Turning Exits Into Insights

Here is another article written by Mike Prokopeak for the “Talent Management Perspectives” featured by Talent Management magazine (March 2011). To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the Talent Management and Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.

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When a valued employee heads for the door, it’s not too late to turn that exit into an advantage for your organization. Done right, exit interviews, rather than a drag on already overtaxed HR staff, can be a source of potential insight not only into why employees are leaving, but also what’s going right.

“The thing to remember is that exit interviews are not about the individual,” said Beth Carvin, CEO of Nobscot, a technology company specializing in employee retention. “We’re not trying to save that individual. We’re trying to take that information and improve the organization for everybody else.”

While exit interviews have been around nearly 100 years, many people in HR remain unsatisfied with them, Carvin explained. The good news is turning exit interviews into a source of organizational insight doesn’t require much effort. “You don’t have to change your exit interview at all; what you change is how you analyze the data,” she said.

The typical exit interview includes questions about the exiting employee’s manager, for example. Usually, responses are used to identify potential problems, such as an overbearing or incompetent manager. Managers who receive low ratings are typically given additional training or assigned a mentor.

On the flip side of that coin, that same data also can be used to identify effective managerial practices, find potential mentors for struggling managers and single out high performers for recognition and promotion.

With an effective system to collect data over time, talent managers can build a repository of rich management data that can be used to identify low performers as well as those who are consistently rated high.

“It’s really in the analysis, not in the questions,” Carvin said.

Recruiters can use that analysis to identify the right kind of recruits and what kinds of questions to ask to find them. Trainers can identify employee needs, provide development to close skill gaps and help reduce turnover.

Carvin said there are four ways to conduct an exit interview:  paper-and-pencil surveys, an in-person interview, a telephone interview or an online survey. Organizations may use one or a combination of them.

Each method has its own pros and cons. Paper-and-pencil surveys and telephone interviews are convenient but typically get low participation. In-person interviews, while more likely to garner usable insight, are time consuming and plagued with potential quality problems.

“It’s really hard to get people to say certain negative things or constructive criticism,” Carvin said. Instead of honest feedback, many interviewees simply say things were just fine.

Online surveys allow employees to be open and honest and can be completed at their convenience. That combination can drive higher participation, Carvin said.

“There is a small percentage of employees that will like the personal touch for the exit interview, but overwhelmingly employees don’t want the personal touch,” she said. “They want to have their own private space to say what they want to say and get it off their chest.”

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Mike Prokopeak is editorial director for Talent Management magazine.


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