Losing talented staff is a perennial barrier to business success; if you’re serious about sustained growth, witnessing good people walk away will inevitably throw you off course. While passionate recruiters can help you find skilled replacements, a high turnover of key personnel suggests an urgent need to refine your retention strategy.
In our opinion, the best place to start is to implement a strict exit interview policy.
This may sound counterintuitive - it’s too late once people are committed to jumping ship, so why bother? - but failing to prioritise exit interviews means missing huge opportunities to learn where things went wrong, and what improvements can be made to ensure star performers stick around.
From experience, around half of the organisations we work with already have some form of employee exit survey in place, but very few analyse their findings in a meaningful way. Even fewer take positive steps to right wrongs.
There can be a multitude of reasons for such inactivity - time constraints, a lack of direction, biased thinking - but neglecting to pay attention means problems are likely to persist, leaving your workforce in flux, giving competitors an edge.
So here’s our advice on forming an exit interview strategy that will highlight potential issues and help you keep hold of top talent:
To pave the way for honest feedback, staff need reassurances that what they say won’t be held against them. Understandably, the majority wouldn’t consider revealing anything critical if they’re hopeful of a good reference, rendering the whole process redundant.
The best way to achieve genuine, open responses is to ensure the person conducting the interview isn’t a direct line manager of the interviewee, inviting constructive feedback that won’t be clouded by personal bias.
Furthermore, we recommend granting complete anonymity - a pledge that comments won’t be attributed to individuals - allaying potential concerns over retrospective action.
For the very best results, it’s advisable to engage an outside consultant, somebody who has zero connection with the employee and is well placed to consolidate observations into impartial advice on future talent solutions.
It’s common for most exit interviews to take place during the employee’s final week, but by this point, it’s highly likely they’re completely disengaged and simply counting down the clock. Thus, you’re not likely to yield the best information.
If they’re serving a month’s notice, you should aim to find out the reasons behind departure relatively quickly - perhaps in week two, once the initial emotions of resignation have died down.
Firstly, this shows you care about the individual and value their input in shaping your future, fostering long-term goodwill that could translate into lifelong ambassadorship.
you’ll receive more valuable insights when the impending departee is still in ‘work mode’ and motivated to make a difference, or at least vent their spleen about problems they’ve faced.
While in-person interviews are best for cultivating ongoing relations and receiving candid responses, you should also consider a follow-up telephone interview or web survey 2-3 months after departure.
Companies that reach out in this way often find different answers crop up once the former employee has had time to evaluate their situation, giving more detailed insight that can inform your performance management and succession planning.
In an effort to let people leave on their own terms without undue pressure, you could consider setting out a range of options for the interview process, allowing the employee to decide the location, length and follow-up arrangements.
Empowering them in this way can lay the foundations for proactive, insightful feedback.
Ultimately, exit interviews should be listening exercises.
Coming across as defensive or judgemental will not bode well, and the employee should never feel as if they have to justify their decisions.
You want to get a true understanding of how they feel about their role, working conditions, place within the team, management styles and the overall company culture. Only then will you be able to analyse feedback and implement real changes that can benefit the business.
Simply ask how they feel about each of the aspects listed above, and when issues are flagged-up, ask for potential solutions. At the end of the interview, you should give the employee a platform to raise any other concerns, and perhaps ask them to finish the following sentence: ‘I don’t know why the company doesn’t just…”
While it’s good to leave room for open-ended, unscripted conversation (which often leads to the most interesting comments), it’s important to follow the same basic structure for each exit interview, allowing for qualitative data capture that could identify common pitfalls.
You can also use exit interviews to conduct a little competitor analysis, finding out the benefits, progression paths and ballpark salaries on offer at the company your employee is leaving for. Needless to say, this area must be treated with some sensitivity, framing questions along the lines of, ‘Are you happy to give us an idea of your new pay scale to help us better understand the marketplace?’
You can’t simply let talented staff leave without investigating whether more could have been done to keep them onboard, and HR departments must stop viewing exit interviews as a ‘tick box’ duty when they’re actually a strategic opportunity.
A clear exit interview process will reveal constructive criticism that can take your company forward, provided you’re open to change and willing to take action.
Indeed, conversations about staff retention shouldn’t start at the point of resignation. If you’re serious about keeping your best, brightest, most experienced team members, management should have regular conversations with staff, asking how they can help their career development and future ambitions.
You’ll find it’s not always about pounds and pence, and more often about being given support to learn new things, broaden their skillset or take on different responsibilities. It’s also wise to review your company benefits package to see what incentives you can offer staff to stay with you for the long run.
At Opus, we’re experienced in helping large organisations shape their whole talent lifecycle, from attraction and recruitment to retention, performance management and succession planning. If you’d like to hear more about our range of holistic talent solutions, please get in touch.