Today, my friend (I consider anyone I can have a decent, useful conversation with on Twitter a friend) Kelly Kraft (@KRCraft) posted a blog asking the question “How much and what kind of a relationship do you have with former employees?” Her experience is much different than mine, though I think her conclusions make perfect sense for any organization contemplating doing as her former org did. The question is not – in my mind and, I think, in Kelly’s – whether or not to have ongoing relationships. Rather, it is what kind of relationships, and how extensive (or intimate), will they be?
KM Through Social Media
Over eight years ago, in response to a perceived need for understanding (and locating) the depth and breadth of expertise at Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power (then a division of Boeing’s Space & Communications business unit – whew!), I did some research and found a company that provided a tool that was a predecessor of many of the social media offerings of today. In my opinion they were way ahead of their time. The tool was called AskMe Enterprise and it offered profiles, Q&A threads (including forwarding, commenting by others, feedback as to quality and efficacy), file and link uploading and sharing, etc. We later had a customization added that provided for posting Lessons Learned and, about four years ago, they added a blogging capability.
Unfortunately, the larger percentage of our workforce (especially leadership and management) adamantly refused to participate. This wasn’t unexpected, however disappointing it may have been, and we continued to use the tool and work on building acceptance by example and through its ever-growing usefulness. Many years ago, I suggested we consider finding a way to stay connected with the constant flood of experienced Engineers, and others, who were retiring or moving on to other pastures. Inasmuch as we had a history of bringing some of those people back as contractors, I thought we might be able to find an inexpensive method of remaining in contact with the majority who didn’t return.
The proposal I thought made the most sense was to provide retirees with a secure connection to our network and, as compensation for being available for questioning within AskMe, perhaps covering the cost of their Internet connection. I don’t believe anyone took this idea seriously and it essentially died on the vine.
Intellectual Property & Communication
Now here comes Kelly, pointing out how valuable her former organization, Exact Software, has found maintaining continuous relationships with former employees can be. She also addresses the issue of what kinds of relationships make sense for different types of employees. Specifically, she notes the difference between outward-facing, highly engaged employees as opposed to somewhat sequestered, internally focused employees like many of the Engineers I worked with. She is, however, right on the mark suggesting each of them can be successfully engaged.
For instance, she points to her own experience as an Implementation Consultant for Exact and the work she did in the years since, noting there probably isn’t a great deal the enterprise needs to do to engage her. She is also, I believe, referring in part to her use of Twitter to stay in touch. My Engineer friends are not terribly likely to engage using Twitter (or blogging, or anything else that public for that matter). There are considerations of IP protection they can’t afford to ignore, as well as governmental restrictions like ITAR that, contravened, will surely bite them in the ol’ behind. This can be, and has been, quite expensive and can be done somewhat inadvertently.
Nevertheless, as Kelly points out, there are numerous ways in which an enterprise can stay in touch, and engaged, with its former employees. In Rocketdyne’s case – especially – with those employees who have retired and are not working for another company. She is also pointing out, in my opinion, that CRM (or SCRM) isn’t just for sales and marketing to dun customers with either. Social Media have many applications. Many of them are useful for engaging with an enterprise’s customers, but many are also valuable for engaging one’s own employees (current and former). The lunches and parties sound pretty cool, too.
PS – The article she credits me with was a few paragraphs of my opinion of what Hutch Carpenter (VP of Product at Spigit – @bhc3) had to say at his blog, “I’m Not Actually a Geek” (which he really is, but you didn’t hear that from me).