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Should You Include Current Employees in Your Corporate Alumni Program?

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There are risks and rewards for including employees in a corporate alumni program. After conducting our 2021 Corporate Alumni Benchmarking Report research, we share a few thoughts that will help you make a decision.

Corporate alumni programs have been around for many years. In fact, my good friend and PeoplePath co-CEO Tony Audino started the Microsoft Alumni Network back in 1995. For a long time, these programs mostly existed only for select professional services firms, technology companies, and financial institutions. But now, as the Great Resignation looms, companies in a variety of sectors are introducing corporate alumni programs as a way to stay in touch with employees who are leaving their organization.

These programs have proven benefits for both companies and their alumni, as we explored in depth in a 2019 research paper with Cornell University. Something not as clear, however, is the benefit to companies’ current employees. Business leaders often struggle with the question of whether they should encourage program inclusion across everyone in the company, or only target employees who have submitted resignations.

To answer this question, we must first ask a few additional questions.

What are other companies doing?

In our 2021 Corporate Alumni Benchmarking Report, 62% of respondents said they include employees in their alumni programs, with another 16% planning to do so in the future. Only 22% of respondents said their programs are exclusive to employees that have left the company or given notice.

We also found that of those companies that include employees in their alumni programs, more than half see it as a useful tool in recruitment marketing materials and conversations.

What are the risks?

The single biggest risk involved in promoting corporate alumni programs to current employees is driving attrition as a result. It’s typically part of mainstream corporate culture to promote and celebrate loyalty. Introducing a program aimed at keeping leavers connected throughout their career is a shift in messaging that it’s okay to leave and the option exists to return in the future. This could encourage people to leave sooner than they might have otherwise.

There may also be sector-specific risk factors. Auditing firms, for example, need to ensure they stay independent of their clients. They have certain regulatory restrictions regarding how their employees can interact with alumni who are active at clients’ companies. Encouraging program inclusion in this case could jeopardize compliance.

What are the rewards?

On the flip side, there are three major rewards that come from promoting alumni programs to employees.

  1. Making employees aware of alumni programs prior to leaving can be a big driver for success in converting them into active alumni after they’re gone. For many reasons, it can be hard to communicate all the program benefits during the short exit process.
  2. Connecting employees with alumni also increases the likelihood that leavers stay in the company’s ecosystem. Many alumni programs provide job boards where members can find positions of interest, particularly with clients or partners. This, of course, is a much better outcome for the company than having them defect to a competitor. It’s also an opportunity to share internal job openings to encourage upward mobility.
  3. Leaving an organization is rarely a process without regret, even if the turnover is voluntary. Promoting the alumni program internally improves the odds of ex-employees returning to the company. Leavers and colleagues involved in the exit process are more likely to stay focused on maintaining a positive relationship going forward, which leads to more doors staying open on both sides.

I’ll never forget a conversation I once had with a highly experienced alumni manager. She told me she was debating this very topic with a committee of senior executives when – expectedly – the risk of potentially encouraging employees to leave came up. She made the following case:

“Do you think people who are considering leaving us are going to stay just because we pretend leaving is not an option? Do you think that just because we are mute on this topic, these people will ignore outside opportunities? If we choose to manage this process instead of ignoring it, we can help more leavers land with clients and partners, and maybe even return to us as rehires.”

Lifelong relationships are the foundation for mutual success.

In my opinion, including current employees in your corporate alumni program simply makes good sense. The rewards outweigh the risks, and alumni engagement will save the company time and money. Plus, it demonstrates that you value your employee relationships and want them to succeed, even if the next step they want to take in their career is outside your organization.

 

Originally written on LinkedIn.