What Corporate Alumni Relations can learn from childhood memories

Guest post by Nicole Fouchier, Emojiee

When our children grow older, they eventually leave home to live their own lives, explore new possibilities and chase their dreams. Hopefully they visit us in the future, share their stories, involve us in their lives. And with some luck, they’ll still visit us when we grow older, maybe even look after us when we can’t do things by yourselves anymore. Their willingness to happily do so, depends largely on how they experienced their childhood. How close are you? How strong is your bond? Did they move out with happy memories? Each day of our life, we make deposits in the memory banks of our children. Do we provide them with tickets to heaven, or just with tickets to ride?

Childhood memories

When asked about our best childhood experiences, what’s the first thing we bring up? Emotions. Sentiments. We don’t remember days, we remember moments.
People tell you about the times their parents cheered for them at their tennis game. Or when they finally got a hold of the famous secret family recipe for the best Xmas dessert ever. Their faces light up describing their dad getting woozy at a birthday party, revealing great stories no one ever heard before. Or when playing endless parlor games and having fun during holidays.

Surprisingly enough, no one ever mentions moments like, - my best childhood memory is my mum taking me to the department store to buy me clothes, my parents serving me a healthy dinner every night, or my dad taking me to the dentist every half a year. Why not? Because these are ‘tickets to ride’.

Tickets to ride

Although we remember moments, we don’t remember tickets to ride. Tickets to ride are the things you expect to be taken care of, because they come with the territory. You don’t even notice them, unless they’re suddenly not there anymore. Then, they instantly turn into frustration, into dissatisfactions. Just think about when you stay in a hotel. These days, you expect a proper WIFI connection. When it’s there, you just take it for granted. You don’t walk up to the receptionist expressing your deepest gratitude and leaving a huge tip for it. But what happens when there is no WIFI? We get frustrated and all hell breaks loose. You can’t access your email, the latest news, social media; you’re disconnected from the outside world. We all have been there, haven’t we? You probably still recall all the hotels with poor WIFI, but not the ones with exceptionally high speed in your room. We tend to only remember the ‘tickets to heaven’.

Tickets to heaven

Tickets to heaven, on the contrary, make us happy. They stand out. Those moments when the world moves so slowly you can feel your bones shifting, your mind tumbling. When you think that no matter what happens to you for the rest of your life, you will remember every last detail of that experience forever.
Tickets to heaven make us feel valued and taken care of, when given sincerely. They ignite special memories. That’s when real, genuine bonding starts, and engagement begins to take shape. Tickets to heaven create goodwill, make you want to go the extra mile when needed.

How about your employees?

Now take a closer look at your employees, your future alumni. Do you properly engage them during the time they work in your company? Do you provide them with tickets to heaven? Do you create a bond? Do you spend ‘quality time’ with them? (And I don’t mean conducting performance reviews by that). Do you create special memories to last a lifetime? What are your positive deposits in the memory banks of your employees? Or is your focus mostly on deposits in their bank accounts, and other company perks, in other words, on the tickets to ride?

When your ex-employees become alumni. What happens next?

If you’ve provided them with memorable, tickets to heaven when they still worked for you, you’ve created a great foundation in setting up a successful alumni relations program. Congratulations!
If not, you’re facing some tough rides and challenges. In most cases, this is what happens next…
As your former employees become alumni, they are handed over to the alumni office. In most companies, it usually means a one person-shop, a part time marketing or HR officer doing alumni relations alongside, understaffed, with little resources. Alumni officers now face a huge challenge to start engaging those former employees properly and genuinely for the first time. These alumni officers can’t to talk to their former colleagues, or have coffee with them on a daily basis any more. They have to find ways to stay in touch with their alumni, trying to provide them with tickets to heaven and memorable moments, when they’ve already left. Alumni officers now have to make up for the lack of proper employee engagement. From my own experience this is hard work. And I’m not even talking about dealing with the executive board yet, who wants the program to be successful preferably yesterday and without providing the appropriate resources. Almost a mission impossible.
Imagine you have to start investing in quality time with your children, create special memories, forming a bond with them for the first time, once they have left home? Because you missed out on the opportunity to do so beforehand. And now they are living their own lives away from you, busy with their careers and their own children. That requires hard work, takes more effort to make it work, if ever. Maybe you even have to deal with a lot of resentment, because you were never there for them before.

So what can alumni relations learn from childhood memories?

When it comes to family life, we all know that spending quality time is the most important part in building stronger relationships. As the old saying goes: ‘families that play together, stay together.’ Building forts, sharing stories, and just being together when still living under the same roof makes a huge difference for everyone. Family time builds trust, and creates wonderful memories that last a lifetime.

There is no wiser investment than investing in employee engagement, when they are still under your roof. Create tickets to heaven alongside tickets to ride. It doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money or effort. For example, start with unique traditions. These can be powerful tickets to heaven. Tickets to heaven only need careful consideration, planning and well defined execution.

What do your tickets to heaven look like for your company?

In case you want to know why you should invest in a strong alumni network, please read my blog on “Why your ex-employees are your Star Champions”.