If you are not using your leadership program alumni in your current programs, you are really missing out on a great development and retention strategy!
This past June marked the end of the latest cycle of a 2-year development program for one of my corporate retail clients. As lead program manager and leadership coach for this class of 35, I had the pleasure of deeply getting to know each one of them over the past 24 months.
Together, we worked through them facing their fears and insecurities in order to make significant breakthroughs in their leadership development growth. I was honored to be part of their “leadership story” and suffice it to say that there were rivers of tears during the graduation luncheon, as each transitioned to being a program alumnus.
So imagine my surprise when I received a call last week from one of the newest program alumni, who I’ll call “Brian”. In my opinion, Brian was one of the most talented participants in the program who obviously has that “x-factor” for leadership. He called to thank me for delivering an outstanding program and to see if there was any way he could stay connected to help the program.
“I’ve got to admit that I’m already suffering withdrawal from no longer being in the program,” said Brian. “I got so much out of it that I want to stay involved in some way. Any suggestions what I can do?”
If you have developed a robust leadership program and have already put multiple rounds of participants through the experience, chances are that a subgroup of passionate program alumni like Brian exists.
Why not use these raving fans of your leadership program to help add a new dimension to your next round of program initiatives?
Here are 4 potential ideas to get you started:
1. Find Their Perfect Spot. You can avoid a bad experience by first taking the time to understand the intersection of where you need program help and where your program alumni can provide real value. Although they are talented individuals, remember that they are likely not professional development experts. Make sure the offered opportunities are designed to use their skills in a way that sets them up for a successful experience.
When participants graduate from your program, contact them right away to explain the benefits of engaging in the alumni program. List out the options available, responsibilities required, and length of time commitment. I recommend also holding a “no obligation” information session to ensure the right profile of potential participants are the ones who raise their hands to assist.
2. Provide a Safe Space To Refine Skills. Create a space where program alumni can network, ask for advice, brainstorm, learn best practices and have conversations with each other and with you, without being visible to the current program participants. This allows them to focus on their own development with peers that they already trust.
Not everyone is a social butterfly, so be intentional with connecting new program alumni with some of the more established program alumni who can mentor them on how to best be effective. These simple introductions can make crucial connections, create lasting relationships and show your program graduates that you care about their ongoing leadership development post-program. What a great way for your program alumni to feel part of a bigger, connected development experience!
3. Give a Second Chance. It’s no secret that we all have busy schedules. Consider sending invitations out multiple times during the year for program alumni to participate in the current program. Don’t miss out on great alumni participation due to lack of follow-up. Some past program participants may not take you up on your first offer to participate in the alumni program. Their reasons for not volunteering could be anywhere from the fear of not having time due to other commitments, all the way to _(you fill in the blank of the reason)_. Not offering periodic opportunities to engage in the current alumni program can inadvertently alienate some of your top talent and increase their retention risk.
4. Give Them a Voice. Have the courage to go beyond the simple post-program evaluation form by providing opportunities for program alumni to participate in the strategic planning for the next version of the program. They will likely have valuable insights on how to prioritize suggested changes, from an end-user’s perspective. How cool is it to have a built-in focus group to help raise the bar of your talent development strategies?!
P.S. If you liked this post, I have a sneaky suspicion that you may be interested in joining our community of ultra-achievers!
Karan Ferrell-Rhodes is the CEO of Shockingly Different Leadership, a leadership development consultancy that develops both in-house and external leadership programs which transform high potential leaders into “ultra-achievers” in their organization. Don’t forget to ask about our coaching packages, assessments, mentoring programs, and leadership labs! Or, take a peek at our offerings!