Build great Teams – People management

Exit Interviews – Is It Too Late Once Someone’s Gone?

Exit Interviews  - Is It Too Late Once Someone's Gone?

Exit interviews are a great way to unearth trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. Consider this example where three of your employees have quit in the past few months. Let’s look at each scenario in turn:

Jane, one of your best employees has just handed in her resignation. You have a chat with her to see if you can get her to change her mind. You really don’t want her to leave. She says it’s not about money, she’s just found something else she’s more interested in. It’s clear she’s made her mind up so you chalk it up to experience, wish her well (whilst privately cursing at losing such a great employee) and move on.

Brian, who is a good – but not stellar – performer, has been asking for a pay-rise for months. You’ve told him that’s not possible at the moment. Privately you don’t think he really deserves one anyway, but you can’t face having that discussion with him as it’s sure to get argumentative. Today he resigned. You chat to be polite and ask him what his plans are, but you don’t bring up the subject of money because you assume that’s the trigger and you don’t want to do anything about it. You wish him well and start looking for his replacement.

Emma has had some performance issues and really doesn’t seem motivated to do her job to the level you expect. She has also resigned. You thank her for her time with the company but don’t really spend any more time chatting with her because to be quite honest, you’re not that sorry to see her go. She was becoming a problem to manage so starting afresh with someone else might actually be easier.

Do These Scenarios Have Anything In Common?

These three people have left over the course of a few months. All apparently had different reasons for resigning so you plough on, hire replacements and things carry on as before. There was nothing you could have done about any of them leaving even if you’d wanted to. Right?

What if I were to tell you that Jane was keen to do her job, liked your company, loved the people she worked with, but was feeling frustrated she could not make the progress she wanted to because no-one could see (in her mind) what a great job she was doing?

What if I then tell you that yes, Brian wanted a pay rise, lots of people do, but he really believed he deserved higher pay for what he was delivering? He too was feeling frustrated because he couldn’t objectively demonstrate to you why he deserved a pay rise. He may have over-rated his own contribution, but without any feedback he wasn’t to know.

Finally, what if I also told you that you were right, Emma was not motivated to do her job and had gone past frustrated and had moved to not caring because she really didn’t know what you wanted her to do? You told her you weren’t happy with her performance (many times), but she needed something more specific to know where she was falling short.

How were you to know all that?

Unearth Underlying Problems

Exit interviews may seem like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. You may not be able to convince the individual who is leaving to stay. Don’t you owe it to yourself and your company to see if the reason they left is something you can fix? They may not tell you personally the real reason why they’ve decided to resign, but it might be something that is affecting the entire company. A chat when someone resigns, where you wish them well for the future, is a great thing to do – you should never burn bridges. However, a structured exit interview administered by a 3rd party as soon as the person has left can be a valuable way to learn things about your company. This may unearth problems that are lurking under the surface, and which may be harming the business over the longer term.

What Is The Common Theme?

Exit interviews may have helped identify the problems hidden in our three scenarios.

  • These three people ultimately felt driven to resign because they all lacked clear goals, and did not have a way to measure themselves against your standards and thereby meet or even exceed your expectations.
  • In addition, they were all missing clear feedback from you. Clear feedback is easier to give if you’ve got clear goals to align the feedback with.
  • You knew Jane was a great employee, but she didn’t think you realized. If Brian had received ongoing feedback he would have realized that his expectations were not aligned with yours. Emma probably would have been a good employee if you’d been able to provide her with more specific feedback. With specific feedback she’d have known exactly what you wanted. She probably wouldn’t have given up trying to guess what you were looking for. People aren’t mind readers – clear communication is critical.

    If you’d realised there was a common theme, you could have addressed these problems before it came to resignations

    Exit Interviews

    Does your company do exit interviews when someone leaves? Exit interviews can provide valuable data over time. Using a 3rd party, so the person feels they can be honest about why they are leaving is even better. Evaluating the data gathered to look for trends, can help you discover issues that you may be able to address. As stated in HR Magazine in 2006, “An exit interview should not only get to the bottom of why valued staff are leaving but form the basis of an action plan to stop them wanting to leave in the first place”.

    Finding out that people were frustrated because goals were not articulated well, or at all, is something you can address. Learning that your communication skills are not as good as you think they are is also valuable. If you know about a problem, and can identify a solution, you can choose to address the problem. And if you were to address these problems maybe you could avoid losing other good people over the next few months?

    If you don’t currently use exit interviews (internally or externally administered) – think about trying it. You might be surprised what you can learn if you use them consistently over time.

    My Question To You

    Do you use exit interviews? If you do – do you do them yourself? If this is something you would like to discuss or would like some help with, contact me at You can also buy my book Accelerate to Team Success which is available as a paperback or on Kindle.


    About the Author:

    Nikki Faulkner photo Dr Nikki Faulkner founded Mulberry Bush Consulting to work with business leaders and their teams to make the 'People' side of their business as effective as possible. Mulberry Bush Consulting's specialty is helping small businesses who are new to having employees and helping businesses who are growing rapidly and increasing their employee-base at a rate that is creating a significant challenge.

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