Steps in Building a World-Class Boomerang/Alumni Program
There is no standard format for a corporate alumni program, but there are a number of essential steps that you should consider when implementing a program if you intend on being successful.
Program Start-up Steps
- Assign an individual or team to be accountable for the boomerang/alumni programs.
- Build a business case to both executives and, more importantly, hiring managers. This is critical because if hiring managers don't see the economic value to them, they just won't participate in the effort. It's important in any discussion with managers to remind them of the potential value that former employees can add upon their return. Be able to quickly articulate in less than a minute the selling points, and provide actual examples of increased business results that others have experienced.
- Involve recruiters in developing boomerang processes. It's important to involve them and get their buy-in, or they may resist processing boomerang candidates. (Be aware that there is always some illogical resistance on the part of recruiters, because they think recruiting boomerangs is too easy.)
- Benchmark other programs to identify their critical success and failure factors.
- Consider working with outsource firms that have already established alumni program templates.
- Develop a formal written program plan with budget and success milestones. Review the plan against the checklists in this article. Make sure that the individuals involved are measured and rewarded for their successes. Wherever possible, get a senior manager from outside of HR to sponsor and champion the program.
- Run the program design by your legal team for privacy-related issues.
- If your organization is global, involve international offices and program design features that work around the world.
- Develop a process to continually review past layoff lists and voluntary terminations to see who would add value given the increased resources of your present firm. Start with top performers.
- Develop a program to pre-identify key individuals who are at risk of leaving, so that you can take steps to keep them. This way, you will not need to make them part of your boomerang program.
- Develop a set of metrics to assess programs results. Include ROI, quality of hire, speed of hire, retention rates, candidate and manager satisfaction, and business impacts the boomerangs have made.
Steps to Take as Key Employees Are Leaving
The most important elements of any boomerang/alumni program occur not post-separation, but rather during the separation process. It is imperative to let key individuals know that just because they are separating now, they are welcome back.
- Tell targeted individuals during their exit interviews that you might want them back. Immediately start rerecruiting top performers during their last week and during the exit interview. Ask them to formally join your alumni network during the exit interview process.
- Conduct post-exit interviews six months after separation to find out the reasons why individuals left and under what circumstances they might consider coming back.
- If necessary, change the exit process to capture individuals' permanent addresses (email), and ask their permission to keep in touch with them by email.
- Revise the exit interview process to ensure that top performers leave happy and will not bad-mouth the firm after they leave. If they leave happy without any major grudges or frustration, they are more likely to consider returning.
Continuous Process Steps
Once the program plan has been approved, here are some action steps that you must continuously take:
- Develop an electronic alumni newsletter and distribute it at least once a month to keep alumni informed about company products, initiatives, and successes.
- Make every employee aware of the program and the reasons for it in standard corporate communications. Make it clear during orientation that you have a community and that former employees will always be treated with respect. Tell employees they should never want to leave, but if they do, you'll hope that they'll consider returning in the future.
- Make a list of your targets and where they hang out. Then frequent those places and events in hopes of a chance meeting. Once a week, visit restaurants and bars in the vicinity of the company in order to renew contacts.
- Go out of the way to make positive comments about these individuals' contributions to your firm at conferences and to colleagues that work at the same firm. You can bet that the positive information and praise will get back to them.
- Periodically make benchmark calls or send emails to former colleagues. Ask about their best practices and what things they are working on.
- When you get a boomerang to return, ask him the names of the best people at his former firm and get his help in recruiting them.
- Take extra effort to track those who went to start-ups, since so many fail. Realize that these individuals might have higher values because most individuals who went to a start-up are risk takers, entrepreneurs, and technology wizards.
- Make boomerangs a target in your referral program, and make it clear during your presentations and in your marketing that they are highly-prized targets. Consider giving an extra bonus for boomerangs.
- Periodically send former colleagues copies of articles and information that they can use in their current jobs.
- Occasionally email former colleagues with technical questions, or solicit their opinions on some of your advanced work.
- Identify job openings at your firm and then email them to the appropriate corporate alumni.
- Invite targeted boomerangs to attend company events and assign individuals to rerecruit them.
- Seek out boomerangs at trade and industry events.
- Develop a compelling story to reach targeted boomerangs that convinces them of the benefits of returning. In addition, make a list any potential negatives they might perceive and counter each of them.
- Put boomerangs in your tickler file to remind yourself to contact them at least twice a year.
- Put them on your firm's advisory groups or as external consultants on your hiring committees. Consider periodically asking them for their advice on key company problems.
- Develop mechanisms to celebrate the return of boomerangs.
Steps in Building the Relationship With Alumni
Remember that even if former employees don't come back, they can add great benefits to your organization. It's important to keep in contact with alumni that might never return to your firm, as well as those who have a reasonable probability. This means that you must build a continuing alumni relationship with every key individual and manager who was not fired from your organization.
Some of the actions you should take include:
- Develop relationship "maintenance tools." Consider an email newsletter, product discounts, referral bonuses, and offers for free training to keep up communications and relationships.
- Tell them they can earn referral bonuses just like current employees for referring individuals to your firm.
I don't know how many times I have heard top performers express the desire to return to a former employer, but opt not to because they feel they are not welcome back. If you are not making your former employees welcome, you are losing out on good people for pride and principle. Instead, it's essential that you make them a key part of your overall sourcing and recruiting strategy.
Your role is to make them feel more like they are going on a sabbatical (which will some day end), rather than actually leaving your firm forever!