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HRHeadStart #40: Improving the Exit Interview; Forgetfulness and The Helsinki Bus Station Theory
The Talent Agenda
Many organizations have seen employees voting with their feet in recent times. Given the exodus, surely some people in HR have been exceptionally busy and one of them would be the person responsible for the Exit Interview process.
The departure of a valued employee is just not an event denoting organizational failure, but it is an important learning opportunity. A well-designed, thoughtful exit interview can reveal what does or doesn’t work inside the organization. It uncovers hidden challenges and opportunities. It can promote engagement and enhance retention by signaling to employees that their views matter. Moreover, it can convert departing employees into company ambassadors for years to come.
However, we can be short-sighted and not pay attention to this important process. It can be treated as a formality, with no real sense-making of the feedback generated. I have three ideas to make the process better:
You may conduct the exit interview in the last few weeks of the employees’ time at the company, but there is always the risk of the employees not sharing honest feedback because they don’t want to burn bridges. For the talent you really regret losing, I suggest conducting a follow-up exit interview 3-6 months after the employee has left. This would allow the employee to gather their thoughts fully (as opposed to an emotionally charged resignation period) and be more candid. It will also allow HR to gather competitive intelligence (e.g. culture, rewards, people practices) about organizations where people went to.
In order to scale the process, it is quite common to see exit surveys administered via an online tool - a sterile faceless approach. While it has its advantages, it’s a good idea to have live conversations with people you really regret losing. Ideally these are conducted by HR and/or skip-level managers. Not only does this approach generate deeper insights, but it also sends a strong signal on the value placed on talent by the organization.
Building further on the previous point, it’s not a good idea to make the questions completely structured. While structured data lends itself for comparisons over time and spotting trends, adding unstructured questions helps to make surprising discoveries about what’s working and what’s not.
Check out this article on making the exit interview process better.
We all get exposed to a lot of new information and learning, but a lot of that is not retained by the brain unless the ideas are revisited, reviewed and reworked on.
In the search for quicker and more certain paths to success, we learn different skills, process more information and experiment with ideas. However, many of us are also quick to give up working hard on an area if we cannot clearly and quickly see how it will benefit us. The way to get incredibly good at something is not just a function of being exposed to it, but it depends on consistency. It depends on how many times you work and re-work on it.
To illustrate this point, Arno Rafael Minkkinen delivered a powerful commencement speech at the New England School of Photography, where he talked about The Helsinki Bus Station Theory. I found it fascinating.
One of the biggest killers of creativity is an over-scheduled life. Create margin for reflecting, thinking, planning and tinkering.