Do you want to know a great way to improve employee experience and prevent talent from leaving? Here is a crazy idea, how about asking the talent that is leaving why they are leaving and use this information to improve the current environment? This is obviously known as an exit interview, but it is criminally underused by organisations. The approach from organisations to exit interviews is very similar to the approach to annual engagement survey results, they get a lot of information and then do very little with it. Instead of the exercise being seen as a meaningful one that can help them make improvements to the benefit of employees and the organisation as a whole, it has become a check the box exercise.
I once had a client who promoted an employee to manage a department of 17 employees. Within 12 months, this new manager only had 8 employees left within their department. There had been a mass exodus and in the exit interview every single one of the employees told the exact same story. The manager who was promoted in to his first management role had pretty much no management skills. He could not communicate any plans, vision, or strategy, never showed any appreciation to team members and insisted on micromanaging everything. This led to two key insights. The first was that the organisation had clearly promoted someone into a management role who was ill-equipped for it. The second was that this was a familiar trend in the organisation, across departments and countries. They realised that they were promoting people based on their technical expertise in the last job and not because they had the capability to perform the next job which required a different skill set, specifically management skills. They made significant changes to their promotion criteria as a result of this and within 2 years their employee attrition rate had gone from 28% to 6%.
Use different methods
One of the most common challenges with exit interviews is that employers often complain that employees will not be willing to share negative feedback in the interview. However, there are ways around this. A good exit interview process should be tailored to different employee groups. Most organisations know whether the person leaving was a high performer, an average performer, or a low performer. This then allows the organisation to approach individuals in each of these groups differently.
High performers should have their exit interviews performed in person. The typical characteristics of a high performer mean they are more likely to share their own ideas and thoughts without fear. It is also important that you take the time to give the personalised touch to a high performer as its likely the organisation would like them to change their mind or return to the organisation one day. For your average performers it has been shown that the best way to perform an exit interview is by telephone. It can be intimidating to speak negatively about the organisation or your boss when sat in front of someone. Research has shown by removing the face to face component employees are more likely to open up. For the low performers, well the organisation doesn’t feel like they are losing much with the employee leaving and leaving may not even be voluntary, so its best to just allow employees to fill out an exit survey.
Contextualise the feedback
Finally, it is very important to have context when looking at the results of exit interviews. If a manager has a team of 20, and only one person has quit in 3 years they are probably a good manager. So, if the one person who left spoke of a management tyrant who treats staff badly, it’s not likely to be true. Likewise, if a significant proportion of your employees are consistently telling you that they are leaving for career development you should ask yourself why your organisation is not providing its staff with enough career development opportunities. In this instance its highly likely employees are being hired to do a job and not being hired for a career path, or that managers are merely managing tasks and not coaching and developing their team.
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