Part 3 of the three-part series, “Scalable, Authentic, and Manifold.” In this blog, we will discuss best practices for leveraging network variety by managing network diversity.
We closed part two of this blog series on corporate alumni networks with some thoughts about the important role of self-organization to keep a network active even if a generally positive and high degree of network variety might debilitate the activity level within it due to too much complexity – as complexity is a compelling consequence of strong variety.
Although at first glance, it looks like you can’t have variety without accepting complexity, here are a few thoughts about practical network management experiences to reconcile both in favor of your network’s effectiveness.
Within the SAP alumni network, there is a healthy degree of variety, as a few findings about its network demographics illustrate:
- Age: The ages of SAP alumni are quite equally distributed around an average of 46 years: 33% are younger than 40 years, 59% are younger than 51 years, and 19% are older than 60.
- Career stage: 50% consider themselves to be in a mid-career stage; 12% say they are early in their career; 21% are late; 12% are retired, and 5% are in a career break.
- Tenure and hierarchy: With an average tenure of 8.3 years, 43% left SAP as employees with non-supervisory functions; 27% as team leaders or supervisors; and 30% as managers in leading or executive functions.
- Geography: The SAP alumni network is established in around 80 countries across the globe with 56% of the alumni indicating Europe as their home region, 23% the Americas, 15% Asia-Pacific, and 6% Africa and Middle East.
- Alumni since…: 57% of network members left SAP just 1 to 4 years ago, another 11% left 5 or 6 years ago.
- Next career step: Roughly 51% mentioned an SAP partner as their current employer, 25% an SAP customer, and just 7% an SAP competitor.
- Professional focus: By analyzing qualitative survey statements, we derived a broad range of interests – from concrete tactical and project-based topics to more strategic perspectives on innovational IT and industry trends.
In my opinion, it is undeniable that the less homogeneous a network is, the higher its potential to be leveraged in manifold business-related contexts. Thus, the variety of the SAP alumni network is a promising fundamental to support the various business objectives SAP Alumni Relations is committed to.
As stated in a prior post, successful (alumni) network management means to a large extent successful incitement to self-organization. So, what does the mean in this context? The job to be accomplished here is to help transform a network’s amorphous variety towards a kind of shaped diversity, avoiding overwhelming individuals with a network’s complexity, helping them orient themselves to a set of better digestible subsets or “partial networks,” and then enabling them to effectively take action. It is important to put a clear focus on providing the community with local information, developing a community of local alumni ambassadors, and supporting local communities in conducting regionally specific alumni events.
Another more general approach to effectively managing network variety is to catalyze the emergence of network sub-communities, be it around certain geographies, ages (e.g., student alumni groups are a common example), or topics of interest, industries, lines of business, and so forth. The SAP Alumni Portal now offers such functionality, and a couple of communities are evolving. But again: network management is mainly about incitement to self-organization, so an alumni network manager’s job is not to pre-define groups she or he thinks would make the most sense, but to offer the opportunity and then let the network decide which paths to take.
Holistic alumni network management as a professional standard
“They take action, they are authentic, and they are (demographically) everywhere!” might be an appropriate statement to summarize the empirical findings about the SAP alumni network discussed in this blog series. Also, the data tells us a lot about its concrete business potential and how to leverage it by managing size, trust, and diversity.
In addition, the numbers provide us with three key messages on different abstraction levels about successful and holistic alumni relations management:
- The numbers are strong indicators or “proof points” about the great business potential behind alumni relations networks.
- Network management practices that are aware of and conscious about trust-based networks’ very specific conditions and characteristics are able to increase network effectivity even more. In particular, it is important to carefully balance incentives to self-organization vs. traditional organization in terms of mechanistic steering as we know it from our day-to-day work within formal organizations.
- To holistically think about and manage networks, we need to understand network management as dealing with three separate objects:
- The network, as such
- The boundaries of the network being a self-sustaining object
- The network not just as homogeneous entity but also as a set of sub-units
To allow an (alumni) network to fully unleash its potential of being far more than just the sum of its parts, all three levels need to be taken care of. If just one of them is ignored, the potential of the entire network lags behind its possibilities.
Learn more about “Leveraging Corporate Alumni For Strategic Transformation.”