Should “Exit Interviews” be called “Retrospective Reviews” instead?
What do you think of when you hear the words “Exit Interview”? Most people cringe even hearing the words. I must admit, I’ve never known a person to come out of a traditional exit interview high fiving themselves, the process or the company they are leaving.
Whether you are the “exiter” or the exit interview facilitator, this final meeting that takes place before an employee leaves a company, is often performed half-heartedly and in most instances, poorly.
Exit interviews are your “last chance” to find out what the exiting employee really thinks about your company and the people who work within it. It’s an opportunity to have meaningful discussions about the things employees have enjoyed about working with your company. When performed well, you gain feedback on why they are leaving, including why the company no longer works for them professionally.
How the agile methodology can be applied to a traditional Exit Interview model
I believe that we have a lot to learn from the agile methodology, commonly used in a software development context.
Agile methodology has taken the software development world by storm. The methodologies and approach are rooted in adaptive planning, early delivery and continuous improvement, all with an eye on how you can respond to changes, quickly and easily.
As a result, it’s no surprise that 88% of respondents in VersionOne’s 2017 State of Agile Report ranked “ability to adapt to change” as the number one benefit of embracing Agile.
I believe that elements of the agile methodology can be applied to recruitment and talent acquisition processes and procedures.
In the context of managing exiting employees, here is the mindset change – shift the way you conduct exit interviews, work with company stakeholders to improve the exit experience and use data and insights gained from the exit interview to continuously improve as a company.
Retrospective Reviews – the new Exit Interview?
Let’s reinvent the exit interview. Let’s make it more of a retrospective conversation about the journey the departing employee has had with your company. Hear me out.
When employees leave your company you have an exceptional opportunity to gain insights into how the company is viewed by those working within it. The feedback, ideas and reflections you receive from exiting employees should be treated like gold.
Let me be clear though. I know that you can’t just change the name of the exit interview and automatically create a climate of trust and authenticity.
Fundamental changes MUST be made for a true evolution of the Exit Interview process. Only then will the feedback and ideas generated in that meeting, result in significant gains in the employee experience within your company.
Why many people think Exit Interviews are a waste of time
Let’s be honest, exit interviews are often poorly executed and provide little value to the company or the exiting employee. I have worked with hundreds of clients over the last 20 years with varying levels of commitment to the exit interview process. But I have not seen any radical change in the approach.
In my experience, there are a range of reasons that exit interviews are not effective:
- Exiting employees don’t want to burn any bridges – this means they are likely to hold back on providing information, suggestions or ideas that are negative. Equally they are unlikely to present any views not commonly held within the company
- The exit interviewer is sometimes the very reason the employee is leaving!
- Many exit interviews are conducted by HR department team members, whom exiting employees don’t know. Whilst you might think that the exiting employee would be happier to impart “constructive feedback” to someone outside their core work area, it is hard to ask for honesty and transparency in a short space of time, when no trust has been built between the interviewer and the interviewee
- When employees have been treated poorly, they are not in the frame of mind to offer copious amounts of helpful information to improve employee satisfaction within the company!
- Those conducting exit interviews are sometimes poorly trained, or not trained at all. They don’t have the active listening skills or emotional intelligence to build trust and draw out useful feedback
- Many companies offer no consistency in content covered between one exit interview and the next. This makes it hard to establish trends in feedback across a series of exit interviews undertaken
- Lip service is paid to the process when people within the company can see that the information relayed in the exit interview is not used in any meaningful way to improve the employee experience moving forward
Companies need to create an environment for exiting employees to talk honestly, openly and authentically about the reasons they are leaving. This is no easy task. If your company is not getting value from your current approach, it’s time to re-think the process and the focus of the exit interview.
Here are 4 compelling reasons you should treat the exit interview as a retrospective review rather than the last, dreaded formal meeting:
- You should be leaving the door open for employees to return “some day”
- You want exiting employees to refer other talented individuals to work with your company
- Your brand is going to be talked about by the exiting employee through their “lense” – make sure it is a positive one
- The talented individual may well become your client “some day”
What I believe a retrospective review can offer your company
Valuable feedback about the perceived culture and values from the exiting employees point of view – you can then compare those perceptions against the values, culture and norms your company espouses. Where there is an obvious gap between the two, you know you have some work to do.
