Organizations Need to Design for Meaningful Alumni Experiences. Here's Why and How.
Updated: Aug 5
An increasing number of organizations are prioritizing the creation of better experiences for humans of the world at work and are taking action in pursuit of the same. According to Deloitte's 2019 Global Human Capital Trends study, 84% of their survey respondents rated employee experience as important, and 28% identified it as one of the three most urgent issues facing their organization in 2019. Similarly, more organizations are recognizing the value of design in business and its essential role in designing for experience including its application to employee experience (for additional information, see McKinsey's 'The Business Value of Design').
Employee experience, or EX, is generally defined as the result of every interaction an employee has with an organization over the duration of the relationship. Each interaction and touchpoint and the end-to-end experience journey occurs over time and space. From a human's perspective, the typical stages of experience are Encounter, Enter, Engage, Exit, and Extend. Each stage is of equal importance when cultivating a symbiotic relationship, mainly when brand advocacy is a business driver. However, the Exit and Extend stages of the journey, i.e., the transition to alumnus status and beyond are often neglected.
EXIT & EXTEND STAGES
For a moment, reflect on the pride exhibited and enthusiastic stories told by graduates of a particular university, college or secondary school. They fondly recall graduation and a sense of achievement. Jewelry, sportswear, stickers, and other memorabilia are physical symbols of these fond memories. These symbols may spark conversations in which alumni further endorse their alma mater.
These same individuals typically spend more extended periods in a corporate or professional environment, yet they rarely establish or express a similar emotional connection. Pride is too often lacking – or may be eroded by – experiences during the Engage stage that lead to the Exit phase. Experiences during the Exit and Extend stages themselves may also tend to reduce feelings of pride, belonging, etc. A Gallup poll reveals that fewer than half (45%) of employees say they are satisfied with how their organizations handled their Exit. Celebrations or expressions of appreciation, if they occur at all, are muted and brief. The Exit stage is typically cold and abrupt, and this emotional gulf remains after that. These negative experiences individually and collectively erode your employer brand and, in turn, affect your ability to attract top talent, build internal morale and improve your reputation among customers and communities, and much more.
Few organizations seek to foster a relationship with former employees or inactive free agents. Just 12% of former employees strongly agree that they regard themselves as part of their previous organization's alumni network. One estimate states that only 8% of companies in the Fortune 1000 and have some form of alumni program that offers seminars, career networking events, or discounts on products.
MEANINGFUL ALUMNI EXPERIENCES
According to futurists, our interconnected transparency culture and competitive talent market will continue to intensify. It is unwise, therefore, for organizations to maintain the status quo of underestimating the importance of building lifelong relationships or even to deprioritize them further.
Similar to Employee Experience, the Alumni Experience is defined as the result of every interaction an employee or free agent has with an organization during separation and beyond. A meaningful Alumni Experience ensures that persons feel heard and respected and that their contributions are valued regardless of the amount of time spent with an organization or the scope, volume, etc. of their work. It also continues to serve humans and their needs beyond the finite work arrangement.
For the organization, well-designed and well-delivered Alumni Experiences bolster the ability to attract and hire quality candidates by avoiding pitfalls such as 'bad break-ups gone viral' in the form of, for example, scathing emotionally-driven comments on employer review sites. Meaningful Alumni Experiences reinforce the employer brand and build brand advocates and ambassadors. They can even boomerang talent and generate referrals leading to future business opportunities, partnerships, and innovation collaborations. They can enhance market research, retain and grow the customer base, and extend the organization's visibility and reach in the community.
Some impressive statistics: Employees who have a positive Exit Experience are 2.9 times more likely to recommend their organization compared to those who report a negative or even a neutral experience. Companies with an engaged alumni community see 2.8 times increase in revenue per employee, 4.5 times increase in product innovation, and six times increase in employer attractiveness. Organizations with formalized alumni programs consistently rate those organizations 20% more positively compared to those without. Typical rehire rates in organizations lacking an alumni program are about 3-4%. A meaningful Alumni Experience can double that. In business generation, 15% of all revenues are directly related to alumni in key decision maker positions on client sides, and 50% of all revenue is indirectly linked to alumni influencing decision makers or acting as coaches for the former employer.
