Exit Interviews

The interviewer asks a set of prescribed questions and dutifully records the answers, which disappear into a file and will remain there, unexamined, until an archeologist from the next millennium unearths them during a research expedition.

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<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>In many companies, exit
interviewing is a “sleepy process,’’ according to Lynn S. Nemser, owner of
Partners in Performance, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based human resources consulting
firm.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Truth be told, it’s often
downright comatose, with both the interviewer and the departing employee going
through a ritual dance that offers little meaning for either side. The
interviewer asks a set of prescribed questions and dutifully records the
answers, which disappear into a file and will remain there, unexamined, until
an archeologist from the next millennium unearths them during a research
expedition. <o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>The employee, who is
emotionally disengaging from the organization or is overly cautious because of
a fear of burning bridges, provides superficial or disingenuous responses that
provide the company with little insight about his true reasons for leaving. <o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>The result: An administrative
requirement fulfilled; time wasted.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><b>Once Again, Why Do We Do Exit Interviews?<o:p></o:p></b></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Some organizations don’t “get’’
the concept of exit interviews, says Thomas Ahr, PHR, director of the Center
for Productivity and Creativity, a human resources consulting firm
headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. They are under the impression that a
meeting to discuss COBRA benefits and retrieve the employee’s key to the
washroom constitutes an exit interview.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Not.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Ideally, an exit interview is
a conversation between at least one company representative, often the HR
manager, and the departing employee to discuss why the employee is leaving. A
good exit interview provides the company with valuable information that can
give it a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining staff. The responses of
several exiting employees can provide trend information that can be used in
improving the culture of the organization. A well-done exit interview can
generate good public relations for the organization: After all, the person who
is leaving will carry stories about the company into the community.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>In extreme cases, the
information can be a form of risk management, protecting the company from
potential lawsuits.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Ahr, whose firm provides exit
interviewing services to companies with 1,000 employees or more, says in about
5 percent of interviews he learns of illegal or unethical practices by the
company which are the reason for the employee’s departure. They include
everything from telling new hires false information about their job duties to
sexual harassment and discrimination. Learning that information in an exit
interview allows a company to take measures to change its behavior before its
luck runs out and a major lawsuit lands on the doorstep.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><b>How to Conduct the Interview</b></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Exit interviews can be
conducted in person or on the telephone, in a written survey or on a Web site.
They can take place while employees are still on the payroll or several weeks
after they have left. Reasonable minds disagree about the form exit interviews
should take; there are benefits and drawbacks to each. Some believe that
responses will be more detailed at a face-to-face meeting; others counter that
employees are more apt to be honest in a written or Web survey. Some believe
people will be more forthcoming while they are still part of the organization
and haven’t yet fully disengaged; others say people will be less afraid of
speaking openly once they are gone.<span style="mso-spacerun:
yes">              </span><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>There seems to be no hard
data proving the one method is better than another. Nevertheless, exit
interviews, despite their diverse approaches, share two major problems.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>First, the wrong kinds of
questions are asked. <o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“Companies ask about things
they have no intention of changing,’’ says Nemser, whose firm conducts exit
surveys, then follows up with phone calls to a designated sample group. “You
don’t ask questions about things you’re not willing to change because it sets
up expectations among existing staff.’’<span style="mso-spacerun: yes">   
</span><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Ahr, whose firm reviews
written exit surveys provided by his clients, agrees, saying often questions
are worded so that the answers will not be something the company doesn’t want
to hear.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“There are too many softball
questions that don’t generate a meaningful response,’’ he says.<span
style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </span>“If you have a quarter of the respondents
say they’re leaving because of a better opportunity somewhere else, that tells
you little. You need to follow that answer up by asking why they’ve needed to
look for a better position elsewhere.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“If an employee says he’s
leaving to go back to school, you need to ask why. Does he feel he can’t get
promoted without those skills or he needs more training that the company isn’t
providing?’’<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>The second pitfall is how the
information from the exit interview is used-or, more often, isn’t.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>HR professionals say that the
responses of departing employees can be used to club managers, blaming individuals
for staff turn-over without making an effort to offer them additional training.
Frequently, though, upper management gives the information a cursory look and
does little to implement change. <o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>According to a survey
conducted in 1980 by Pamela Garretson and Kenneth Teel, only 58 percent of
companies make use of the data collected in exit interviews to change working
conditions, improve supervisory staff, identify problems early or confirm the
existence of problems. The researchers concluded that the other 42 percent
conduct exit interviews as a symbolic gesture, reasoning that that departing
employees often aren’t honest in their responses.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">     </span>As the ability to compete
for and retain high quality employees grows increasingly imperative, companies
will begin to look for better ways to conduct exit interviews and implement the
data they provide, Nemser predicts. She has observed more companies with 250
employees or less taking an interest in exit interviewing.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“That means smaller companies
are investing more in their employees,’’ she says.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><b>An Appreciative Approach</b></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>One of the latest
developments in exit interviewing is called Appreciative Inquiry (AI).
Developed by David Cooperrider in 1996, the approach is based on the theory
that, rather than emphasizing our mistakes and faults, we need to identify the
things we do well and build upon them. An Appreciative Inquiry interview asks
questions designed to elicit positive feedback, focusing on the organization’s
so-called “life-giving’’ qualities.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Sample exit interview
questions using AI include:<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal style=''margin-left:48.75pt;text-indent:-.25in;mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;
tab-stops:list 48.75pt''><![if !supportLists]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:
11.0pt;font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial''>·<span style=''font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"''>      
</span></span><![endif]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''>At the time you joined the company, what attracted you to the
