A generation ago, the dissolution of a professional relationship between employee and employer was akin to a divorce.
At best, an amicable parting of ways often left behind the sting of disappointment over what could have been. On the other hand, difficult exits brought on by competitor poachings or corporate downsizing bore uglier consequences ranging from tarnished reputations to legal action. Neither party seemed interested in recognizing the mutual advantages of staying in touch.
Not anymore. Corporate alumni networks are booming. Just visit LinkedIn and view the results from searching on the term “alumni” within the group listings. There are organizations representing current and former employees of some of the world’s largest companies.
Professional services firms, including Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young dominate the alumni networks. With similar business models based on relationships, it’s no surprise to find public relations agencies among the roster on LinkedIn alumni groups.
The confluence of labor and technology trends has driven the rise of formal corporate networking circles in the past decade. Declining economic conditions forced staff reductions and facility closures at many businesses, creating a broad diaspora of former employees. Businesses that were positioning themselves for a marketplace recovery soon encountered the challenge of finding candidates with the specific expertise needed to swiftly fill new job openings.
Both employees and employers became the beneficiaries of search and sharing tools introduced by the concurrent development of social media platforms for professional use. Online business networking sites such as Yammer, Talkbiznow and globally popular LinkedIn and Xing helped to usher in a period of rapid growth in alumni programs.
Many organizations have also turned to intranets to create more personalized, secure alumni sites. These networks offer greater control over membership and opportunities to more meaningfully associate the user experience with the corporate brand.
Even with access to more sophisticated technology, the professional alumni arrangement is weakened and strengthened based on the vitality of the unifying brand. There are even informal alumni associations for companies that no longer exist, such as Lehman Brothers and Arthur Andersen.
However, a corporate alumni relations program offers the greatest benefits to both employer and employee when it is integrated into the organization’s current business strategy.
Management and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which manages a well-established alumni network of nearly 40,000 members, is giving its strategy an overhaul. Christopher Carlson, a senior associate who contributes to the firm’s alumni relations, attributes the change to Booz Allen Hamilton’s plans “to reenter some commercial and international markets, to ensure that alumni are aware of job openings or business-development opportunities,” according to a Nov. 2011 Wall Street Journal article.
AFTER THE BREAKUP
Greater awareness of networking, mentoring and hiring opportunities are among the top reasons ex-employees opt to stay connected via a corporate alumni group.
And there are just as many benefits after the breakup to make the business case for your company’s alumni relations. Those benefits include:
• Business Referrals: Embracing former employees as brand ambassadors means including them in company news updates, networking events and ongoing job postings. They’ll be well-positioned to make recommendations at their new firms or industry peers about doing business with your company.
• Thought Leadership: Alumni who advocate on your company’s behalf can help export innovative ideas into adjacent or new business circles.
• Onboarding for Key Assignments: Attracting “boomerang” or returning employees can be your secret weapon for implementing a critical program within a tight deadline.
• Brand Reputation: While the higher retention rates of comeback employees are certainly a major advantage, the added cachet of having lured back an industry star can do wonders for a company‘s public image.
The grass may have seemed greener elsewhere at first, but bragging rights go to the homeowner whose yard ultimately attracts former wanderers. PRN
Luke Lambert is president and CEO of Gibbs & Soell, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.