Invaluable feedback on the “stars” in your company’s midst. Exiting employees have firsthand experience working with other employees in your company. They may have worked alongside talented individuals and, in the case of large companies, these employees may not have made it onto your radar as yet. Stars should be nurtured.
Ideas for client experience improvement. I admit that it is unlikely that anyone walking out the door is going to leave you a gem of an idea that is going to propel your company into the stratosphere. However your exiting employees have indeed been the eyes and ears of your company in some capacity.
Many of your employees work at the front line with clients…every day. Tap into that knowledge and intellectual property to get a sense for your clients’ perception of your company before your exiting employee walks out the door. Ask for honest feedback from your exiting employee on how the company could better meet client needs.
Whilst an employees departure signals that their personal and career goals may not align with your company goals, vision or direction, that doesn’t mean this will always be the case. Many companies benefit from their employees working elsewhere and then coming back with new, fresh and innovative ideas to drive company success.
Revolutionise your exit interview process
If your exit interview requires an overhaul, here are some suggested changes to consider:
Reflect meaningfully on the key achievements of your departing employee. Treat this forum as a celebration of those successes, their value to your company and an acknowledgement of their professional growth. Remember, every employee who walks out your company door, is going to tell others about their experience with you. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to be thanked for their hard work.
Train relevant team members. It is imperative that those conducting interviews are trained in active listening skills and able to conduct the meeting with an open mind, empathy and curiosity to draw out valuable feedback. After all, any feedback provided has the potential to drive improved company performance.
Identify who is best equipped to conduct retrospective reviews. All reviews should be conducted by respected members of your company – you need to maximise the chance of exiting employees giving their most honest and authentic feedback.
Borrowing from the agile methodology, consider including the following elements in your retrospective review:
- Provide a warm welcome to the exiting employee
- Create a positive environment, letting the employee know that any information they convey will be used to create improvements in the company
- Ask exiting employers for their take on the employees within the company they feel have “star qualities”. Have a conversation about the leaders within the company that they respect and admire, including a discussion about why this is the case
- Spend some time talking about what has gone well whilst the employee has been with your company. Congratulate them on their contribution to major projects, building company culture and so on. Demonstrate you have taken the time to understand their contributions to the company and thank them for those contributions
- Acknowledge that you value any feedback the departing employee can provide to you to improve your company’s approach to employee satisfaction – ask for actions and outcomes focused feedback (rather than people focused feedback if you can)
- Don’t make the feedback personal and don’t take feedback personally
- Set the boundary of your discussion. – are you asking them for feedback from the last year? The last 2 years?
- Encourage the exiting employee to embrace an improvement mindset, away from blame
- Listen with an open mind. Remember that everyone’s experience is valid (even views you don’t share)
- Ask for feedback on actions that could be taken to improve their department or business unit including how the team works together and any specific team culture observations
- Most importantly, thank the exiting employee for this honesty and their work for your company
- If appropriate, discuss how you will stay connected. Company alumni members become loyal supporters and brand ambassadors
Innovate – Consider using an anonymous digital survey or outsource the process to a third party
As I mentioned earlier in this article, in my experience, exiting employees don’t like to burn any professional bridges on their way out of your company door. Consider whether using an anonymous survey tool would work for your company, instead of face to face meetings.
When online tools allow exiting employees anonymity, you may gain infinitely more feedback than when exiting employees are in a face to face setting with someone that don’t trust or know. Under our Further Reading and Resources section you will find a sample Exit Interview Template from Survey Monkey.
Collate feedback on the go BEFORE employees leave your company
Compliment your retrospective reviews with continuous employee feedback mechanisms in the workplace on a regular basis. Together, these two processes will help you to devise strategies that enhance employee satisfaction and drive improved company performance.
There are many tools available to help you take the cultural “pulse” of your company. Many companies undertake a survey EVERY week (or month) to monitor employee satisfaction.
Pulse surveys are particularly useful when there is a major transformation being undertaken in your company, including significant restructuring, a change of key staff, a merger of two companies and so on.
Given you can now easily access reputable online survey tools that are free (or very inexpensive), it makes sense to undertake pulse surveys fairly frequently. Just make sure that you are socialising the trends in employee feedback in appropriate company forums, demonstrating what your company is doing to address key trends or concerns.
The data and feedback you gain from your pulse taking approach serves as an effective validator of the trends that are identified in your exit interview process.
