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Tours - Investing in People

James Lloyd

Co-Founder/CTO at Redox

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Problem

"The first engineer on our team at my current startup company is a brilliant guy. He thrived in working in the very chaotic startup setting and was able to deliver value as quickly as possible. Yet, as the company grew he no longer fit in nor integrated into the new environment as well as before. The need had shifted from speed within undefined roles to a necessity of adding more processes and quality control. And so, this engineer wasn't really the expert anymore and his personality type no longer slanted towards success inside the larger organization."

Actions taken

"I encouraged this engineer to go on 'tour'. This term is taken from the book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Ben Casnocha, Chris Yeh, and Reid Hoffman and refers to a 'Tour of Duty' borrowed from the military. The idea is that about every 18 months you come up with a really big challenge for yourself and go on 'tour'. You identify the challenge, describe it, detail what success looks like, and reach out to a sponsor - it can be your manager or anyone else who makes sure that your project stays on track and that you're not getting pulled away from the larger objective. When the project concludes there is a talk with the leadership team to determine if you're still in the correct position and if the company is still the right fit for you. It's an investment in the people in your organization and it allows individuals to talk openly about what's best for them and best for the company."

"So because this first engineer was in a spot where he was unhappy and feeling the friction, we got him started on his first 'tour'. For our products our customers are also software companies so this person had a real passion for working with the customers. This led him to start our developer relationship program where he moved into more of a marketing role. He was in constant contact with the customers but also had the flexibility he was used when we were a smaller company. Moreso, he began creating items that he could make in one day like prototypes and mock-ups so that now he has shifted into prototyping with strategic partners full-time. It has been an interesting transitional journey to sponsor where the culture of the 'tour' has allowed the engineer to move back into a role that fits his interests and personality type."

Lessons learned

  • "For creative people who flock to the uncertainty of an early stage company, having a defined job description may not be appealing. Therefore, it is important to sponsor the freedom for people to go on 'tours'."
  • "In our case, about 20% of the team has shifted roles since they joined the company. And not just from junior to senior level engineer but from implementation to marketing, or from sales to product management. Tours have been a large part of this, but so too has the need to fill in giant gaps on the team that were not apparent before hiring a person. So if you put too strict of a box around people's roles, you will never find the gaps that need to be filled."

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James Lloyd

Co-Founder/CTO at Redox


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