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Friedemann Holland, PeoplePath: “managing great relationships with former employees takes strategic planning, creativity, and authenticity”

In this ever-connected world, creating meaningful professional relationships can often be more challenging than it seems.

As companies rush to digitize various business processes and secure their remote workforce with antivirus and VPN tools, practices that would improve employee satisfaction are pushed to the background – causing worldwide “great resignation.”

While some businesses try to move on and choose to forget the people that left the company, our guest today believes that maintaining good relationships with former employees can be beneficial for both sides. To talk about how companies can build stronger relationships, we invited Friedemann Holland, the Vice President of Global Marketing at PeoplePath – a company providing talent relationship management software.

How did the idea of PeoplePath come to life? What would you consider your greatest achievements throughout the years?

IntraWorlds (Germany) and Conenza (USA) were the former companies behind PeoplePath and may still be familiar to some. The roots of IntraWorlds (est. 2002) go back to a student initiative from the German university WHU, providing the first cloud-based community and alumni management software of its kind. Seattle-based Conenza was founded in 2006 by a former Microsoft executive who created and managed the Microsoft Alumni Network.

Both companies joined forces in 2020 and became the leading global provider of corporate alumni management software under the new brand PeoplePath. We have the honor of serving some of the most prestigious brands in the world. Even technology giants such as SAP and IBM are using our software to manage their alumni networks, alongside a variety of global corporations across industries that operate around the world.

Can you introduce us to what you do? What are the main problems you help solve?

We are a B2B SaaS company building highly customized software networks for organizations to help them capture and cultivate long-term connections with talent. We strongly believe that lifelong relationships are the foundation for mutual success. Talent Relationship Management best describes our software’s overarching category, with its sweetest spot being corporate alumni management.

Our clients’ positive ROIs result from lower recruitment costs through more “boomerang hires” and better candidate referrals. At the same time, they typically experience a positive impact from brand ambassadorship, translating into greater value for their product and employer branding. Also, our customers profit from larger knowledge networks, enriching their internal perspectives with external advice. Last but not least, they often report higher sales from new business development opportunities arising from their alumni relations. Most of this can be tracked and reported through the analytics area of our software.

Some of the above are more important to one industry than another. For example, a professional services organization may have a stronger focus on strategic partnerships and business development opportunities compared to a manufacturing company looking to support employer branding and recruitment.

What would you consider the main practices companies should follow to strengthen their relationships with former employees?

Managing great relationships with former employees takes strategic planning, some creativity, authenticity, and an understanding of how to get the members of such a living community to interact. We just published a blog post summarizing six of the most important tips to successfully engage a corporate alumni network:

  1. Start the conversation early in the employee lifecycle
  2. Bring brilliant storytelling into the content strategy
  3. Provide opportunities for learning and development
  4. Include alumni in corporate social responsibility efforts
  5. Encourage employees and executives to take part
  6. Incorporate feedback and measure your activities

What may sound simple can, in fact, be challenging. We had the honor to learn a lot from best practice examples over the years. My colleague Jenn Pedde is a highly experienced online community expert and an adjunct professor at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications. She regularly publishes thoughts from her work with clients and extensive research on corporate alumni programs. Just recently, she highlighted three common barriers to a successful online community: lack of a single, clear, and meaningful objective; lack of colleague motivation and support; and lack of awareness. I recommend reading her article with tips on how to overcome them.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?

People around the globe want to feel a sense of belonging, especially in times of uncertainty. This often manifests in a desire to form communities of like-minded people who can match interests, skills, locations, and more through specialized software.

We’ve witnessed the launch of many new corporate alumni networks as well as other talent relationship management programs over the past few years. I am sure that the increasing demand can largely be explained by the changed circumstances resulting from the recent pandemic, which have made remote work and virtual meetings the new normal. For more context, see our co-CEO Tony Audino’s article on how corporate alumni programs can be an antidote to the “great resignation” we’ve been experiencing since 2021.

As for us, we already had the ability to work fully remotely before. Thus, it wasn’t a challenge for us to switch to a WFH model when COVID hit two years ago. We were able to handle the even higher workload without interruption. I keep reminding myself that this would have been unthinkable not so long ago…

Regarding the most recent global event, the war in Ukraine, it is still too early to draw conclusions about the impact on our field of work. We condemn these indescribable atrocities and stand with the people of Ukraine, even if this would mean refraining from doing business with certain organizations in the future. Standing up for your values is priceless!

What are the most common issues organizations run into when managing a team based all over the world?

