The value of exit interviews is a long-standing debate in the HR world, with people landing on both sides of the aisle. Some argue if an organization is broken, exit interviews are useless and hurt the interviewee's reputation. Others say they are an excellent opportunity for an organization to learn from its mistakes.
The reality? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Every time a valuable employee leaves an organization, it suffers. Not only because of the cost it takes to hire and train a replacement, but also:
- For the loss of institutional knowledge
- For the time it takes for teammates to adjust
- For the potential dip in productivity and team morale
- For the loss of value to customers
So, it makes sense that the smartest move for an organization is to try everything to mitigate loss.
Exit interviews, team check-ins, increased training, and team development are tangible ways to counteract the loss of a valued employee. However, if your organization suffers from a toxic company culture and mindset, or functions under a fear-based leadership style that discourages open and honest conversations about what's not working, you've got a much bigger problem on your hands.
In this kind of culture, exit interviews will likely be ignored and forgotten. Organizations failing to manage these issues will likely experience (at least) one mass exodus of employees. For that reason, it's worth doing what you can to conduct honest exit interviews.
For example, suppose employee retention is low. In that case, it's likely at some point, leadership will take a keen interest in figuring out the cause, at which time those exit interviews will come in handy. No matter the case, exit interviews can be instrumental if handled correctly. If you're interested in doing what you can to improve your organization, inform your leadership, and mitigate loss, then exit interviews are a great place to start.
Follow these steps to make the most out of them.
It's essential to get your interview in before too much time has passed. Everything will still be fresh in the interviewee's mind, making it easier for them to recall information and offer suggestions. However, be sure to account for heightened emotions as this can be a rather tumultuous time for a departing employee. It may be worth it to schedule another interview a few months down the road when the dust has settled to allow for hindsight and clear thinking.
Before you start your interview, work out what it is you're trying to gain.
Do you want:
- To uncover processes that need a review?
- An honest assessment of managers, leadership, or team dynamics?
- To get a picture of the job they're leaving for?
- To find out why their new job is more attractive than their current role?
Knowing the goals and what you want to gain will help you frame intentional questions and prepare for the answers.
A common misstep is to forget the interviews as soon as they're done. But there isn't any point in conducting them unless you're ready to follow up, analyze the data, and use what you learned.
Once you've gotten what you can out of an interview, set up action steps for integrating what you've learned. If your goal was to see how your company compared to its competitors in talent attraction, your response would look different than if you wanted to uncover issues with leadership styles. Make sure you lay out your goals and how you'll reach them both before and after an interview; otherwise, all it will do is gather dust and become irrelevant.
Start before it ends
Internal reviews are a critical part of growth and development. While exit interviews are an excellent way to mitigate loss, they aren't a one-size-fits-all solution to uncovering issues within an organization. If you're really interested in improving the employee experience, work out leadership problems, evaluate company culture, and generally drive your organization in a good direction, don't wait until an employee leaves to get their opinion.
Start early and start strong. Set internal reviews throughout the year, with individuals as well as entire teams. Normalize feedback and open, honest communication. Train leaders and managers to respond to and positively integrate constructive feedback. And above all, work to foster a trusting environment where employees feel free to share their experience without fear of retribution.
All of this may be uncomfortable, but the positive impact on your organization makes it well worth the effort.
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