Now the cynics will say that employee survey feedback is reviewed by management and executive teams, who spend more time trying to work out which employees gave negative feedback, than analysing the trends the survey exposes. Rise above that thinking. And keep your leadership and executive teams in check. Don’t waste this powerful opportunity to take employee feedback on face value.
When using survey tools, feedback is delivered directly to the company leadership table. Respect it, analyse it and take action to improve the employee experience within your company. Small changes over time can have a dramatic impact on employee satisfaction leading to improved company productivity and performance.
Take action on employee engagement trend concerns
There is little use investing any time and resources into improving your exit interview strategy, if you do not plan to take action on trends that are identified within exit interviews.
A survey in the United States found that less than a third of companies acted on the data collected in exit interviews. “In other words, most companies ignore the strategic value of exit interviews,” concluded this Harvard Business Review article.
Another startling fact comes from SEEK research, which suggests that 74% of employees providing feedback in an exit interview didn’t think the company would be taking any action based on the feedback.
Keep an eye on the power of AI to collate exit interview feedback
You will notice predictive analytics tools appearing in the marketplace, developed to help companies to better understand the concerns of their employees.
Whilst predictive tools are still in their infancy, in time these tools will be capable of analyzing survey data from exit interviews and regular employee feedback that is collated. A company’s ability to not only interpret that data, but to act on it effectively, is critical to improving the employee experience.
A word about feedback from contingent, freelance and gig economy workers
Permanent employees are not the only employee type you should consult when gathering feedback. You should also ask for feedback from those who work with your company under other employment relationships. This might include temporary staff, contingent workers, contractors and independent consultants.
Why? Because in most cases, given the transient nature of their work, these individuals will have worked in a variety of work settings. These workers are able to provide you with valuable insights into how your company culture compares to others they have experienced.
Where contingent workers are provided to your company via third party hiring agencies, you should also seek feedback on “candidate experience” observations from those hiring agencies directly. They are likely working with your competitors on a day to day basis, which means they have insights into how the candidate experience in other companies compares to your company.
Practical exit interview tips for companies
- Conduct an audit of your current exit interview approach
- Get key company stakeholders together to talk about your current exit interview methodology and process. Consider what works well and what doesn’t. Decide on changes as relevant
- If you don’t have a consistent and structured exit interview format, create one
- If your existing employees are not trained in performing professional, active listening skills and an empathetic exit interview style, train them
- Review how your company currently uses and stores exit interview feedback. Are you making the most of the insights you are gaining?
- Work out how you can create a safe place for exiting employees to give honest and authentic feedback. The more candid exiting employees are, the better
Practical exit interview tips for talented individuals
- Take some time before your exit interview to think about what you are comfortable saying. Choose to be constructive, not confrontational
- Be open to any feedback you receive about your performance. You will do yourself a disservice if you reject any constructive feedback given to you. Take this feedback on board to improve your performance with your next employer
- If you are part of a company that has a mediocre exit interview process, get involved in making meaningful change to the process. In the long run, any positive changes to the process will likely lead to improvement in your company culture
- Remember that your liaison style in an exit interview impacts your professional brand. Ensure that your final impression with the company reflects your personal brand
I believe, that framed correctly, retrospective reviews will deliver you with more candid departing employee feedback. When the review is approached appropriately, with empathy and acknowledgement of the great work that the exiting employee has done, you stand to gain a lot from this process.
When employees leave your company, you have an invaluable opportunity to better understand what keeps employees with your company, what jeopardises their tenure and the types of actions, activities and discussions that need to take place in the workplace every day, for employees to feel fulfilled and empowered.
Re-invent the exit interview to better understand the many and varied reasons talented individuals leave companies. Of course, borrowing from the Agile methodology, continue to innovate and improve your approach to gaining valuable insights from departing employees.
Here is one final thought. Company size is no barrier to gaining a better understanding of employee engagement. Companies large and small can benefit from a defined, consistent and professional retrospective review process.
How I can help. Whether you are “starting from scratch” in creating an exit interview template or your current exit interview approach needs an overhaul, I can help. Contact me to explore the ways I can assist you.
What is your exit interview experience? Do you think exit interviews need an overhaul? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Further Reading and Resources – Exit Interviews
Artificial intelligence Unlocking and Boosting Employee Retention
Truth in turnover: The benefits of exit interviews
7 Must Ask Exit Interview Questions from Glassdoor
Exit Interview Template from Survey Monkey
SHRM Exit Interview Template
Human Resources Online 12 Essential Questions