Closing the door after the horse has bolted - Exit Interviews
An exit interview is a meeting with an employee just before they leave to find out the reasons for the person leaving. This benefits the company because it can find out useful information to improve the way it works. A well structured exit interview process will give the company useful information to help improve things like the working environment, company culture, business processes and systems and management. You may also learn about relationships with staff, customers, suppliers and third-parties. An employee that is leaving will probably be more likely to open up and if it’s done right they will usually be constructive in their feedback.
Employees that are leaving will often appreciate a chance to give constructive feedback and nearly always want to leave on a positive note with mutual respect.
For some reason exit interviews don’t seem to be common in small businesses which seems strange given all of the above benefits. Some managers think they are too ‘fluffy’ whereas others are angry at employees leaving – after all, one employee leaving a small business can make a big difference. In my view they are worth the effort and can be made really simple.
To get over any embarrassment or anger you need a tight process that managers follow. Exit interviews should become a matter of procedure and follow an agreed structure. Resist any temptation to go in all guns blazing - be calm, objective and open. It’s a small worlds so you never know when your paths will cross again and under what circumstances.
The goal is simple – find out some useful things, shake hands and part friends but of course it all depends on the nature of the departure – if an employee is sacked you need to treat if differently to an employee that is moving on.
Some of the benefits go far beyond the departing employee:
• It’s an opportunity to 'make peace' with a disgruntled employees
• Seen by all employees as a sign of positive culture.
• Teaches managers to take feedback.
• Are a sign of wanting to take HR seriously.
• Helps make future training more relevant.
• Provide ideas to improve recruitment and induction of new employees.
• Real information on how to improve staff retention.
• May offer the chance to keep an employee on board.
• And many more …
How to do one
1. They should always be face-to-face and never just a form to fill in. Participation has to be voluntary so offer private, neutral place for the meeting and keep it reasonably informal. Managers should be open and neutral to create an atmosphere that helps the employee open up. It’s all about listening rather than talking and resist the temptation to be defensive. Use all the usual questioning techniques – ask open questions (what/how/why) not 'closed' (yes/no) questions. Develop comments using 'when' and 'where'. Avoid 'who' as it smacks of a witch hunt and may lead to grudges being settled.
2. Use a form to remind you of the key things you want to know and if you’re new to exit interviews have a list of exit interview questions as a prompt. Above all, don’t just turn up unprepared – it will show through. Take good notes throughout and it’s ok to ask for clarification if you don’t understand what the employee is telling you. Lastly, remember to say thanks and try to genuinely wish the interviewee well.
3. When it’s all done and dusted take a proper look at your notes to see what there is to learn. Then take any action you think is necessary. Keep your notes and the form with your employee records so that you can refer back to them and keep learning.