Staying in touch with alumni networks

Groups at Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Xerox help with recruiting, branding

Deloitte has had an alumni network for several years, giving former employees an opportunity to connect with each other and catch up.

“It’s really about continuing the Deloitte experience, even when people have left Deloitte,” says Richard Lee, a partner in the human capital consulting practice at Deloitte. “Our catchphrase is ‘Once Deloitte, always Deloitte’… When you join Deloitte, you are going to be part of a community and that connection will continue even if you leave us, even if you go to a competitor.”

But there are several benefits for the audit, tax and consulting firm itself, such as referrals, recruiting, business development and branding.

Deloitte lets alumni know what’s happening at the firm, including any events or major changes, he says.

“We want to hear from them as well about what they’re doing, and obviously sometimes there’s a commercial aspect to that. If we’ve got alumni in our clients, we want to be able to work with them,” says Lee, who is also chair of Deloitte’s greater Toronto area alumni network. But the business side of the network is secondary, “an outcome rather than an overt objective,” he says.

To connect with each other and extend that network to others, Deloitte sends out a bi-annual newsletter and holds an annual event for alumni. But one of the big challenges has been putting together a good database of alumni, which is made a little more difficult with privacy restrictions, says Lee.

The network is also used for recruitment efforts, as some alumni return to the firm after working elsewhere.

“Also, we can use our alumni to help us find new talent,” says Lee.

Deloitte is also investigating social media and it ran a pilot on LinkedIn, with alumni from the consulting group, that saw company jobs posted along with alumni posting job opportunities themselves.

While HR is involved in the initiative, the program is led by a team of practitioners and senior managers.

“It should be a business-led initiative but obviously with the support of and working closely with HR. So, in a real sense, we are part of that overall talent experience that my colleagues in Deloitte’s talent function are developing,” says Lee.

And when it comes to return on investment, Deloitte does not measure explicitly but does consider the benefits and what’s achieved, he says.

“We are constantly checking on feedback from our alumni — it’s not a question of whether we do it or not, it’s ‘How can we improve the program and make it more valuable for our alumni?’”

13,000 members at Ernst & Young

Ernst & Young’s alumni network also continues to evolve. The firm holds events — such as a cocktail party for people who worked at the firm during a certain decade — sends out newsletters and bulletins, runs a website and has recently started to explore social media.

“In order to stay relevant to our alumni, we need to evolve,” says Fiona Macfarlane, managing partner of people at Ernst & Young in Toronto.

People who join the firm also join the alumni network and there are 13,000 active members who are facilitated by an alumni relations manager and an alumni co-ordinating partner who champion the network across the country.

“Our people are our greatest asset and that doesn’t end when they move onto different challenges in life. Our business is based on relationships so we value building strong, lifelong relationships with our people,” she says. “We find it extremely helpful in giving us feedback and insight as well.”

To ensure the network is relevant, alumni councils in Toronto (with 20 people) and Vancouver (with 10) act as representatives. Members are keen to hear about what’s happening at the firm, what’s happening with each other, and have access to thought leadership and the ability to connect with each other live, says Macfarlane

Referrals and recruiting are absolutely a part of the initiative, she says.

“Our best recruiters are our alumni,” she says. “We have a high percentage (22 per cent) of people who come back to the firm, because they keep in touch with people in the firm, hear about opportunities, have a loyalty to the firm. They’re also a source of business for us because we have alumni who go out, become clients and refer work to us as well.”

While retirees make up a reasonable chunk of the network, there are also a lot of younger people who leave the firm earlier in their careers, says Macfarlane, so there’s a very diverse group of people who are part of the network.

Xerox’s network more than 20 years old

Diversity is also the name of the game at Xerox, which has two types of employee groups that have been around for more than two decades — one for retirees, the other for certain communities.

The retirees are very active and structured and are headed by a formal committee who are voted in every two years, says Susan Rogers, manager of diversity and inclusion at Xerox in Toronto. A newsletter is sent out to retirees, who keep each other informed via email. They meet on a regular basis and have a luncheon every Christmas. The retirees are also invited to key events, such as an annual kickoff event at Xerox.

There is also a website where information is posted, such as events and access to corporate discounts. Many of them meet informally, on an as-needed basis, says Jenny Johnston, manager of sourcing and recruitment strategies at Xerox Canada in Toronto.

“They love the connection back to current employees. They still obviously have friends and family that continue to work here.”

There is also an employee-referral program, so retirees are eligible to send in names of people they know. And there’s considerable interest in re-employment among this group, whose expertise is valued, says Johnston.

“One of the reasons we like to boast about the retiree network we have is that these folks have grown up through the organization and are still finding good people… because they enjoyed their employment so much,” says Johnston. “That’s a huge win for us.”

Xerox also has six employee resource groups or caucus groups (some just in the United States) made up of specific communities such as a women’s alliance and gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender employees (known as Galaxe).

“They really focus on networking, building relationships, they have mentoring programs, they meet on a regular basis, they provide career counselling, they have conferences,” says Rogers.

The groups are grassroots but are supported by Xerox, which provides champions for the different groups in the form of an executive sponsor who serves for a three-year period and meets with the resource group twice a year and attends their annual conference.

“They are the voice of the group to the senior leadership team,” says Rogers.

The resource groups also help the company with business expansion, she says. For example, Galaxe is involved in a number of external associations such as Pride Canada, which provides Xerox with an opportunity for additional business. And these caucus groups help attract people from diverse backgrounds.

“We also talk about these (groups) in our recruiting pitch or our employer brand promise, that you will find people that look like you within the organization so you have somebody to connect with,” says Johnston.


Benefits of corporate alumni

There are several obvious benefits to corporate alumni networks, according to social networking firm SelectMinds in New York.

Recruiting: Having realized the economic value of rehires and referrals, companies are investing in alumni relationships to drive high-quality, cost-effective recruiting.

Business development: When companies keep key alumni informed on the latest corporate messaging and positioning, these former employees are more likely to refer new business — or to become customers themselves.

Branding: A former employee of a company carries significantly more weight than anyone else when they pass along information about that company.

There are also softer or less tangible gains to remaining closely connected with alumni who:

• serve as ambassadors for corporate and recruitment brands

• share knowledge with current employees, enhancing their productivity and effectiveness

• are referred for job openings at clients organizations thereby increasing relationships with that client

• stay in the loop about current job openings.

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