourage people to leave at the end of their first tour of duty?
A: In my experience, no. Acknowledging that your employees might leave is how you build the relationship that convinces great people to stay.