What Are Your Alumni Saying About You?

You can pretty much assume that no employee will stay with you throughout their entire professional life. Even if they do, they’re going to retire someday. Just expect that everyone leaves, whether after 30 years or 30 days.

So what will they say about you when you leave?

Your best brand ambassadors for your product, and your best recruiters for your workforce, are often your alumni. The latter point is especially valuable; when your alumni point candidates to your company, that makes recruiting a lot easier. You benefit when your former employees speak well of your company.

So how do you help that happen?

Make the Voluntary Departures Positive

People leave. That’s just a fact of professional life. Sometimes they go to explore a new job, sometimes they leave for more money, sometimes they leave for family reasons, but they leave.  When someone comes to you and says “I’m leaving,” how do you respond?

Well, one thing is for sure: if you yell and scream and throw things and make a scene about what an ungrateful person they are; if you say “don’t bother waiting 30 days, just clear out your desk now;” or maybe if you ignore them between now and their last day, well, you should expect they will not be recommending that their friends work there. An ugly departure in which you clearly care only about your own interests and not at all about theirs will pretty much ensure they say bad things.

Humans love talking about bad bosses, so maybe don’t give them a reason to. When an employee gives their notice, take the time to find out why. If you want to try to keep them, by all means make the offer, but if they say no, then wish them well. Work with them to ensure a smooth transition for whoever is taking their responsibilities. If you’re opening their position to external candidates, involve them in creating the job ad. Finally, make sure you have a useful exit interview before they leave. Let them walk out the door with a positive experience, and they’re more likely to recommend you to others.

Try to Make Involuntary Departures as Painless as Possible

Sometimes you have to let people go. It may be a lay-off of a large number of people, or you might be letting someone go for poor performance. Either way, try to minimize the negative aspects of the experience as much as you can. People will rarely be happy about being let go, but you can minimize the unhappiness.

Discuss with your employee the other options they have. Even if you’re firing someone for poor performance, talk with them about where else they might fit in better. You don’t need to go find a job for them, but at least show some interest in what they could do next. Once they secure something new, people will sometimes look back and think that being let go was a good thing because it opened up better opportunities. Try to encourage a positive frame of mind if you want them to think well of you after they are gone.

By the way, it might seem personally fulfilling to tell off a bad employee when you fire them, but it doesn’t help you professionally. It’s important to keep your personal feelings out of a firing. There is little to be gained, and a lot to be lost, by giving in to your desire to tell them what you REALLY think of them. You’ve already fired them; let that be the end of it.

Stay Engaged With Alumni

You may not want to stay engaged with everyone – that guy everyone hated and who dragged down the quarterly numbers, for example – but in general, try staying connected to alumni. They can be great ambassadors, especially for your employment brand, and so it’s helpful if they still feel like “part of the family.”

Connecting could be as simple as having them be part of a Facebook or LinkedIn group, with regular updates from your firm about what’s going on there. You could send out a quarterly newsletter, or perhaps invite alumni to company events. Some firms go so far as to include alumni in their employee referral program; just as current employees can earn bonuses for recommending new candidates, so too can alumni.

There are reasons universities have alumni associations. Not only do they donate money back to the school, but they also offer career opportunities to fellow graduates and advocate for the school among students who are wondering where to apply. Your alumni can provide similar benefits (well, not donating money, but they can send clients and candidates your way – they might even become clients themselves). Put some effort into maintaining that connection.

If you’re one of those people who says “I don’t care what people think about me,” well, good for you, but those people DO care what they think about you, and it can have a negative impact on your business and your hiring.  Think about what you want people to say about you when they leave, and try to shape their departure experience so it gets you what you want.