The value of corporate alumni networks

Industrial psychologist Phiona Martin on the benefits of nurturing relationships with former employees.

Employees are spending significantly less time in one job, particularly with the advent of Millennials and Generation Z’s who are becoming more populous in the market. Incumbency has become less as the gig economy is on the rise and workers have shifted from loyalty to the company towards loyalty to self and career goals. The end of an employees tenure does not have to spell the end of their relationship with the company and there should be no reproach towards duly departed employees - particularly if their exit was considered a loss to the business. 

Corporate alumni networks are a systematic and structured way to stay in touch, develop and continue to nurture relationships with former employees. They are reminiscent of alumni associations of collegiates and schools, but with a slightly different angle. Many top companies like Microsoft, Deloitte, McKinsey and Coca-Cola are running robust and sturdy corporate alumni networks with positive results. 

Benefits of a corporate alumni network

The benefits of a corporate alumni network can be realised in several ways. One of the key drivers is attracting, in particular, former top performers back into the company. Some resignations leave knowledge deficits in the business especially if a company requires very niche and unique skills that are hard to source in the market. The hope is that some former employees, after having gained valuable exposure at other companies would consider doing a second tour of duty. These boomerang employees can be a unique intersection between previous company knowledge and new perspectives. The bottom line impact is lower recruitment costs and high productivity rates as former employees are likely to have a shorter ramp time to acclimatise to the company. 

Corporate alumni networks are also a form of talent management as they are still considered a pipeline even though they are external to the company. The alumni community provides a valuable talent pool to “fish” from. With the gig economy on the rise, alumni are a great database for contract, freelance and consulting candidates for the business due to their inside knowledge of the organisation. 

With internal referral programs, where employees are rewarded for referring job candidates for vacancies, extending this benefit to former employees increases a company's access to potentially good referrals. Having worked at the company, former employees are likely to be valuable in prescreening candidates who will thrive in the business particularly from a culture fit perspective and get incentivised for their efforts. Keeping good relations and being plugged into a former employer is also likely to make members of your alumni network informal brand ambassadors for the company from an employer branding perspective and also in referring the companies products and services. Former employees can also play a role if a company is trying to form strategic partnerships with organisations alumni are based at or have relationships with.

Corporate alumni networks serve the purpose of systemizing into a community, employees that have left the company. Employee tenure has reduced significantly in recent times and the importance of leveraging and building a network has become of importance to not lose any future value that can be gained by former employees. This can be a mutually beneficial relationship that can yield benefits for the company such as increasing the rate of rehires, extending the network of company brand ambassadors and leveraging future positions and successes of alumni members to the benefit of the company.

How do they work?

In order to get former employees to remain engaged with the company, the relationship has to be symbiotic and benefit the former employee in some way. Many former colleagues are informally keeping in touch in meaningful ways anyhow, with some starting businesses together,  or referring each other for jobs or business contracts. This is why formalising somethign that already exists is an easy sell to companies.  Strategic relationships are important in business and former employees are an opportune population to tap into towards this end. 

There are several ways to keep former employees plugged into the company, starting with ensuring they have a smooth exit process that will encourage them to keep the relationship open for future engagements. This includes ensuring the employee's contact details are captured and they are on-boarded on the idea of joining the employer alumni network, this is for companies that already have functioning programs. 

Activities to continue engaging your corporate alumni network can be a blend of digital and in-person interactions. The network should function as a community and members should feel part of some “exclusive” group who are still of interest to the company. Here are some activities that are typical in an alumni network.

  • Newsletters. Regular newsletters about the company which includes sharing information on any exciting new developments, event announcements and profiling some of the Alumni members on where they are now. Particularly those involved in notable activities.
  • Access to consulting opportunities. Alumni who run businesses or those who are freelance/gig workers can get special invites and opportunities to pitch for projects and any upcoming business contracts with the company.
  • Access to vacancies. A highly common one is sharing current vacancies with alumni in the hope that some will boomerang (come back to work for the company)
  • Networking events. Gala’s and cocktails where Alumni get to interact with each other formally are an integral part of alumni networks contact sessions.
  • Brand ambassadorship. Some companies use former alumni who are “model citizens” or excelling in particular areas as brand ambassadors to either reinforce the company culture at public or company events or provide testimonials and references to prospective employees.  
  • Surveys. Surveying alumni for various company insights is a powerful way to get people with an insider perspective of the business but are now “looking from the outside”. This can even be to get insights for some key business problems.
  • Charity and CSI drives. Some alumni networks have various Charity initiatives they run as a form of networking and doing goodwill as an alumni community.
  • Online communities. A key part of engagement is to keep alumni members connected online, this can be through an alumni website or on other platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn groups for more regular interaction.