Communication, first and foremost, is where things start to break down. With teams spread over countries and continents, you must over-communicate, making sure everyone’s on the same page and what the expectations are for deadlines and projects.

You have to set up time not only for meetings but for virtual socializing as well, e.g., for a monthly virtual lunch meeting or weekly virtual coffee breaks for teams and individuals. Here are some tips for more inspiration.

How can companies foster creativity and innovation when the majority of employees are working remotely?

Fostering creativity and innovation is a difficult challenge whether you're collaborating in-person or remote. Leaders must be intentional about it because they have to set up opportunities for their team members to put aside their daily tasks and allow them to think outside the box.

If you can't gather your team for an offsite from time to time, quarterly virtual events that center around art, music, lectures, etc. are a great alternative to take a break from the daily grind and get inspired. Organizing team events such as cooking classes or other projects not only spark creativity but is a great virtual team builder as well. Having a well-established learning and development team will also help.

In your opinion, what cybersecurity measures are essential for global teams?

For us, as a global software provider working with sensitive data from various organizations around the world, information security and in particular, cybersecurity, are at the very core of our business. Therefore, we established a certified Information Security Management System (ISMS) and follow its strict rules across all departments and teams.

One central aspect is raising awareness among employees. Starting with proper password hygiene and extending to behavior in the event of email scamming or other fraudulent activities. Our Information Security Officer put it nicely: "People can be your biggest security risk or your strongest security defense."

At the same time, I think it's just human to not always and permanently have all security measures in sight. That's why I appreciate our company’s approach of following a predefined schedule with regular information security training for all employees, not just new hires. This ensures that our global teams always follow the full range of security measures at every step of their daily business and beyond. This is how we carefully protect every access to company assets and monitor all sessions where employees and customers work with sensitive data.

In my opinion, operating in our industry simply makes it imperative to follow such strict information and cybersecurity practices. An established and independently certified ISMS helps us not only protect the data under our management and our intellectual property but also helps to build trust when talking to prospects and customers.

What do you think the average workplace is going to look like in the next few years?

I find it challenging to talk about an "average" workplace. However, I would like to highlight the following trends in society, economy, and technology affecting modern workplaces:

Employee HealthEmployee satisfaction and engagement metrics are no longer enough. Gartner research already shows increasing well-being budgets. Ensuring mental and physical health is of utmost importance in a remote and hybrid world. Knowledge workers are moving less than ever and sitting has really become the new smoking.

DE&I According to a 2021 HBR article, the frequency with which CEOs talked about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion topics on S&P500 earnings calls was up by more than 650% since 2018. This reflects the growing importance of related discussions in society. Managing DE&I issues can be challenging in a hybrid world where intervening isn’t always easy.

Management Automation Researchers agree that many of the current management tasks have the potential to be automated by 2025. This will either reduce the number of roles or adjust the expectations of what a manager should do, e.g., building human-centered relationships with their teams.

Inflation Competing in a harsh competition for white-collar talent, some companies will cut back on weekly hours rather than increase pay. A viable strategy to respond to rising consumer prices, especially if funds are tight. Higher inflation rates make it difficult to justify the average salary increases of recent years.

Turnover We expect persistently higher attrition rates for the years to come, turning the “great resignation” we have been experiencing since 2021 into a sustained phenomenon. This includes “boomerang hires” for sure, i.e., people returning to their former employer. Just another reason to stay in touch with your good leavers by building a formal alumni network.

Would you like to share what’s next for PeoplePath?

We will build on the current momentum with more and more organizations looking to strengthen their corporate alumni programs. As the global leader in corporate alumni management software, our recent successes invigorate our pursuit of advocating the mutual benefits of a formal alumni network.

Especially here in Europe, the topic has not reached many industries to date. We have the honor to work with impressive trailblazers, but it’s not yet the norm – except among larger professional services firms, which have been leading the way in corporate alumni management for decades. Sometimes, it’s simply a question of leadership culture and personal sensitivities in top management: I know examples of managers explaining that they just don’t want to stay in touch with people who had left their company, as if they were personally offended.

However, I am convinced such attitudes can no longer prevail given the increased flexibility of the workforce and scarcity of qualified talent in various industries. Therefore, I expect to see an even greater demand for state-of-the-art corporate alumni management software in the coming years.

Our product roadmap is packed with projects. And our development team in Pilsen, Czech Republic, is made up of some of the brightest minds I know. Every day, they develop new features and enhance existing ones to delight even more customers in the future. The best is yet to come!

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