Auf Wiedereshen - To Meet Again

Boomerang Employees and Alumni Networks

alumni networks employee ambassadors

In 1792 Yale University classes documented graduate names and contact information. Alumni record keeping was born.

It took more than a century and a half for the idea to catch on in the business world when McKinsey and Co. consulting created the first corporate alumni network in 1960, and the notion of employee ambassadors came into being.

Alumni programs certainly aren’t new or novel.

And a good number of organizations since McKinsey have realized their worth.

But never has the need been more pronounced than now with Millennial nomads moving in and on, as resolute Boomers move on and out of the workplace.

For individual employees, former employer alumni networks are:

  • A social connection to friendships and alliances through employer-sponsored social events and live or online professional development initiatives.
  • A “Job Search 101” resource for information, opportunities and business connections to successfully navigate the labor market and build a career; an especially poignant consideration for young-up-and-comers eager to learn and grow in their lives and lifestyles.
  • A conduit to capital and entrepreneurial resources for startups. Scholar Christopher Rider has observed that venture capital and private equity investors with shared prior employment or education affiliations are more likely to partner in investment relationships. As Heather Travis, Director of Asia Pacific for Armstrong Craven quips in a column for enterprise “What do Tesla, You Tube and LinkedIn all have in common? Apart from being three of the highest profile and most innovative brands of the past decade, they were all created by the alumni of one company – PayPal.”

For organizations, the goal of an alumni program is to build lifelong affiliations and a network of employee ambassadors that lead to:

  • Reduced search and training costs – alumni are a knowledgeable source for referrals.
  • Higher retention – studies have shown hires through referral tend to have lower turnover rates; after all, they’ve been briefed about the organization, people, culture and know what to expect.
  • New connections with key-decision makers and influencers when employees who have moved on, move up.
  • Intellectual capital; a way to gain information about local and sector-specific markets and how to stay competitive. Former employees can be consulted for their expertise and are great sources of ideas and intelligence, new trends, technologies, and investment opportunities.
  • Enhanced reputation and brand, influenced by former employees who talk up their past organizations with ambassadorial acumen.
  • An excellent future recruiting pool. Statistics show it costs half as much to rehire an ex-employee as it does to hire a brand-new person; rehires are 40% more productive in their first quarter at work and tend to stay in the job longer. Research also suggests the average Fortune500 company could save $12 million a year by actively recruiting alumni.

The first step towards alumni networking starts when it’s time to meet with a departing employee. There’s no reason for a clean break. Talk up the benefits of keeping in touch, ask about reasons for leaving, where the organization excels, recommendations for improvements or changes, and most especially their plans and aspirations. Keep the door open for a possible boomerang return.

meeting for coffee

Let some time pass after the employee has moved on, then keep regular but unobtrusive quarterly contact. Make it personal. Send information that’s relevant. The interests of a former Division Director or senior VP won’t necessarily be the same as those of a young telemarketer returning to university to complete their MBA or a new parent opting out of the work world to take on full-time family care. And use the right medium; Millennials are 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs and social networking sites than the general population.

Make sure your alumni know their former organization is there to support, advise, and even welcome them back. Interestingly 2017 statistics reported by Alumni Access indicate 42% of academic institutions have never surveyed their alumni. Business, government, and non-profit statistics probably aren’t far off. However, unless you ask your former employees how they’re doing and what they want as an alumnus, interest and engagement may fly out that open door.

As Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn says, “Lifetime employment might be over, but a lifetime relationship remains the ideal…. Establishing a corporate alumni network, which requires relatively little investment, is the logical step in maintaining a relationship of mutual trust…and mutual benefit….”

author patricia bell newson

About Patricia Bell Newson

A graduate of Canada’s leading Journalism Degree program, Patricia Bell Newson is an accomplished writer and communications specialist. As a key member of the TalentMap team, Pat leads the company’s thought leadership with full force producing weekly content on employee engagement and best practices in employee surveys. Pat’s experience in advising leaders on strategic approaches to sensitive issues, priorities, and policies together with her ability to research and easily grasp various concepts regarding the workplace has been a great asset in creating valuable insights for HR leaders.

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