The Modern Workplace: Converting Former Employees to Employees for Life – Part 2: What Does A Robust Alumni Program Look Like?
This post is the second in a three-part series that explains the motivation for converting former employees to employees for life and the incredible value realized.
one of this series, we outlined the four primary reasons why companies across
all sectors, shapes and sizes are launching Alumni Programs to engage employees
for life. Retirement, shorter tenures, automation and social media have and
will continue to shift workplace dynamics making it essential to stay connected
with former employees to gain a competitive advantage. When properly managed as
a strategic initiative, there is quantifiable evidence that a robust Alumni
Program fosters relationships with alumni as brand-building advocates, creates
career pathways back to the company for top talent and opens doors for new
business at clients and prospects.
So, what does a robust Alumni Program look like?
Alumni Programs that produce measurable results thoughtfully
create a mutually beneficial community
among current employees, former employees and the organization. The best way we
have found to visualize this is in the context of the “Five Essential P’s of Alumni
Understanding the five
essential P’s of alumni community
Before diving into an explanation of the five P’s, it is useful
to explain the importance of creating a community. A community provides the
cohesion necessary to maintain long-term relationships and stimulate engagement.
The five essential P’s outlined here are the building blocks effective Alumni
Programs use to develop strong communities that benefit their organizations and
Purpose — All
strategic initiatives must have a well-defined purpose to be successful. Unfortunately,
Alumni Programs and the community that they support are often missing this
critical element. Imagine undertaking a marketing initiative or an acquisition
strategy without a clearly defined purpose. It would be fatally flawed from the
start. Purpose is the raison d’être. It sits at the very heart of why
do it at all.
For Alumni Programs, purpose must fill a need for both the sponsoring
organization and the members. One of our clients, the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, has done an excellent job defining its purpose: to deepen
the connection between the foundation, its employees and its alumni
around the shared vision for a world in which all lives have an equal value so
foundation and its alumni have an even greater impact in the sector and
their fields together than they would alone.
Whether dealing with a non-profit or for-profit, try to
define the purpose of the Alumni Program around the organization’s mission if
possible. Alternatively, the purpose could focus on achieving some social good
or the continued professional and personal development of employees and alumni.
The main point is there should be some “noble mission” that can be worked
Plan — Most
project managers understand that the Alumni Program must have a clear plan, but
not all plans are created equal. Returning to the Gates Foundation example, the
Alumni Program’s director laid out an initial three-year plan and three core
areas of focus:
- Global reach & engagement
- Strategic initiatives & talent
- Infrastructure & sustainability
Then they defined specific objectives, tactics and metrics for
each of these focal areas and created a scorecard to track and measure each
item. Finally, and importantly, they asked for and received executive buy-in
and on-going support. As a result, the Gates Foundation Alumni Program director
gets the resources needed to build and manage the program effectively. Without
a similar effort, Alumni Programs are often understaffed and under-budgeted, meaning
they are unable to reach their full potential.
Platform — In today’s
digital world, software applications sit at the center of every organization
and strategic initiative. It is hard to imagine running any business process
without a technology platform tuned to automate, manage, collect and analyze
part or all of the underlying processes or transactions. Alumni Programs are no
exception. As we will discuss later, people are important. However, the person/team
managing the Alumni Program, other employees, and alumni all need a tool to
support their various activities. Can you start an Alumni Program without a
platform? Yes, it just won’t be as effective and impactful for all stakeholders
and much more difficult to create and sustain the community.
Publish — In
this context, “publish” means to curate/create a broad collection of compelling
content that is updated on a regular cadence. Content covers all types including
articles, blog posts, newsletters, events, jobs postings, surveys, RSS feeds,
social media sites and more. Anything that informs the alumni about something
relevant to the organization, its employees, themselves or the community should
be considered content. The key is to deliver a wide variety of content on a
regular, recurring basis. Most of this content already exists, so the Alumni
Program manager or another member of the team is curating it for the program. Other
content will be unique, such as alumni stories (often some of the most popular
content with alumni), information about alumni events or content related to the
People — Finally,
there must be a person assigned to manage the Alumni Program. Ideally,
it will be a full-time resource, but it should at least be half-time. If there
isn’t active management, you don’t really have a program. If you’re planning to
launch an Alumni Program, but not assign someone to run it, just don’t do it. It
will be a waste of time and money. In our thirteen years of partnering with
organizations on their Alumni Programs, the only ones that we have seen fail
are the ones that did not provide dedicated community management. Contact
us for a list of important skills for Alumni Program managers and a
detailed job description.
create powerful communities
A well-managed Alumni Program creates a community that
generates tremendous value to all stakeholders – the organization, its
employees and its alumni – as long as the organization develops and executes a comprehensive
strategic plan. The five P’s outlined above provide a simple, clear methodology
to start you on your way or adjust if you have gotten off course.
Coming up in this
series: Our third post provides a summary of the quantitative research
performed by Cornell’s ILR School that
addresses two key questions:
- What value can organizations anticipate receiving from alumni?
- Why do alumni participate in an Alumni Program?