Exit interviews can be as important as recruitment interviews. However, many organisations either do not complete them or they file the data away without any serious attempt to subject it to analysis.
Exit interviews are conducted to look at ways of improving an organisation’s processes and culture to help retain high performing employees.
When an employee leaves an organisation the exit interview procedure follows a process such as:
- Ask employees for resignations in writing stating their reasons.
- Schedule an exit interview as soon as possible.
- Allow the employee to choose their line manager or another senior manager to do the interview to get the most information from them.
- Arrange the exit interview 5 days prior to the last day.
- Record the interview on an exit interview form.
- Alert senior management if any exit interview mentions items requiring immediate attention e.g. harassment issues.
- Analyse the exit interview with other exit interviews for common threads.
- Discuss the common threads rather than specific interviews at the regular senior management meetings.
- Recommend changes to processes, reward structures, performance measures and culture from the trends and common threads.
Exit interviews have common themes of questions which fall into the following groups:
- Personal views on why they joined.
- Personal views on why they left.
- Evaluation of negative issues e.g. bias, harassment, racism.
- Evaluation of training received.
- Evaluation of job role e.g. clarity of goal, job purpose, authority and responsibility.
- Evaluation of organisational culture e.g. communication, rituals, power structure, and organisational structure/hierarchy.
- Evaluation of performance management system.
- Evaluation of reward and recognition system.
The interviews are not difficult to conduct with the possible exception of some angry employees.
What seems to be more difficult is to analyse the responses and make recommendations for changing the organisation.
The trick is to look for common threads of information rather than the specific items of data from each exit interview. The exception of course is serious negative issues such as racism, bias and harassment.
Common themes which need to be searched for include, but are not limited to:
- Stifling ambition – through lack of opportunity or blocking of career paths.
- Lack of clarity of goal and/or people’s job role.
- Recruitment errors – consistently recruiting people who are either unwilling or unable.
- Perceived tolerance of poor performance with insufficient distinction between poor and good performers, often due to poor measures and poor managerial skills.
- Tolerance of serious negative issues.
- Poor execution of empowerment or total lack of empowerment – people consistently delegate tasks for which they do not have the competence, authority or data to execute well. Or managers who delegate in name only, holding a tight rein on how tasks are done, not just what the outcome needs to be.
- Perceived unfairness, where one person seems to be and more or given more opportunities than a person of equivalent experience and competence. This could be real or a failing in communicating honestly to people about their performance and competence.
- Stifling of ideas where ideas are either being diminished because of a thought process that equates seniority with intellect or channels have not been created to test and expand on ideas “from the floor”.
- Lack of a challenge; people with a lot of experience are asked to do the same thing over and over.
- Lack of recognition, where capable people are asked to shoulder more of the burden as they progressively deliver more and more with sufficient recompense and recognition.
The analysis of exit interviews should be completed by an experienced line manager who has high competence in leadership and people management or an HR professional.
The analysis should be reviewed at least annually and if staff turnover is an issue, quarterly. The review should consider actions which include, but are not limited to:
- Do nothing.
- Surveying employees on issues arising from the analysis to determine if the issues are perceived across a significant segment of employees.
- Auditing the performance management system.
- Evaluating the training programmes (Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation is a good start).
- Creating standards for HR processes.
- Audit reward and recognition programme against fairness metrics.
- Evaluate manager’s competence in coaching and appraising employees.