In my previous post, we discussed how it is widely accepted that corporate alumni are a great source of talent, ideas and advocacy for any organization. However, while they share some common strands with student alumni, the approach and the model need to be quite different. Students will, almost always, leave happy – with a degree, friends and memories for a lifetime. On the other hand, people don’t always leave jobs on a high note like that.
A situation such as this warrants the question: Are we ready to let go of the talent because of a failed employee relationship or would we like to revive it? And while letting them go may seem tempting, starting anew would be the right answer.
You will be presented with many such complex situations while establishing your corporate alumni network but let’s start at the beginning.
As with most things grand, setting up a corporate alumni network requires foresight. Begin by identifying what you are trying to achieve. Are you looking at building your brand? Boomerang hires? Goodwill? Or simply keeping in touch? Once you have articulated your objective, work backwards and document everything you will need to make it possible.
Employee value proposition
It goes without saying that people will only want to engage if they have had an enriching experience at your university. Hence, developing a culture of high employee engagement should form an integral part of building a successful strategy. This could include professional development opportunities, developing leaders, CSR programs, focusing on wellbeing etc.
Chevron’s Bridges Program is much talked about in alumni circles; indeed, I have looked to it for inspiration many a times. The program encourages a collaborative network of current and former employees where alumni can keep abreast of corporate developments, attend recruitment fairs and network with people with whom they share the same synergy. They even have a strand aimed solely at providing opportunities to retired members of staff. I can’t think of a more evolved or forward looking recruitment strategy!
While it may be tempting to focus on senior alumni for immediate benefits (eg inroads to peer institutions), we must not lose sight of beginner-middle level alumni who may be in sought after positions in a few years’ time. This subset is likely to seek peer engagement that can prove advantageous to their professional lives. Hence, to make this a truly beneficial proposition, universities should adopt an inclusive approach towards engaging alumni across the spectrum and design segmented programs targeted at different subsets.
How, when and what you communicate with alumni should be an integral part of your strategy. Ensure that you reach out to them through multiple platforms – newsletters, social media, website, dedicated portal, emails etc.
Check in on your alumni every quarter. Come across as (and be!) genuinely interested in their welfare. Ask how they are getting on, offer ways to involve them and create platforms for them to share their learnings and reflections through a talk or a guest blog post.
Shared accountability but clearly defined roles
The program should ideally be run jointly by your alumni office and HR department to avoid gaps and overlaps. Eg, exit process, mentoring programs and referrals can be headed by HR while engagement, brand advocacy and strategic relationship building should rest with the alumni office.
Whichever way you create workflows, make sure goals and responsibilities are clearly defined and that there is a collective understanding of the larger objective.
Exit strategy and discontented employees
Exit interviews are a great time to educate leaving employees about your alumni engagement programs. Design an exit strategy in consultation with HR that outlines workflows such as sharing of information about every person who is leaving and flagging those who are leaving discontented. You’d most certainly need a focused strategy and segmented communication for engaging with the latter.
Don’t start inviting them to events straightaway – chances are the email will go to the trash folder and your domain marked spam. Give them time to cool off. Start with something neutral – perhaps a newsletter which needs no direct action from them. Gradually, move on to webinars or virtual events which they can attend without having to make a visit. Next, drop in an email to ask for updated contact details and build on from there. The trick is to shape it slowly and give it the time and personalized attention it needs.
When designed and implemented carefully, a corporate alumni program can be positioned as an important part of your employee value proposition. KPMG appoints alumni managers in every country where they have an office who lead business and social events, share news and offer local career opportunities.
My experience with the network
At The British School, we engage with our former staff on a regular basis and offer opportunities for them to get involved with our events and initiatives. As a result, we get boomerang hires on a regular basis.
India, where I live, is a growing economy where job seekers are always on the lookout for something better and organizations often agonize over making people stay. A corporate alumni program would be of particular relevance to the region. When you struggle with high turnovers, you should integrate alumni with your talent acquisition strategy. After all, these are relationships you have invested in and people you trust and it makes all the sense to cultivate long term affiliation with them.
How did my friend solve her recruitment woes? She is working on a proposal to incorporate reabsorbing talent into her recruitment strategy, as I write.
If you’d like support or advice for setting up a corporate alumni network in your office, please drop me a line in the comments.
Navneet Kaur has over 13 years’ experience in alumni relations in both India and the UK. Presently, she is the Corporate Communications and Brand Manager at The British School New Delhi. Navneet has been a speaker and on the panel of experts at alumni relations conferences and she also writes on the subject. Her areas of interest are corporate and internal communications, alumni relations, brand management, content marketing, editing and copy writing.