Internal Referrer Management – Employee Communications and Alumni Programmes

Towards the end of June I attended a PM Forum London Committee  event on “Harnessing the power of your people”. As well as addressing a number of internal communications and engagement, cultural and brand ambassador issues there was a focus on the importance of alumni programmes. Both existing and past employees are good sources of recommendations and referrals. So I wanted to focus on this aspect of internal referrer management – employee communication and alumni programmes.

The speakers at this panel (hosted at the offices at Dechert) were:

  • Mike Hanbridge, Head of Employer Brand, Blackbridge Communications (the work of this agency on employee value propositions (EVP) at DAC Beachcroft is described here PM Conference Report 2022: Strategy implementation (
  • James Harkness, Strategic change and internal communications specialist, HarknessKennett (I worked alongside James when he was at WPP’s Banner McBride in the late 1990s!)
  • Raya Blakeley-Glover, Global Head of Business Development – Markets and Business Relationships, Bird & Bird
  • Amanda Afful, Senior BD Executive, Bird & Bird (Moderator)

Employee communications

There was a discussion about the importance of internal communication for stakeholder engagement and buy-in.

James identified the key ingredients of good internal communications as:

  • Clarity on the right purpose consistently
  • Authentic leadership (using their own words, tone of voice less formal since the pandemic)
  • Clarity on the audience
  • Humane communications across the management structure (usually a matrix) with compelling content
  • Right choice of channels
  • Recognition
  • Measurement

He reflected that recent employee audits showed that at present employees are receiving too much information. A high level of internal communications was needed during the pandemic (many firms had reassuring weekly update) but less is needed now. There was a need for short, simple and succinct communications. He mentioned the quote “Use short words to communicate hard things”.

James touched on a number of internal communications topics:

  • Some firms had global listening groups where they could test internal communications
  • The lines between Internal and external communications were increasingly blurred and merged
  • For employees to be brand ambassadors they needed: rapport, skills and experience
  • Trust is like a guard-rail for all communications
  • Empathy mapping can be used to see how people think, feel and behave
  • Bias can creep in. He mentioned a situation where a session about work-life balance focused on time off rather than trust and control
  • Gather evidence about internal communications and the role of key influencers and from review sites such as Glassdoor
  • Many firms operate employee pulse surveys to assess satisfaction, reactions and issues

Case study – Communications boost digital wellbeing at Biscoes

  • Biscoes, a law firm in Hampshire, has 150 employees
  • To ensure high levels of participation with their well being programme, policies and practice they communicate effectively with staff
  • For new recruits there is a welcome pack and introduction process which focuses on how they can make the most of the well-being programme
  • A weekly email is sent to all staff to encourage them to take breaks, and staff send in photos and videos enjoying interesting or unusual tech-free activities. These are shared with their colleagues to act as a further prompt as well as inspiring others to try something new too
  • The entire firm takes part in Tech Timeout Tuesday each year as an annual commitment to boost their digital wellbeing. The management team awards prizes to those who’ve taken the tech-free culture on board and come up with a creative past time.

Case study – Alumni programme at Bird & Bird

Raya described the Bird & Bird alumni programme:

  • Recently celebrated five years of the programme
  • 3,000 people are involved (not just lawyers)
  • Around 10 alumni return to the firm each month (“Boomerang” alumni – some have returned multiple times)
  • Some alumni serve as intermediaries and support referrals
  • Community is the focus rather than (one-way) communication
  • Business Development is the main channel working with HR and the management team in each country. There is a dedicated resource for the Alumni programme
  • Alumni relations are embedded in the strategic priorities
  • Alumni are categorised in the CRM and receive a constant stream of communications
  • There is an online portal for alumni communications and LinkedIn is used in this way as well
  • The firm extends its main training programme to alumni and there is a bespoke soft skills training for alumni
  • Discounts to key associations (e.g. Association of Corporate Counsel) is also provided
  • Profiles about alumni careers are shared
  • Talks are provided every 3-4 weeks
  • There is a refer-a-friend programme
  • There is a robust process for joiners and leavers
  • Alumni may also use the firm’s offices around the world
  • A mentoring programme is available
  • The online programme provides analytics on interaction and event attendance is also monitored

Some firms also manage directories of alumni, provide message boards and use alumni as a basis for segmentation.

Related articles on internal communication

Cultivate a cross-selling culture ( March 2023

Referrer and Intermediary Management – Silos, Targets and Culture ( February 2023

Book review: Influential Internal Communication by Jenni Field ( September 2022

Referrals – The role of internal communications ( December 2021

Animal magic of buy-in and stakeholder engagement (Video) ( September 2020

Change management and Employee engagement ( April 2019

Internal communication – Why, how and what ( February 2018

Ten tips on cross-selling – Boosting internal networks – Kim Tasso March 2016