Achieving Alumni Excellence

The Four Critical Alumni Network Roles For An Agile Organization

Taking concepts from Michael Arena's Adaptive Space, we look at the four key alumni network roles that enable alumni program adoption in an organization.

“Lack of Agility is the kiss of death. Position your company to succeed in a world of disruption.” – Michael J. Arena, PH.D., author of Adaptive Space 

In his recent book Adaptive Space, Michael J. Arena outlines how companies are transforming themselves into agile organizations, ripe for disruption. At a time when adapting and responding to the changing business landscape is doubly pertinent, the message of disrupt or be disrupted certainly rings louder.

As a concept, Adaptive Space enables individual employees who fill four key network roles to unleash an organization’s creative potential from within. According to Arena, Brokers, Connectors, Energizers, and Challengers advance the spread of ideas and information internally through their connections and interactions, thereby enabling an organization to positively disrupt itself.

Unpacking this further, Arena proposes four types of critical (4D) connections or interactions between the roles that drive innovation and agility in an organization, namely Discovery, Development, Diffusion, and Disruption.

Why bring this up? Because there’s relevancy in identifying and enabling these same alumni network role players and critical connections when managing an alumni program. With information flow channeled and driven by the right individuals, the program can realize its potential more fully and act as a vital source of agility within an organization.       

On the other hand, lack of agility can be a business downfall. Without the supporting technologies, business strategies, and importantly, the key innovators, it is unable to adapt to the changing environment.

Connecting Alumni and Adaptive Space Strategies For Organizational Innovation and Growth

Adaptive Space recognizes social capital (how well a person is positioned to leverage what they know) as essential to an organization. Also vital is human capital (the talent, experiences, and competencies of the people within the company), although this has been overemphasized at the expense of the former concept.

Drawing a connection to alumni; all too often, organizations silo their program. They treat it as a nice to have instead of an essential, integrated, department of the business. The valuable human capital exists but remains underutilized until a measured strategy facilitates the connection.

Once an effective strategy is in place, the facts speak for themselves: programs have proven value and ROI.

It’s important to pay close attention to the word strategy in this case, as companies can’t expect former employees to come running at the mere suggestion of joining their program. Nor can they expect business objectives to be upheld without any internal steering from key program participants.

Instead, a strategy should outline a relevant alumni program experience that offers clear incentives to engage and motivate interaction. A strategy, which, on the other end, connects internal service departments, allowing maximum leverage of a highly-engaged alumni army.

At this point, alumni become willing to boomerang back to an organization or step in for contract or freelance work. They become brand advocates or even customers themselves, conveniently positioned to leverage what they know in favor of an organization.  

Tapping into this intellectual capacity allows organizations to get a much wider, and better-qualified information flow moving internally, thereby increasing agility and improving the bottom line.

Critical Alumni Network Roles For An Agile Organization

Michael J. Arena proposes that when specific network role players action 4D connections, they fuel agility within an organization. The interactions transport ideas from entrepreneurial pockets into the company operational system, triggering new insights, novel ideas, and learning that results in adaptation.

Alumni managers can apply these concepts to enable better adoption of the alumni program from within the organization. When facilitated by the relevant alumni network roles, acceptance and implementation of a program can be greatly improved.


Brokers interact across many groups in an organization. They can connect silos and initiate the discovery of new insights, as well as provide an entry point for new ideas to circulate. 

In the context of an alumni program, they can introduce departments to the idea of the program as a valid service to support business objectives.


Connectors are positioned to get ideas adopted locally. They are highly trusted by their primary team and have many connections inside of their group.

Once brokers introduce the idea of an alumni program to a department, connectors develop the ideas further within a cohesive team.


Energizers attract people to an idea and can motivate them to take action. They are a source of information and usually get the most out of others.

In removing the siloed effect, alumni program ideas need to scale past a single department and across the broader organization. After all, local adoption limits the potential value add to the company as a whole. This is where energizers have a part to play, as they diffuse initiatives beyond the development phase. 


Challengers encourage the enhancement of ideas through enticing debates. They provoke change from within by bringing up external factors and keep their finger on the pulse of network buzz. 

Understandably, managers or formal leaders can act as roadblocks to a firm’s larger adoption of an alumni program. They have a natural inclination to be cautious when selecting ideas and suggestions for implementation, and those which come to them as more fully developed concepts with favorable network buzz stand a better chance of being passed.

It is challengers who ensure that a program is considered for implementation at the broader organizational level. They overcome any limiting formal structure and enable network closure.

Creating Adaptive Space In An Alumni Program

To remain relevant in the minefield that is business today, organizations need to disrupt or be disrupted, innovate and respond to changes, explore initiatives and scale concepts. They should be drawing on all resources, including their alumni army, to move them boldly forward to enable a new normal.  

But, many organizations are yet to realize the potential of their alumni as a powerful business resource. Shifting this mindset and enabling change at the grassroots level are the four key alumni network roles; the brokers, connectors, energizers, and challengers of the world. In applying Michael J. Arena’s interactions and connections, a business can tap into an even stronger network dynamic to meet the demands of its environment.

To learn more about how EnterpriseAlumni is enabling the world’s organizations to manage and engage their former employees to drive business outcomes, please get in touch.

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