What If We Traded Employees Like Hockey Teams Trade Players?

Imagine this scenario.

Seamus, a database administrator, has decided it’s time to move on from his current job at Microsoft. He’d really like to move south to California and maybe work at Google or Apple. Instead of just giving in his notice and heading south, he posts his intent to leave and his desired new employers on DraftDayDeal.com (not an actual website).

The website notifies HR departments at Microsoft, Google and Apple. It offers the latter companies the opportunity to make a trade–sending another willing employee to Microsoft in exchange for Seamus. Maybe Google has a grumpy technical writer (Tina, perhaps?) yearning for a new gig. Maybe she’s posted her eagerness to move to Seattle on DraftDayDeal.com, too.

That’s today’s bad idea: an online marketplace for trading employees. Of course, every employee starts with a proverbial no-trade clause, and it’s only through their actions that they can post their interest to the site and begin the process. When they do, companies can try to finagle a trade so that they receive value in return instead of simply losing an employee.

I don’t think this idea would ever fly. HR departments aren’t exactly renowned for their innovation and openness. I like talking about it, though, because it highlights two under-recognized facts:

  • Much as they may speak to the contrary, employees are just assets to your average company. If the last two years of economic downturn taught us anything, it’s that.
  • Employees need to behave like entrepreneurs and consultants inside their organization. It may not seem that way, but employees are masters of their own fate and (to borrow another sports phrase) free agents most of the time.

I think that a site like this might emphasize both these ideas. Additionally, it might bring some transparency to organizations as good or bad employers, much the same way Jiibe does.

It’s probably more of a thought experiment than a tenable idea. What do you think?


  1. There has been many conversations about this over the years but sadly one thing that makes it difficult to execute is the individual/unique corporate structures. Even in the same industry, companies have different approach and philosophies, which mean they attract different employees with different values.

    Unlike the NHL, companies don’t all follow the same recipe book and I think that you are right about HR folks being close minded, I find many times HR departments prevented innovation in human resources rather than push new ways to access talents.

    Shared process is nothing new. Doc Searls spoke about this in late 90s. We (Myself on behalf of Raincity Studios) spoke about this at barcamp in 2006/07, and more recently Alex Samuel at sxsw 2010..

    Sadly it seems enterprises all have a need to trail blaze these concepts on their own. In the end everyone lose by locking themselves in restrictive work agreements which end up costing clients more.

    1. I don’t know, I think you and Todd are overstating the differences in corporate structures, approach, philosophies and values. A junior SQL administrator or technical writer at one software company is likely to do similar work at another company. Also, this problem already exists when you hire someone new, so I’m not sure why it nullifies the trading aspect?

      1. When hiring someone new companies often try to hire for the long run because of the intellectual capital a person builds up on top of their skills about the operational ins and outs. Companies that perform well often talk about the investment they make in their employees, which I just don’t see in a culture where we just trade off what doesn’t quite fit right now.

      2. You make a good point. I guess I’m thinking of the reality that, on average, employees change companies every three years or so. So while companies may hire for the long haul, they’re losing most of their employees within five years.

  2. +1 to almost everything Scales mentioned here. I doubt very much that this would work, primarily because companies don’t do the same things the same ways.

    Trading is a part of the culture as much as the business and lifestyle of pro sports. Regular work does not have that culture at all. Without buy-in from employees and managers, trading would have to be a condition of employment, taking employment to the pinnacle of casual, disposable labour that a lot of organizations try to reach by keeping as many staff on part-time schedules.

    I don’t know if we all have to be entrepreneurs and contractors inside of fulltime jobs. This is a kind of Hobbsian zero-sum philosophy that works strongly against teamwork (after all, if you succeed I may not). And not all employees are masters of their own fate: many seek protection from the complexities of actual entrepreneurship within organizations and are most comfortable in that tradeoff.

  3. I actually was almost traded to one of my vendors the curse of being good at my job I guess. I was not happy about it in that there wasn’t a lot of input from my side. It didn’t go thru which is neither here nor there now as both sides are out of business now I think.

  4. It is an interesting concept. In some fields (technology for example) many employees already consider themselves to be pretty much free agents. The strength of that feeling depends a lot on the local market conditions but even through the recent crisis. It has not completely died down.

    The reason why this works in pro-sports is that the market is ultimately controlled by the contracts. As a player, you can’t outright quit because you’re breaking your multi-million dollar contract. In real life, most people don’t have strong enough contractual ties to my employer to make me think twice about quitting if there is a better opportunity.

    This reminded me of an old blogpost about nurturing a “culture of quitting” in your company.


  5. I do think this is a fabulous idea; but it does require longer-term contracts for employees to work. Todd’s point about trading not being a part of the job culture is true, but that is exactly what you’re talking about instilling. And I’d love a chance to take my valuable but unhappy employee and trade him up to a bigger company in exchange for someone with a better fit in terms of skill and expectations for my needs.

    In fact, bigger companies that are successful do this internally already.


    1. Assuming the unhappiness of the employee is based on a mis-fit of skills, then it’s likely a win-win.

      I think that trading within an organization makes more sense, as there’s an over-arching coherence that the trading can work within. In the NHL, that over-arching body is the NHL, they set the rules, etc. In a moderated open market like we work in, the only over-arching body is the government or invisible hand fantasies, and I don’t think either could provide an environment where trading worked.

      I feel like I’m missing some aspect of it though, as it feels too much like something that would work on paper but not in the real world, where work is a gestalt of many things other than company culture or skill sets.

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