Corporate Alumni Networks: Three Perspectives, One Vision

February 09, 2015

By Phillip Roark, CEO of Insala

Three Organizational Perspectives…

For leading companies, corporate alumni networks represent a unique opportunity to unite three different perspectives in one world-class vision. Let me explain.

An average company thinks like this: you either work here, or you don’t. If you quit, you cease to matter. If we fire you, you cease to matter.

A world-class company thinks like this: our alumni can drive our success, helping our organization learn and thrive year after year. Firms such as Ernst & Young, McKinsey, Johnson & Johnson, and Citigroup operate alumni programs to great effect.

But too often, one functional area “owns” the program, and as a result only some of the potential benefits accrue to the firm.

Here’s a better approach: three groups of stakeholders share a vested interest in a thriving corporate alumni program:

  1. Marketing: Many alumni programs are managed by marketing, because alumni serve as brand ambassadors, referring new customers and in many cases becoming customers. For example, alumni of professional services firms often become operating managers elsewhere, then hire their old employer.
  2. Human Resources: In the best of all possible worlds, you want your former employees to serve as talent scouts for your organization, sending promising talent your way. You also want to preserve the option to hire back alumni years later, as your organization’s needs change.
  3. CEO and Boards: As explained below, alumni programs push companies to be best of breed, because they start with treating current employees in a highly professional manner. Such programs ensure that a company operates at the highest levels of professionalism.

corporate alumni network

When all three stakeholders stand behind an alumni program, the result is a program that attracts revenues, talent, and best-of-breed practices.

One Vision for Corporate Alumni.

Such corporate alumni networks have four basic components that translate to a company-wide vision and sets them apart from their competition.

  1. Turning current employees into brand ambassadors

    You don’t turn alumni into brand ambassadors; you do this with employees, and then treat them in such a manner that they remain brand ambassadors long after leaving active employment.

    In a great company, you don’t see people walking out the door saying, “I’m leaving because this is a lousy place to work.” Instead, people will say, “I’m leaving because I can’t find the ideal next opportunity here for me,” or “I need a better work/life balance, but the company is great.”

    Turning employees into brand ambassadors is about running a solid company. If your employees aren’t willing to recommend your services to their friends, you have real problems.

    Before you get into the business of establish a corporate alumni network, you have to be running on all cylinders; if you’re not doing this, you’re missing a vital opportunity in the pending launch of your alumni network and overall alumni program to improve your business and to move towards being a leader in your space.

  2. Building bridges between current employees and future corporate alumni.

    At many organizations, former employees become persona non grata after they exit. This is illogical. On Day One, everyone you hire should “become” an alumni. You want employees and alumni to continue to collaborate, and there are many ways to accomplish this.

    For example: you can create a buddy system, or use corporate alumni as consultants, or make talent development programs open to both employees as well as alumni. The more transparent you are, the better. Everyone is going to leave someday… everyone is going to be an alumni… but if you create a corporate alumni culture, you can ensure that everyone remains united by certain common beliefs, programs, and opportunities.

  3. Positioning your organization as an enabler of personal development.

    You can’t ask people to be alumni brand ambassadors when you’ve treated them like hell.

    While individuals are still employees, you need to behave like a learning organization, offering job training and career development. Doing so will create an environment in which you can have the right conversations about what’s best for all involved.

    This is important: the very best corporate alumni programs continue career development services after the employee has joined the alumni ranks.

  4. Maintaining brand ambassadors as employees transition to corporate alumni.

    As employees transition to become alumni, demonstrate that they remain valuable to your organization, and vice versa. You can do this by asking them for help, making them part of CRM activities for the sales team, and reward them for referrals of both new customers and top talent. Alumni are interested in companies that do this; they like to have an inside track.

    Your goal is to tie alumni success to the prestige of your company. People want to use the credentials of working for organizations like yours to help them get somewhere in their career. When I see that someone has spent, say, seven years at one major firm, then spent three at another, that’s impressive.
  5. Phillip C. Roark is founder and CEO of Insala, a recognized technology partner to the global outplacement and career management industry, and a leader in the corporate alumni sphere.

    Learn more about how Insala can be a partner to you in creating your corporate alumni network.

    Image: Steven Wolf Photography/Flickr


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