TAPPING HIDDEN VALUE IN EXIT INTERVIEWS
Many employers ignore the opportunity that exit interviews offer, given the potentially subjective and 'fuzzy' nature of the results; the time involved; and the unspoken corporate urge to avoid exposure to criticism.
The primary aim of the exit interview is to learn reasons for the person's departure, on the basis that any honest feedback (sweet or sour) is a helpful driver for organizational improvement. Exit interviews are also an opportunity for the organization to enable transfer of knowledge and experience from the departing employee to a successor or replacement, or even to brief a team on current projects, issues and contacts. In leaving an organisation, departing employees are liberated, and as such provide a richer source of objective feedback than employed staff do when responding to normal staff attitude surveys. Exit interviews provide direct indications as to how to improve staff retention…hence it is a important tool in the talent management game.
Exit interviews are seen by existing employees as a sign of positive culture. They are regarded as caring and compassionate - a sign that the organisation is big enough to expose itself to criticism. From the departing employee interviewee perspective, an exit interview is a chance to to leave on a positive note… shake hands and leave friends, not enemies. In certain situations (where appropriate) the exit interview also provides a last chance to change a person's mind, although this should not be the main aim of the exit interview situation.
Exit interviews are best conducted face-to-face because this enables better communication, understanding, interpretation etc., and it provides far better opportunity to probe and get to the root of sensitive or reluctant feelings. However, postal or electronic questionnaires are better than nothing, if face-to-face exit interviews are not possible for whatever reason In some cases perhaps a particularly shy employee may prefer to give their feedback in a questionnaire form, in which case this is fine, but where possible, face-to-face is best. Ideally the organization should have a documented policy stating how exit interviews happen, when, and by whom.
TECHNIQUES OF A GOOD EXIT INTERVIEW
Obviously the style of exit interview is different for different cases…. for someone who is being asked to leave, retiring, being made redundant, dismissed, or leaving under a cloud… as compared to an employee leaving whom the organization would prefer to retain. However everyone who leaves should be given the opportunity of an exit interview, because the organization can learn something from every situation.
· IN TERMS OF MANAGING THE INTERVIEW, LISTEN RATHER THAN TALK. Give the interviewee time and space to answer. Coax and reassure where appropriate, rather than pressurize. Interpret, reflect and understand (you can understand someone without necessarily agreeing). Keep calm, resist the urge to defend or argue - your aim is to elicit views, feedback, answers, not to lecture or admonish.
· ASK OPEN 'WHAT/HOW/WHY' QUESTIONS, NOT 'CLOSED' YES/NO QUESTIONS, unless you require specific confirmation about a point. 'When' and 'where' are also more specific qualifying questions, unless of course they are used in a general context rather than specific time or geographic sense. In face-to-face interviews particularly, use the word 'why' if you want to probe, especially if the first answer is vague or superficial. Questions beginning with 'what' and 'how' are better for getting people to think and convey to you properly and honestly about their views.
· 'WHO' AS A QUESTION- should be used with care to avoid witch-hunts or defamatory risks (moreover many exit interviewees will be uncomfortable if asked to name people or allocate personal blame - exit interviews are not about 'blame', the allocation of which is not constructive and should be avoided for anything other than very serious complaints or accusations, which must then be suitably referred as follow-up would be beyond the normal exit interview remit.
· KEEP THE MOOD CAUSAL AND CONVERSATIONAL the interview questions should be in the order of a “court martial” interrogation. If the interviewee becomes emotional about his boss or team-mates or this work situation LISTEN without being defensive or debating…give him/her time to complete.
· PREPARE YOUR EXIT INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND TOPICS that you'd like to explore (the 20 questions given below are illustrative and not exhaustive… compile you own list with the best possible wording…) especially when you believe that the interviewee has good experience, appreciation and understanding. Take notes and/or use a prepared questionnaire form.
· Remember simple planning aspects such as arranging a suitable time and place, avoiding interruptions, taking notes, preparing questions, When the interview is complete say thanks and wish the interviewee well. If there is some specific checking or follow-up to do then ensure you do it and report back accordingly.
· After the interview look at the answers and think properly - detached and objective - about what their meaning and implications.
· Take action as necessary, depending on your processes for analysing and reporting exit interview feedback. If there's an urgent issue, or the person wants to stay and you want to keep them, then act immediately or the opportunity will be lost.
20 EXIT INTERVIEW
Pick the questions that are most relevant to the leaving circumstances, the interviewee and your organization situation.
- What was your chief reason
- What could have been done
early on to prevent the situation developing/provide a basis for you to
stay with us? How would you have preferred the situation(s) to have been
- What opportunities can you
see might have existed for the situation/problems to have been
averted/dealt with satisfactorily?
- What specific suggestions
would you have for how the organization could manage this situation/these
issues better in future?
- What were the 3 best or
workst situations/incidents for you in tenure?
- What has been
frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you in tenure?
- What could you have done
better or more for us had we given you the opportunity?
- What extra responsibility
would you have welcomed that you were not given?
- How could the organization
have enabled you to make fuller use of your capabilities and potential?
- How would you describe the
culture of the organization? And the behavior and cooperation of your team
- What is the gap ( positive/negative) in
your expectations from the time you joined to today?
- What can you say about the
way goals/targets were set; & your performance was measured, and the
feedback to you of your performance results?
- What can you say about the
way you were managed and motivated ?... On a day to day basis?....... And
on a month to month basis?Would you have done better if you worked for
- What things did the
organization or management do/or overlooked doing; to make your job more pleasurable or productive?
- What can the organization
do to retain its best people (and not lose any more like you) having a
long tenure and developing career
- Have you anything to say
about your treatment from a discrimination or harassment perspective?
- Would you consider working
again for us if the situation were right?
- What, is your new venture
( please do not ask for the name of the new employer) offering in
monetary/non monetary terms; that we are not matching?
- (If appropriate:) Could
you be persuaded to renegotiate/stay/discuss the possibility of
withdrawing your resignation?
For many organizations, exit interviews provide a major untapped source of 'high-yield' development ideas and opportunities. Actions resulting from exit interview feedback analysis, in any size or type of organization, fall into two categories:
· REMEDIAL AND PREVENTIVE, for example improving employee communication; employment terms; health and safety issues, stress, harassment, discrimination., etc.
· STRATEGIC IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES, for example improved induction, management or supervisory training, empowerment or team building initiatives, process improvement, wastage and efficiencies improvements, customer service initiatives, etc.
The head of HR or Personnel would normally be responsible for raising these issues with the board or CEO, and the CONVERSION OF EXIT INTERVIEW FEEDBACK INTO ACTION IS A CRITICAL FACTOR in justifying the time and trouble of this critical business process … I am trying to compile a directory of best practices in Exit Interviewing …if you have some good ideas please share with me.
Best of luck
Dr Wilfred Monteiro