Professional services fields have taken the lead in establishing alumni network programs that maintain contact with former employees as they find new opportunities, typically with client companies. Corporate alumni networks make total sense in law, accounting, and consulting firms because their employees are in many cases intended to become future clients. This is often seen among high-tech giants in Silicon Valley as well. After all, techies will likely want to remain in touch with former employers with high brand name recognition that may offer future opportunities for “boomerang” employees—which every ex-employee may eventually qualify for.
But what about for companies in other industries and for small to mid-size businesses? Can a corporate alumni network make sense in today’s tight recruitment marketplace for your organization? How can it help strengthen your existing culture, and will the effort needed to establish a successful program be worth investing in workers who have left your company?
“In the long term it certainly can be a strategic win,” counsels Mark Steiman, executive director of human resources at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, a pediatric health system located in Southern California. “While not every organization might find it worthwhile to pursue ongoing relationships with people walking out the door, inviting nurses to join a corporate alumni network is the ultimate sign of goodwill. High-performing employees leave for many reasons but can still carry a passion in their hearts and minds for your organization. Plus, when a boomerang employee comes back to CHOC Children’s, they are my best retention tool and workplace advocate because they actively communicate to other employees the real value of working at our organization.”
But smaller companies benefit too. Marc Brown, EVP, chief people officer at Zovio, an education technology services company and owner of Ashford University Online in Chandler, Ariz., encourages small to mid-size companies to consider building bridges with exiting employees not only for “re-recruitment” opportunities but also to foster brand loyalty.
“There’s no reason that our employment brand shouldn’t carry over to alumni employees since they know our culture and our mission best,” Brown says. “We’ve found that ex-employees and faculty members will often be interested in participating in reunions and other networking opportunities in their academic disciplines. Our corporate alumni network reflects our newest thinking on employee development and career progression, and we now view former employees as customers, brand ambassadors, sources of referrals, and yes—even future employees.”
Creating a corporate alumni network
Here’s how to start a corporate alumni network of your own in six easy steps:
- Target specific segments of alumni (e.g., pediatric nurses and teaching faculty in our two examples above) and make it a prestigious offer, reserved for the select few, to remain part of your organization’s go-forward plan.
- Establish a company page on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and other sites and encourage your key employees—existing and exiting—to join your page.
- Title the alumni page something like “Colleagues for Life” or “Comeback Colleagues” to ensure they understand their importance and significance to you.
- Publish a calendar of events—say two per year—that invites individuals to join with colleagues (both current employees and fellow alumni) to celebrate a particular milestone, attend a highly rated presentation, or simply network to share successes.
- Consider leveraging outplacement or transition services for associates in good standing. Even though a role may be eliminated, helping an associate land his or her next role demonstrates to those within your organization that leaving the company is not a barrier to coming back in the future.
- Measure and track the program’s return-on-investment, as evidenced by growth in participants, participant engagement, and other specific outcomes, including Glassdoor reviews, new hire referrals, and most important, rehires.
Finally, make the corporate alumni network fun. Make everyone a part of the dialogue regarding your industry and where it’s headed—no matter what organization they currently belong to. After all, goodwill begets goodwill, and enhancing post-employment relationships will likely strengthen your organization’s overall culture.
Transparency, integrity, and a genuine concern for career and professional development know no bounds. Helping your organization develop its brand reputation among alumni, who in many cases may become industry leaders and influencers themselves, is a leadership best practice that may pay untold dividends.
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