DESIGNING FOR MEANINGFUL ALUMNI EXPERIENCES
With an experience-based proposition, it is the quality of the human's experience of all the possible interactions that is the focus. Not only are you solving for the right offerings for the alumni such as events, learning opportunities, a digital platform to create a virtual community, etc. (and what's relevant for the organization and good for business), you are also solving for the best experience through the offerings. What goals are alumni trying to achieve? What needs are they trying to satisfy? What pain points do they encounter with the current experience? How might you solve for this space in a way that generates positive feelings, advocacy, and other mutual benefits?
Alumni Experience Design is, unsurprisingly, similar to designing experiences for customers, employees, users et al. It is the application of human-centered design with design thinking as the methodology. Creating a meaningful alumni experience involves understanding the people and the context and identifying and alleviating people's problems, needs and desires and bringing them delight through an offering or offerings that should improve the quality of their lives, reduce frustrations, and create efficiencies that did not previously exist.
Throughout my career in helping prominent global brands design meaningful Alumni Experiences, I've compiled design considerations and reinforcements that can maximize the return on effort and investment:
1. Framing the right alumni ‘problem' to solve is the only way to create a meaningful experience for your alumni. Do your homework. Research is key. Engagement and exit data can be valuable in analyzing the effect of good or bad experiences; however, they do not provide the insight necessary to solve for the right human problem. Additionally, learnings gathered from other organizations can be useful. However, because each organization's experiences are unique, it is likely inaccurate, misleading, confusing, etc. to predict their impact and the value of the offerings and experiences on your alumni base. Variables such as cultural differences, brand relevance, etc. can also muddy the waters.
Before making decisions on offerings and channels, spend the appropriate time to conduct qualitative research with departing employees, free agents, and existing alumni to understand their goals, needs, unmet needs, and desires in this context. You might even extend this research to current employees since they usually have the most pertinent plus detailed perspectives. Map the Exit and Extend stages of the journey to understand the highs and lows of their experience so that you can identify moments of truth and pain points encountered by alumni when interacting with your offerings and the organization in general. Understand the operational side of experience (often referred to as the backstage) as well by blueprinting a holistic picture of what needs to be solved for to design and orchestrate a seamless experience for all involved.
2. Developing a well-defined Alumni Experience strategy with a shared vision and purpose created by a core cross-functional team can ensure design intentionality and consistency and accelerate change. Experience strategy helps brands and organizations uncover new opportunities to create value and build advocacy. It serves to inspire, align, and guide, plus it also brings innovation and a human face to what would otherwise just be strategy.
Start by synthesizing all the valuable information you gathered in your research to form insight into what a meaningful Alumni Experience entails alongside the broader Employee Experience vision. Your Alumni Experience strategy should consist of: a) A well-defined experience purpose, vision, principles, and opportunities; b) Visualized conceptual offerings; c) A map of the desired experience with backstage activities; d) A directional roadmap that outlines strategy, experiential and operational paths to implement the newly designed experience. If possible, the core cross-functional team should involve representatives from HR, internal communications, marketing/branding, corporate and community affairs, IT, members of other functional and managerial departments and, where applicable, external partners, and vendors who have a role in creating the experience. Finally, socialize the strategy beyond the core team to build buy-in across senior executives and the organization and invest the time to validate the strategy with alumni to improve its relevance.
3. Design and implement iteratively and keep it collaborative and co-creative. Iteratively designing and implementing the desired experience helps build and release over time to balance investment and organizational capacity and to de-risk your investment. Collaborating and co-creating with alumni and internal and external stakeholders along the way enables quick feedback and usually provides for more innovative ideas.
In this context, iteratively means continuous cycles of prototyping, testing, analyzing and refining: use your validated experience strategy and priorities to generate ideas for meeting the needs of your alumni base and the organization with alumni and stakeholders. Develop a minimum viable experience prototype (which is just enough of the total experience to validate desirability, feasibility, and viability of the experience through the offerings). Test the prototype. Use what you learned from testing, amend the design, and release it to your alumni market. Begin the design and release cycle all over again until you have evidence or are satisfied that you've reached the best possible total alumni experience for your alumni market.
Nowadays, lifelong employment with a single organization is an exception - no longer the norm. However, building and maintaining lifelong relationships through the creation and delivery of meaningful human-centered experiences for candidates, employees, free agents, and alumni can and should be the new norm.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa Morris is the founder and chief human-centered experience designer at XPLOR, LLC. XPLOR is an experience design and innovation firm specializing in transforming work and workplace experiences. Read more about XPLOR and our successes at http://xplordi.com.
Sources for Statistics:
Enterprise Alumni https://enterprisealumni.com, Gallup, Sodexo, Sertoglu, SP Ventures