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HRHeadStart #72: Improving Exit Interviews; Leveraging Boredom
The Talent Agenda
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. Here are 3 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 pick up our phones a few hundred times a day (or more!). And most of the times, we do so to kill "micro-boredom" i.e. tiny bits of time where we literally don't know what to do and the phone seems like a nice distraction. In the process, we develop a habit to fill up all of our time. So, what space are we affording for thinking deeply and creatively for things that matter to us? Boredom is not a problem to be solved, but the last privilege of a free mind. Lean into free time and make the most of it - you will come out of it with a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.
If you want to do big things, avoid getting distracted by the small things.