organization? What were your initial impressions when you joined? How have they
changed since then?<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal style=''margin-left:48.75pt;text-indent:-.25in;mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;
tab-stops:list 48.75pt''><![if !supportLists]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:
11.0pt;font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial''>·<span style=''font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"''>      
</span></span><![endif]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''>Tell me about a time you were most excited, involved and engaged at this
company. Who were the significant people involved? What were the most important
factors in the company that made it a peak experience? (e.g. leadership
qualities, rewards, skills, relationships?)<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal style=''margin-left:48.75pt;text-indent:-.25in;mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;
tab-stops:list 48.75pt''><![if !supportLists]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:
11.0pt;font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial''>·<span style=''font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"''>      
</span></span><![endif]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''>What do you value most about the organization?<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal style=''margin-left:48.75pt;text-indent:-.25in;mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;
tab-stops:list 48.75pt''><![if !supportLists]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:
11.0pt;font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial''>·<span style=''font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"''>      
</span></span><![endif]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''>What is the single most important thing the company has contributed to
your life?<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal style=''margin-left:48.75pt;text-indent:-.25in;mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;
tab-stops:list 48.75pt''><![if !supportLists]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:
11.0pt;font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial''>·<span style=''font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"''>      
</span></span><![endif]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''>Describe a time when you felt most committed to the company and its
purpose? Why did you feel such commitment?<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal style=''margin-left:48.75pt;text-indent:-.25in;mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;
tab-stops:list 48.75pt''><![if !supportLists]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:
11.0pt;font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial''>·<span style=''font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"''>      
</span></span><![endif]><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''>People in the company say they want to “make a difference.’’ What is the
best example of when the company provided you with a chance to do that?<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Lia Bosch, human resources
manager at Canadian Hunter Exploration Ltd. in Calgary, Alberta, and the author
of an article called “Exit Interviews with an ‘Appreciative Eye,’ ’’ uses AI
when staffers leave the oil and gas company, which employs 200. (See also <a
href="/HRcom/index.cfm/WeeklyMag/5D2A9B36-3B48-11D4-8DE7009027E0248F">Bosch’s
article for HR.com</a>)<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>As soon as she learns of a
resignation, Bosch sends the employee a list of AI-focused discussion questions
and invites him to schedule an hour-long, in-person interview before he or she
leaves.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes">             </span><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">     </span>During the interview, which
sometimes takes place in a neutral setting like a restaurant, Bosch takes
detailed notes about the responses. Soon afterward, she writes a report based
on the conversation, then allows the employee to review those notes and make
changes before they are passed along to senior management. Bosch’s reports also
include suggestions for change within the company.<span style="mso-spacerun:
yes">  </span><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Although complaints about the
organization naturally arise during the exchange, this style of interviewing
helps keep the tone more positive than traditional exit interviews. It offers
concrete, specific examples of where the company “went right’’ and how it could
continue to do that.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Bosch says interviewers using
AI need to respect the individual’s right to offer short or lengthy responses,
take their comments seriously, and really listen and connect.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“Even if someone is leaving
by their choice, it is a difficult time for the individual, who is detaching
himself from the organization,’’ Bosch says. “Don’t see the interview as simply
an administrative task. See this as a way to build bridges with people
externally, because they carry forward information about the company to others
in the community and the industry.’’<span style="mso-spacerun: yes">  
</span>Bosch admits that her greatest challenge has been getting senior executives
to act on the information in the reports. <o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“I consider it a measure of
success that the president and CEO reads the reports and talks to me about
them,’’ she says. “They are used as part of an in-depth organizational review,
but we need a better mechanism for follow-through.’’<span style="mso-spacerun:
yes">   </span><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><b>Post-Exit Surveys</b></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Dr. John Sullivan, professor
of Human Resource Management at San Francisco State University, supports the idea of post-exit survey mailed to employees
who voluntarily left the organization three to 12 months ago.  (You can read more about Sullivan''s work on the Gately Consulting <a target="_blank"
href="http://go.ourworld.nu/gately/sullivan.htm">web site</a>)<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Managers can expect to hear
different answers than they would in a traditional exit interview, according to
Sullivan, because people are less emotional and have had time to reflect and
compare their new workplace to their former company. Also, they no longer have
to restrict their answers because they need to get a good reference from their
manager.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>The survey should ask about
positive aspects of the former employer, aspects in the employee’s current job
that are superior to the former employer’s and the biggest barriers to
productivity in the last six months with the former employer. The survey also
should include a list of “triggers’’ that caused the departure, which the
respondents can rank from one to five, in order of importance, as well as a
question asking whether the former employee would consider returning to the
company in the near future.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>Respondents should be given a
choice of whether to include their name and current employer, Sullivan says.
The survey should be pre-tested to be sure that it can be completed in 15
minutes or less. Sullivan suggests attaching a $5 bill to the questionnaire to
reimburse respondents for their time. If they receive no response within 30
days, they should a follow-up questionnaire.<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">       </span>And after that?<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>“Have a process in place for
using the results of the survey to improve the way you manage,’’ Sullivan says.
“If you put the answers in an employee file, or if the management doesn’t
actually act on the results, stop the process.’’<o:p></o:p></span></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><b>Conclusion</b></p>

<p class=MsoNormal><span style=''mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial''><span style="mso-spacerun: yes">    </span>As Bosch and Sullivan show,
it is possible to conduct employee exit interviews that will have value for
your company - but be ready to make a commitment of time and resources to do
them well. Otherwise, skip the whole process, save paper and let the archaeologists
from 3001 unearth something else. <o:p></o:p></span></p>

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