What if trying to retain your staff was missing the bigger picture?

What if, as the cliché goes, loving something means letting it go?

Well, that's what forward-thinking HR departments are starting to understand, creating alumni groups to learn from past employees and their networks.

Perhaps this could be an important strategy to improve recruitment of digital skills in the ongoing skills shortage?

As a returning Econsultancy employee, this is a topic close to my heart. Employing people who have already known the culture of your company, and gained experience elsewhere in between, is a great way of boosting attempts to transform a company.

More progressive HRs understand their talent may leave after two to three years, a reality they are forced to accept within digital and amongst 25-35 year olds.

Actively working to bring that talent back in (or utilising their networks) in a few years' time is the challenge.

Whilst most HRs are understandably working on retaining people for as long as possible, taking a longer term view is necessary to create brand ambassadors, recruit from the right circles and tempt back talent.

(This seems a good place to shoehorn in a mention of our new Career and Salary Survey which will create a benchmark for marketing and creative salaries. You might also win £250 of Amazon vouchers.)

Boomerangs used to be banned

There's a fantastic study by Workplace Trends about the phenomenon of boomerang employees and their increasing acceptance.

The results show that both organizations and employees are increasingly open to the idea.

Nearly half of the HR professionals surveyed said their organisation previously had a policy against rehiring former employees, whatever the nature of their departure.

Over three quarters now say they are more accepting of hiring boomerang employees than in the past.

boomerangs

HR professionals now give priority to boomerangs 

56% of HR professionals say they give high or very high priority to job applicants who were former employees that left in good standing.

Three quarters also say that customers have applied for positions at their organisation (with 60% having hired at least one customer).

The benefits of boomerangs to HR (and vice versa) are manyfold - an easier training process, quicker integration into teams, less input needed from other staff etc.

However, 33% of HR professionals agree it's familiarity with culture that represents the biggest benefit of boomerangs.

Almost half of 'millenials' would consider boomeranging

I had to use the term 'millenial' here, as it was used in the Workplace Trends study data - apologies. It's a rough definition of those that reached adulthood around 2000.

What's interesting about the survey is that 46% of 'Millenials' would consider returning, compared to only 33% of 'Gen X' and 29% of Baby Boomers.

This is good news for employers who may want to target past employees, or engage them to find similar talent.

But leaving employees don't believe there is an alumni strategy in place

Despite the trends and benefits discussed so far, 80% of employees say their former employers do not have an alumni strategy in place.

HR professionals beg to differ in the survey, saying they have a variety of tactics, including newsletters (45%), recruiters (30%), and alumni groups (27%).

alumni sign

So, what should an alumni group do?

So, just what should the alumni group offer the alumnus?

The Wall Street Journal cites a number of notable alumni groups and you can find a big list on this recruitment website.

McKinsey & Co. and Microsoft are two examples given in the WSJ; they track and develop leaving talent over the long term.

Microsoft grants access to beta projects and discounts, whereas McKinsey taps up its alumni community for referral suggestions, helping with overall recruiting.

The P&G alumni group has given some the option to return as a consultant, and also opened up relationships with other companies that employ P&G alumni. 

More than 130 former P&G employees are/have been in charge (i.e. CEO or Chairperson) at companies ranging from Boeing to Unilever.

Of course, Facebook makes alumni groups easier than ever, and is indeed the chief medium for many of these groups.

With such ease of communication over the past decade, one would expect alumni groups to be beginning to pay off, helping companies in many sectors deal with change (including digital change).

LinkedIn provides free subscription, candidate referral and event invites to alumni, but stresses the group must be set up in the right way. Knowing who to invite, how to handle existing groups, and who should manage the group is key.

Alumni won't necessarily be the preserve of HR, rather a wider business effort.

McKinsey's notable alumni page

mckinsey alumni

A clear team purpose is a hallmark of company growth

This is the bottom line and one supported by the 'Growth Driver' study of 900 C-suite employees by Brand Learning.

87% of 'growth driver' companies have a 'clear company, team or brand purpose', versus 61% for other companies.

Growth driver companies are defined as having at least 6% annual growth over the past three years.

One way to foster this type of purpose is undoubtedly to employee people with previous knowledge of the company. This could be former customers, associates, freelancers or indeed 'boomerangs'. 

For related content, see Digital Job Descriptions Best Practice Guide and Organisational Structures and Resourcing Best Practice Guide.

Ben Davis

Published 8 December, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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