Hiring, retaining, and attracting talent has become a key challenge for HR departments all over the world — and with the pandemic turning the labor market on its head, it’s never been more important for organizations to explore all available avenues.
And while a lot of energy understandably goes into attracting and hiring new talent, many businesses are failing to maximize the potential of former employees.
Boomerang employees, or individuals who’ve previously worked for an organization, are a valuable yet largely under-tapped talent pool.
“Boomerang hires bring enhanced productivity — alumni are more productive faster,” Emma Sinclair MBE, co-founder of EnterpriseAlumni, tells UNLEASH.
Those corporates that invest in lifelong relationships with their employees typically see twice the revenue, four times the profit, and six times the employer attractiveness over those that do not, Sinclair adds.
Yet, despite the obvious benefits of having an alumni management and engagement strategy, most employers overlook this vast pool of talent, which Sinclair believes is “a rich source of high-quality recruits and a vital sales and marketing army.”
Founded in 2016, EnterpriseAlumni is a US-based multinational software corporation that manages corporate alumni and retirees for large organizations including P&G, Google, LinkedIn, Coca Cola, Nestlé, HSBC, and Lufthansa.
The platform, which integrates into existing HR systems including Workday, SuccessFactors, Oracle, and ADP, enables organizations to maintain a relationship with former employees to rapidly drive boomerang hires, referrals, sales, and brand advocates.
Although more organizations are making moves to engage with this talent pool, Sinclair noted that alumni tech and corporate alumni networks have just recently become a critical purchase for HR teams. “So, the potential to leverage and maximize this vast pool of people, is for many companies, still in its infancy,” she adds.
The early days of alumni management software
Steve Cadigan, the founder at Cadigan Talent Ventures, agrees that alumni management needs more uptake among HR leaders. “Unfortunately most firms do not have an alumni strategy — or worse, they are not even contemplating such a strategy. I believe it’s a significant missed opportunity. In an era where turnover is up in almost every industry and every country, it stands to reason that most firms have more people who used to work for them than ever before,” he says.
“Engaging these alumni can pay enormous dividends. Alumni can be positive forces in your ecosystem — referring candidates to you, bringing new deals or partnerships your way, or being great references for people who are considering you as an employer, customer, or partner.
“From my experience when boomerang employees return they come with purpose and conviction and their ramp time to productivity is very low as they already are familiar with the norms, values, and culture of how to thrive in your firm. There is no good reason why any firm should not have an alumni strategy and it is super easy to build,” he adds.
The biggest challenge for HR professionals, Cadigan adds, is acknowledging that alumni management is a worthy investment of time and resources.
“Once that happens the rest usually falls into place. We have for too long lived with an outdated model that we should only care for employees when they work for us. That is really myopic. If I’m honest, I held that belief for many years.
“Today I realize it’s flawed and is ill-suited for a more fluid workplace. Caring for someone for the duration of their working life is far more compelling and while nobody wants to lose great talent — if you care for them when they leave they will still help you and add value to your venture,” he notes.
Engagement is key
Richard Morrogh, a former alumni director, is a firm believer that alumni networks need a “spokesperson, an orchestrator, or a front face, and the higher up the totem pole that goes, the better”.
Morrogh says alumni engagement goes well beyond HR and those responsible for talent management or recruitment.
“I think it’s very important that there’s a champion, known around the organization, that has been at the organization a while and understands the culture,” he tells UNLEASH.
The biggest thing to remember, Morrogh adds, is that “you don’t create alumni networks overnight”.
“The sponsoring organization has to realize that you’ve got to stick with it, these things are not flavour of the month. And you must be seen to be there for the long haul, cutting your losses coming and going […] But as long as you stick with it, you will see the benefits,” he adds.
Aviva, a British multinational insurance company headquartered in London, is one of EnterpriseAlumni’s customers and in the midst of its alumni management journey.
“We noticed that we were having quite a lot of boomerang hires and we wanted to encourage that,” says Jonathan Briggs, the group head, talent acquisition at Aviva, tells UNLEASH, adding that boomerang hires were far safer bets.
“We’ve got less attrition when people come back. So it’s always an intentional move to go and court our ex-employees.”
Finding effective ways to engage with alumni has been a challenge for many organizations. Many businesses have tapped into the power of online platforms, such as LinkedIn or Slack, but more often than not these solutions fail to provide a systematic, and cohesive approach that drives real engagement.
By adding former employees into an existing platform, you’re essentially giving them an exclusive news feed all about Aviva, Briggs adds.
“That’s where it differs,” he said. “That’s what brings them together.”
The real challenge — aside from getting buy-in from decision-makers in terms of making the initial investment into these platforms — is getting the employee engagement right, Briggs adds. And with HR now responsible for every employee touch point, picking the right alumni management platform has never been more important.
Alumni management software: Cost vs efficiency
The benefits of leveraging technology to engage alumni are obvious.
“The main sell to the organization was that this would bring higher quality hires and reduce the cost of hiring,” Briggs said.
Efficient hiring will be key in the post-pandemic world — and while adding an alumni enterprise management system to the mix requires buy-in from decision-makers across the organization, doing so is likely to reap long-term benefits.
“Companies spend millions attracting, training and recruiting employees only to wipe that value off their balance sheets the day those people leave,” Sinclair noted.
Engaging with alumni
Although HR teams can choose from a wide selection of alumni management software, including Hivebrite, Graduway, Almabase, and Disciple, the technology alone isn’t enough — HR leaders need to bear in mind that alumni expect an entirely different recruitment experience than new hires.
“Alumni don’t want to go through a cold ATS process where they apply for a job but might not hear back. An alumni platform allows them to have a white glove experience where, when they apply for a job, their application is accelerated into the right hands and given attention,” Sinclair notes.
On the flipside, employers are getting relevant CVs that already come with an added layer of due diligence from people who were previously employed.
Sinclair says it’s important for employers to think about what they want to get out of an alumni management platform.
“You need to get focus on what you’re trying to achieve for your alumni, and for the business. You then need to think about how best to reach your alumni, and how to help them create a community,” she noted.
You should pick a platform that’s engaging. “You want former colleagues to feel like they want to get involved,” Sinclair added.
Whatever platform you end up choosing, it’s important to embed it into a wider alumni management strategy — HR leaders must leverage social media platforms and ensure everything works seamlessly together to provide a cohesive employee experience.
“Make it a priority. Invest in it. It will definitely be beneficial in many many ways. Why would you not want to do this?,” Cadigan concludes.
Yessi Bello Perez is a contributor at UNLEASH. The former editor of UNLEASH, Yessi is a seasoned technology and business journalist passionate about technology, people, and the future of work. She is a regular contributor to Times Radio in the UK. She also co-hosted a podcast for fDi Intelligence (Financial Times) and wrote a column about rising startup ecosystems. Yessi’s work has featured in several other leading publications including the Evening Standard, The Next Web (TNW), and UKTN. She is a sought-after panelist, event host, speaker, and moderator at technology events.