How to turn alumni into ambassadors

How to turn alumni into ambassadors
Forget the gold watch; Zizi Sparks found companies getting sophisticated about turning ex-staffers into boomerang employees.

It’s been a long time since New Zealand executives stayed with the same company most of their working lives. But increasing job mobility and a looming talent shortage has seen companies starting to consciously keep in touch with their former talent, with the goal of luring them back into the fold.

The development is particularly noticeable among the big corporates and professional services companies. PwC, IBM and Deloitte, for example, are developing programmes to keep in touch with ex-staffers, who could return to the company as “boomerang” employees.

These programmes borrow the idea of alumni from universities, where former students are actively cultivated as assets. “Employees are a brand advocate for you,” says Keith Muirhead, group recruitment manager at Fletcher Building. “You build your brand on the stories people tell about you.”

Keeping ex-staff on board after they leave is about the experience they had when they quit, he says. “Employees remember your company by how they were treated when they left.”

Muirhead says the clever companies work with their key staff on career paths which involve them leaving their present company to get additional experience – but then returning later.

He remembers interviewing a very bright guy who was working at PwC. His boss was one of his referees. “I was surprised at how open he was with his current boss. PwC was actively managing this guy's career so he got the right opportunities – and that included looking at roles outside the business.

Illustration: Angela Keoghan.

"It was unusual, but really clever – that guy's departure was a very positive experience for him and no doubt he'll be loyal to PwC, whether he returns or not."

Staying in touch with alumni provides a pool of professionals to offer jobs to, says Paul Smith, people and performance manager at Deloitte NZ. These returning employees bring back corporate knowledge, skills and experience, and require less training.

“People who are Deloitte trained and familiar with our methodologies assimilate back into the environment later on,” says Smith.

More tricky, but equally important, is keeping track of talented staff who leave New Zealand to get overseas experience, Muirhead says.

“Once they have been overseas they will be older, wiser, brighter and smarter from that experience,” he says. “Just as importantly, we want them to be brand ambassadors.”

Smith agrees. “It’s important we stay in touch so when they come back to the New Zealand market they come back to us, rather than a competitor."

KPMG, PwC and Deloitte all publish magazines to help stay in touch with their alumni. They cover business issues, company developments and job opportunities, and serve as a network for connecting with former colleagues. IBM New Zealand has got on board with the international alumni programme.

“Once an IBMer, always an IBMer” is the mantra. The technology and consulting company also uses social media to maintain a network of business and industry contacts and distribute new IBM innovations and career advice.

Recruitment specialists expect corporate alumni programmes to get more traction in New Zealand if our skills shortage worsens.

A recent Deloitte survey asked 360 businesses about their talent pool. Over 80 per cent were experiencing shortages that impacted on their business, and they expected the situation to worsen.

Muirhead says organised alumni programmes are about keeping track of your best staff when they leave. “Top talent is rare and the competition is tight.”

Gone, but not forgotten

Cunning international alumni moves

• Management consultant McKinsey has an online database of 27,000 former consultants
• Deloitte helps departing employees update their curricula vitae in the hope this will encourage them to stay in touch
• PwC has launched a recruitment campaign for former staff who want to come back and work part-time or do one-off projects Linklaters, part of Britain’s “Magic Circle” of prestigious solicitors, maintains relations with ex-staff by giving them a card that provides discounts on, or preferential access to, tickets for cultural events
​• Citigroup has held more than 150 gatherings of its alumni since it started the programme in 2011. Some of the most popular include golf tournaments and wine tastings. 

Source: The Economist