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Love Your Ex-Employees and They'll Love You Back12.11.2015 15:44:23
Much as war is too important to leave to the generals, love is too precious to entrust to the romantics. So don’t. Organizations looking for their people to love them better be pragmatic about their idealism. To do “what it really takes to become a company employees love” requires leaders to ask, “What kind of love do we really want from people?”
Hiring a CLO — Chief Love Officer — isn’t the answer. But the question deserves better than executive hand-offs to HR, McKinsey, or Myers-Briggs. No word is more consistently misrepresented, misinterpreted, or misapplied at moments when it matters most. That’s because love creates great expectations.
What expectations should organizations love to encourage and encourage to love? Of course employees should feel and believe that their presence makes a meaningful difference. But, ironically, one of the most powerful and persuasive ways to inspire commitment inside the enterprise is maintaining healthy relationships with high-achievers who’ve left the organization. Talented “exes” should be seen as assets who can make the organization more valuable and an even better place to work.
Just as harsh criticisms by exes demoralize and disrupt, their constructive contributions can have as profound an impact on human capital brands as current employees. So smarter “people analytics” operations embrace mission and metrics that assure they’re getting the right kind of ROEE — Return on Ex-Employees:
Referrals. Everyone in the organization from the C-suite on down notices when former employees generate new business. That’s not just a “vote of confidence” in their own firm but an economic affirmation that they expect excellent value for money. McKinsey is the professional services model for turning former associates and partners into profitably high-profile clients. The quality and professionalism of referrals aren’t just great for its bottom line, they have a hugely positive impact on firm morale. Not only is there “life after McKinsey” but associates know they were being asked to justify the trust and confidence of a former colleague.
Not incidentally, McKinsey maintains both a formal and extensive informal “alumni network” of partners and associates. The firm deliberately invests in its exes as assets, people and part of a community.
Employees who consistently see talented exes coming back to the company they left behind to get quality work done receive a flattering and motivating message.
References. Finding culturally-compatible talent is always challenging. When high-performance exes provide positive references and recommendations to top-tier job candidates, they pay their former employer an enormous compliment. The compliment becomes even greater whenever those candidates impress. As an Accenture partner observed about a colleague who’d left to join a high-profile enterprise software start-up, “He’s a great guy who had a great experience with us for a decade and he interviews people from all over the world dying to work for [his company]. He sends over four or five excellent people every year. … We’re grateful.”
Resources. A network security geek went from a global bank to a Beltway bandit start-up. Six months later, regulatory oversight around financial transaction security protocols changed. The move had extensive IT repercussions for the bank, but it wasn’t sure what to do next. Hiring a consultant would be an expensive and time consuming five-figure commitment. A nice lunch at an excellent restaurant with the ex got the bank 70% of the way to where it needed to be.
Similarly, a consumer packaged goods marketing executive who switched industries because she needed a change didn’t hesitate to review a Powerpoint presentation sent to her personal Dropbox account. Her feedback effectively reframed the pitch. Was it a favor? Yes. But her contribution was acknowledged not just by the team but to the client. She got a bottle of Champagne when the account was won.
Both companies had created environments where talented exes were happy — not obligated — to be resources. I was told by one company that this sort of informal sharing and advisory review goes on — respectfully — “all the time.” An executive at a successful rival looked at me in horror, declaring “We would never do that!”
Returnees. Thomas Wolfe was wrong; you can go home again. Hugely talented exes who come back are the gold standard. Few actions speak louder than words than bringing highly-regarded former employees back into the fold. “Boomerangs” — as these returnees are sometimes called — reveal something important about enterprise culture. Some firms treat exes, especially the talents, as defectors and traitors who will never be allowed to return. Firms that catch their boomerangs effectively let their current employees know that “exploring all their options” is not a sin. They signal that diversity of experience outside the firm can be a great thing. At the same time, they give the firm the power to publicly declare just who and what a truly talented ex is.
Where education has the three Rs, employee exes have these 4 Rs. But there’s a fifth deserving explicit mention: respect. Showing respect to the exes is a form of respect for the currents. Indeed, the most talented currents don’t just benchmark themselves against their colleagues and bosses, they’re fully aware of the most talented exes who chose (or didn’t choose) to leave. They wonder how they’d be treated — or respected — as an ex.
Yes, getting existing employees to love the enterprise is a difficult and challenging job. Respecting ex-employees enough so that they can generate referrals, make references, provide resources and even — on occasion — return is also difficult and challenging. But they’re worth it.
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