Continual organizational improvement is the underlying goal of performance management. To achieve that, managers must harness every possible source of data. While coaching and one-on-ones are invaluable tools to help foster improvement, exit interviews can also be incredibly rich sources of information. Using them correctly can help identify what a company is doing right, what it is doing wrong, and what can be done to change things.
The Benefits of Exit Interviews
Most organizations conduct exit interviews with terminating employees (whether self-terminating or forced termination). However, many times, these interviews are cursory nods to corporate requirements rather than being conducted with the realization of their underlying importance and vast utility. They deliver a broad range of benefits, as well, including:
- Access to frank feedback unavailable in any other format
- Identifying solvable problems that might have enabled you to retain a valuable employee
- Identifying roadblocks that create disengagement
- Identifying communication breakdowns that could have been avoided
- Surfacing drivers of employee dissatisfaction
Conducting Exit Interviews: A How-To Guide
While exit interviews can be invaluable sources of critical information, they can be challenging to conduct. The information below will help to streamline and simplify the process.
First, understand that exit interviews should be conducted in a wide range of formats. Some exiting employees may be more than happy to have a face-to-face discussion, while others might not be so enthused. So, in addition to sit-down interviews, you should also offer other formats, such as paper and digital surveys, video meetings, and more. If you do have an in-person meeting, consider having an HR employee conduct it rather than the exiting employee’s manager. This can enable more accurate, frank feedback and avoid situations caused by manager/employee disagreements or friction.
Most exiting employees are happy to provide frank, honest feedback. In fact, exit interviews are usually the source of the most truthful information about what your company is doing right and wrong because exiting employees are not concerned about stepping on toes, about potential reprisals, making others “look bad”, or other concerns that actively engaged employees are. However, that is not always the case. Some employees may still fear that a manager will somehow “get them back” for negative information shared in an exit interview. To get around this hurdle, make sure that all feedback is anonymized and do not share direct feedback from an employee with the manager in question for confidentiality reasons.
Lead Off with the Right Questions
Exit interviews are all about surfacing information, and that requires asking questions. The right questions will deliver a treasure trove of data that can enable critical improvements within your business. The wrong questions may shed no light on problems at all. To help point you in the right direction, we’ve included important sample questions below:
- What made you start thinking about leaving the organization?
This question is perhaps the most important to answer. Was it career alignment? Something tied to their interests or goals? Was it because of something else within their personal life? Or was it something closer to home – dissatisfaction with the company’s direction? Strife with their direct manager?
- Have you shared your concerns with anyone in the organization?
This question is important to help identify breakdowns within your organization’s systems. If the employee did share their concerns with someone, what happened? Were they addressed, but not to the employee’s satisfaction? Did something go wrong during the process? If so, what was it?
- What did you value about the organization?
The answer to this question will help shed light on things that your organization is doing well, at least in the employee’s opinion, which is very valuable. This information may contrast dramatically with the opinions of managers and leaders and can give you a view of the organization’s strengths from a boost-on-the-ground perspective, so to speak.
- What did you not value/dislike about the organization?
Even if the employee did not have a particular experience that encouraged them to look elsewhere for employment, the answer to this question sheds light on things that are going wrong or that need to be improved. It could be anything from workflows to the way that management handles coaching and anything in between. Take this information seriously and investigate any feedback – changing what’s going wrong can help retain other employees and build a stronger business.
- What are your views on management and leadership within the organization?
This question can provide insight into how employees view manager and leader performance. It can help you pinpoint breakdowns between leadership and your teams, as well as areas where leadership and management could benefit from additional training. Of course, it can also tell you which managers and leaders are doing a good job and what that looks like.
- Did you understand your job role and how it supported the organization in achieving its goals?
One disconnect for employees is not clearly understanding what is expected of them in a job role, and/or how their efforts tie into helping the organization achieve its goals. The information here will help you determine if job descriptions need to be expanded or rewritten if management needs to better communicate the importance of individual roles within the organization, and much more.
- If you could change one thing about the organization or your experience working here, what would it be?
Here, you’re asking the employee for their views on what would make the organization better, or what would have helped make their experience better. The information can help transform your business into an employer of note and create a workplace where all employees feel valued, seen, and respected.
Put It into Action
Finally, understand that without action, exit interviews are useless. You must be willing and able to take the information exiting employees provide and act on it. This could include things like addressing problems with managers and leaders, working to create a better corporate culture, better defining job roles, and more. However, all of these efforts will help you create a stronger, more resilient business.