First days and lasting relationships: make the most of new hires and alumni networks
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New hires at Pivigo, a data science company of nearly 20 people in London, are welcomed personally by chief executive Kim Nilsson, writes Rhymer Rigby. “I take them out for coffee for an hour and highlight our values and try to give them some sense of where we’re going,” she says.
After an hour, the person who will be managing the new hire joins them. The morning ends with a lunch, where the new joiner eats with roughly half the company, chosen at random. In the afternoon, they are installed in their workspace and at the end of the first week, they can have a free massage.
“We’re a small team and we need everyone to be engaged and performing,” says Ms Nilsson, adding that plenty of preparation has already taken place before the first day.
At Snap, parent of disappearing-message app Snapchat, new hires spend a two-day orientation in Los Angeles, regardless of where they are based or job title. “Snap was founded in LA and it’s where our headquarters are,” says Claire Valoti, vice-president international. “It’s an opportunity for new hires to feel connected to the company and its culture and history.”
The first day involves finding out more about the company and how things work, from benefits and training to IT and security.
Day two is devoted to creating community and connections through “Council” sessions. This Snap ritual involves staff getting together to talk about feelings and listen to each other’s stories. “Council is a way in which we maintain our commitment to being smart, creative and kind.”
It may seem a lot of effort, but the first days really do count. “During the recruitment process people form an impression about your business,” says Ian Gooden, of HR consultancy Chiumento. “Onboarding is about validating their decision to join.”
A big mistake, he adds, is to make extravagant promises at interview and then put the new hire in a corner and ignore them when they show up: “It’s a breach of trust and very hard to recover from.”
Instead, make their lives easy by giving them information they need to feel useful, and pleasant by helping them make social connections.
Replacing staff is both expensive and disruptive. According to the Work Institute, a US-based research organisation, 40 per cent of employees who leave do so within their first year at a company.
Giving new hires the best start is widely viewed as a way of combating this churn. Yet Gallup’s 2017 State of the Workplace Report suggests that only 12 per cent of employees strongly agree that their organisation does a great job of onboarding new workers.
Chris Byrne, a senior vice-president of global operations at Workday, an HR software provider, says welcoming new people includes forging connections, imbibing the culture and learning about the business. It “starts what we hope is a long and successful career journey for them and for us”.
Such levels of communication should flow in both directions. Mr Gooden points out that companies have much to learn from new hires. “People who have only just joined you are viewing your organisation with fresh and unclouded eyes. You should ask them what they see.” After a few weeks, he adds, they become one of you and lose this valuable outsider perspective.
Finally, new recruits themselves need to ensure they get the most out of the process. John Lees, a career coach and author of How to Get a Job You Love, has four main tips for new joiners:
- “You need to network rapidly and find out who the information brokers are,” says Mr Lees. “Who are the key decision makers and what are the rules?”
- Prepare for “human decoding”: form a clear idea of what success looks like and whose toes you must not tread on
- Ensure you are in new-job mode. “Don’t project egotism and say ‘I’m here to turn everything upside down’. You want to be projecting a soft version of your personal brand — and you want to be thinking in strategic career terms”
Gone, but not forgotten: organisations finesse alumni networks
Once a way for retirees to keep in touch with former colleagues, the corporate alumni network is acquiring a different, compelling purpose: to help organisations maintain contact with ex-employees when they move on, writes Sarah Murray.
With careers becoming longer and more varied and employers continually on the hunt for skilled workers, it makes sense for organisations to tap into alumni networks to woo back former staff or help alumni become ambassadors in their new workplaces.
At Deloitte UK, about 20 per cent of the professional services firm’s experienced recruits each year have already worked for the firm, says Mike Meehan, lead partner of its alumni network.
Recruiting such “boomerang talent” has many benefits. “They know your company and understand your culture and values,” says Erin Kramer, who heads customer services at Conenza, which develops and manages alumni networks for organisations. “And they’re a lot quicker to come up to speed and be trained.”
There is also a saving on hefty recruitment fees.
Globally, corporate alumni networks are growing fastest in professional services firms, according to Conenza’s annual benchmarking report. In 2018, it found the legal sector leading, with 35 per cent saying their law firm has an alumni programme. “They can prove it works and they know their alumni refer business back to them,” says Ms Kramer.
The report also found that the proportion of alumni programmes that are at least six years old rose from 35 per cent in 2017 to 39 per cent, suggesting they are becoming an established corporate strategy.
Alumni networks need only modest investments to be successful. “The real commitment is the time spent and the thoughtfulness put into building a community,” says Ms Kramer.
Conenza recommends smaller companies start with one worker devoting half their time managing the network while larger companies should consider having one full-time employee. “You might need more as you build out programmes and events,” says Ms Kramer.
While news on alumni job moves and on changes at the organisation is important, companies must also figure out what former staff find most compelling, from social events and company discounts to volunteering opportunities.
Users’ preferences vary, even across an organisation. “We need to have our antennae on the ground to understand what drives the engagement of alumni,” says Andrea Legnani, global head of alumni relations at Citi, whose alumni events range from football games and golf tournaments to cocktails.
Citi develops communications and activities based on feedback from surveys every two years. “One thing we commonly hear is that alumni would like to have more local material in our communications,” says Mr Legnani. “So we have begun working on country-specific newsletters focused on local content.”
Companies also need to select a platform for alumni communities. While Deloitte, which found alumni were not attracted by a dedicated website, decided to use LinkedIn, others build their own platforms.
For Citi this affords control of, and easy access to, the data. “It really helps you to understand the trends and how to adapt your HR and hiring strategies,” says Mr Legnani. Eventually, he says, data analytics might identify the most likely boomerang employees. “So you might decide to invest in those you want to come back.”
He points to another reason why companies should invest in alumni networks: increasing competition between firms vying for the attention of former employees.
“So you have to do it now,” he says. “And you have to do it very well.”