As much as we’d like them to stay, it’s irrational to think that good people won’t leave the company. The timing of internal opportunities may be out of alignment with their readiness. They may have family commitments. They may just need a change.
The trick is to pretend that they never left, and treat this change as simply a small step on their career journey. Good people will respect and value this approach, choose to stay because you are placing their interests at heart and highly likely return even if they have to leave now.
Build touchstones into their life connecting them to your company and reminding them to come home again soon. Stay in contact with your alumni through Christmas letters and gifts, encouraging them to keep their contact details up to date. Create an equivalent of the Australian Baggy Green cricket cap, a proudly displayed and hard won symbol of their time with the company.
Contact alumni at set intervals to inquire about their career and plans for the future. Offer development planning opportunities, even if they don’t involve a return to your business yet. Show an interest and a passion in their future growth and be honest about true opportunities you may have (or not) for them.
Use your alumni network for job referrals, paying a similar bonus as that paid to internal employees for finding new hires. This keeps the connection, provides an incentive and reminds alumni in a low pressure way that you have ongoing opportunities that may interest them. It also ensures referrals are coming from people who know your business well.
Alumni are like friends living overseas. They are hard to stay in touch with, but one day they’ll move back and we want to pick up right where we left off.
If you love something, set it free.