Adapting exit interviews for better workplace insights
When an international financial services company lost 9 of their 17 employees within a year, they knew there was something wrong. Four employees had resigned, and by examining the exit interviews (EIs), a pattern emerged. The new manager, hired the year before, lacked the leadership skills require. They did not inspire followership, show support, or paint a clear vision for the future.
The realisation from these interview responses showed there was a deeper problem with the business. Rather than hiring all-rounder managers, the system focused on technical skill. They changed their promotion process to reflect this issue.
According to research, if a company has a higher turnover rate than competitors, it is a predictor of lower performance. Therefore, it is vitally important to find out why a person wants to leave an organisation. In this search for information, exit interviews are vastly undervalued.
Why we need exit interviews
While the data may always be collected, often it remains simply as data. If it is analysed, it may not be sent to the people who need to see it. There needs to be a process of collection, analysis, sharing, and finally, acting on the information. As seen above, acting on an issue can change the whole structure of an organisation. But it can also make large positive change.
Skilled employees are more valuable than ever. There is an abundance of research that shows happy and engaged employees are more likely to stay. They are also better workers, and contribute to increased productivity and revenue. It is therefore incredibly important to strive to keep these valuable workers.
An exit interview, however it is conducted, can give you a competitive edge in how to keep your employees. The last thing you want is a good employee working for your competitor. What’s more, listening to what an employee has to say can show they are valued. While they may be leaving, they can remain as assets or corporate ambassadors to your cause. A well-organised exit interview can reap long term benefits to your company.
Exit interviews at present
Exit interview programs often fail to provide actionable information or increase the chances of employees staying. This is the fault of poor quality data, and a lack of clarity on the best methods to perform an interview. Poor quality data can be the result of a lack of honesty. Saying outright that you don’t like the workplace can affect future prospects. Additionally companies often pay lip service to the idea of an exit interview program so they can be seen to be acting.
Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg of the Harvard Business Review surveyed 188 executives and 32 senior leaders. They discussed the exit process, as many were directly involved. There are a variety of ways to perform exit interviews, however, it is more about the effectiveness of the change that comes after.
Less than a third of those surveyed could name a specific action or change undertaken as a result of an EI. Spain and Groyseberg attempted to figure out why two-thirds of programs have little in the way of meaningful development after the interview. So they asked a portion of the executives where the data ended up following the interview.
Less than a third used this data after consolidation with “senior decision makers”; i.e., those who could make a change.
When making a successful EI program, Spain and Groyseberg identify six major goals:
Look at the issues in HR
Aside from salary or potential bonuses or benefits; there are a number of HR issues that could contribute to the decision to leave.
Try to relate to the employee
Look at how the employee perceives their workplace, from colleagues, to culture, to layout. This can inform future decisions.
Establish an understanding of managerial success
Identify which managers are succeeding, and which may have some leadership flaws. From exit interviews look into leadership styles to help train and cultivate in future.
Gain insight into competitors
This is a good opportunity to see where you stand against other organisations. How much are they paid, what are the benefits etc.
Provide the opportunity to bring up new ideas
Even though the employee is leaving, this is the perfect opportunity for fresh insight. A great sentence to have the employee finish is “I don’t know why we don’t just….”.
Network to keep them as an asset
Don’t treat employees leaving as if they are now and forever out of the loop. Treat them like a future ambassador to the company, where they could possibly send new businesses or employees your way.
There is no set way to provide a successful exit interview, but a number of skills and techniques could make a difference.
Both second- or third-line manager interviewers are more likely to result in action by the company. Additionally, a consultant has advantages in that there is no bias, so the data could be more usable. Choose your interviewer wisely.
In many companies exit interviews are not mandatory for everyone. In making decisions on who you will interview, go for successful employees. If they are driven, have a lot of potential, or are workplace darlings, find out why it is that they are going, and ensure they feel welcome to continue to promote your brand.
The best time to conduct an exit interview is possibly halfway between the intention to leave and when the employee actually walks out the last time. This way you catch them while they are still connected to the company but have had some time to separate from the problem. This also works for waiting until they have left entirely, as they are more relaxed and honest.
Some experts think multiple interviews could provide more actionable data. 59% of former employees gave different answers in their EIs to their answers on a survey months later. A few interviews, such as one before and one after the employee has left can provide more decisive insight.
According to research telephone interviews are more successful in engendering honesty, while in-person may be better to prove to the employee they are valued. Web surveys and phone calls can tide you over, but if you wish to have the person become an ambassador, face-to-face is best.
Unstructured questioning can be interesting in that it leads in the same direction as conversation. But it is hard to standardise. A combination of this and standardised questions will produce some of the best results.
Interviews flow better when it isn’t an assertion of dominance. Allow the employee to talk about their feelings, and provide the atmosphere where they feel comfortable enough to do so. Ask delving questions that aren’t personal, and don’t make excuses. Questions like how other employees might feel about the work can give rise to interesting answers.
Should you share the data from the interview with current employee? Some argue that you are not required to do so. However it can help ease the process of future exit interviews, as employees can tailor the interview to themselves
Continue the conversation
This should not be the end of the line. This should not be the first conversation you have with an employee about their feelings about the company. There should be a number of moments before this point about what might incite an employee to leave. Additionally, what would help an employee to feel comfortable enough to stay. Retention conversations should not start with final notice. They should be a process where exit interviews are the last resort.
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