Employees at Spotify rarely work the same job for more than 2 years — and the CEO says that’s on purpose

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek described one of his management strategies as

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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek described one of his management strategies as “excruciating.”
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Business Insider/Rebecca Borison

  • Spotify jobs aren’t static, according to CEO Daniel Ek.
  • He told Fast Company that he views jobs as “tours of duty,” just like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.
  • At Spotify, while your title might stay the same, the actual work you’re doing will almost certainly change over time.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said he thought of jobs as “missions,” rather than static roles.

“You have a number of years when you perform a job, and then your tour is over, and it’s time for you to think about what the next step is,” Ek told Fast Company. “I describe them as missions. You may have the same title, but you don’t have the same job more than two years, and the more honest we are about that, the better it is.”

He said he borrowed the concept from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who viewed jobs as “tours of duty” that should be carried out over two to five years.

In a post on LinkedIn, Hoffman argued that this “tour of duty” approach “gives a valued employee concrete and compelling reasons to ‘stick it out’ and finish a tour.”

“Most importantly, a realistic tour of duty lets both sides be honest about their goals and time horizons, which is a necessity for trust,” Hoffman added. “In fact, acknowledging that your employees might leave is how you build the relationship that convinces great people to stay.”

So how does Ek implement this philosophy at his streaming service company? He told Fast Company that he sits down with his leadership on an annual basis, just to ask them one simple question: “Is this what you want to do for the next two years?”

“I do this with myself, too, and I force them to do it with me,” he said. “It’s kind of excruciating. People will naturally, without really thinking about it, say yes. But after a while you get to if that’s true, real passion.”

Ek added that “very few people at Spotify last more than two or three of these rounds.” The Spotify CEO said that these employees typically didn’t leave the company due to poor performance. Rather, they were just better empowered to envision and pursue their true passions elsewhere.

Ek’s strategy at Spotify is a variation of what LinkedIn recruiters do during the hiring process. Business Insider’s Rich Feloni reported that LinkedIn’s vice president of global talent Brendan Browne actually asks job candidates what they wanted to do after leaving the company.

Browne told Business Insider that his goal is “to see if you’re willing to give me any indication, or a large description, of what you want to do with your life professionally and then have a conversation around what aligns with what LinkedIn does.”

Ek’s questions are also meant to ensure that the employee’s goals still align with the work they do at Spotify. And, despite the occasional loss of a star employee, Ek said his mission-based philosophy is ultimately meant to boost retention and tamp down on job-hopping. He cited the case of Spotify’s head of research and development, Gustav Soderstrom, who he described as a “great strategist” and a top team member.

Ek said that two years ago, Soderstrom revealed that he was considering leaving the company during a one-on-one conversation about his mission at Spotify. The reason? Soderstrom wanted “more influence, but he didn’t want to do the work of leading all the people.”

“I said to him, look, you can’t sit on the sidelines and enact control,” Ek said. “You’re going to have to take the responsibility that comes with that.”

After their conversation, Ek said Soderstrom revamped his management style, took on more responsibilities, and “completely outdid my expectations.”

“Had we not had that honest discussion, he probably would have left,” Ek said.

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