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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Dec 11, 2020

During December and January we are replaying some of our most popular episodes from previous years. This is from 28th September 2019 - Why Exit Interview Stink And Seven Things To Do About It.



Exit interviews often stink. They end up being overly positive or overly negative. This week we explore seven ways to radically improve your exit interviews.





Welcome to episode 55 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at seven ways to radically improve exit interviews.


Exit interviews are one of those things that vary in popularity and application. Some organisations use them every time someone leaves. Other organisations may have been burned in the past or not seen the value. The idea is great - let’s find out from people who are leaving the organisation why they’re leaving and what we can do to make the place better for the people who still work here. We can do that using a structured interview just before they depart to whatever exciting opportunity comes next in their career.


In application though, the interviews tend to either be really positive or really negative. As a colleague of mine once wisely noted, you’re never more popular or better at your job than on your last day. We tend, rightly, to celebrate those who have contributed to our organisations on the day they are finishing up. We bring together a summary of their achievements, list all the great things we love about them, and talk about how much they will be missed. Friends come to the person and question how the place will ever be the same without them. All of that primes the person to say positive things in their exit interview. It turns into a “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation. The exit interview may well highlight lots of positives about the organisation, but probably understates the challenges and areas for improvement.


On the other hand you have people leaving the organisation where something has gone wrong. They may be angry or frustrated. The exit interview for them is a way to be heard. In those exit interviews the tone is more “it’s not me, it’s you - and, by the way, I’ve set the stationery room alight”. Those exit interviews end up highlighting a shopping list of problems and complaints, often more about that person than the organisation. 


Whichever way the exit interview goes, there’s a risk that what we are hearing is not accurate. It seems like a missed opportunity to improve. If only we could source more honest feedback.


Well, help has arrived. Here are seven tips for dramatically improving your exit interviews.


  1. Never on the last day. It’s best to conduct your exit interview as close to the time when the person tells you that they are leaving. At that point their thinking is usually clear. They will be ready to provide honest answers about why they’ve chosen to move on.
  2. Split the conversation into two. During the first discussion you can focus on the reasons for leaving. It’s helpful to schedule a second conversation that’s focused on improvements. That provides the person with more time to think about suggestions for improvement rather than putting them on the spot.
    • What aspects of the role have you enjoyed the most?
    • What aspects of the role have you enjoyed the least?
  3. Balance the discussion. We can tend to dive into the negatives or try to pull out too many positives. Balance the conversations with questions such as:
    • What could be improved about the role for the next person to fill the position?
  4. Focus improvements on the role. This focus on the role helps people to be more open about improvements without feeling like they’re being overly critical about their experiences. You could ask:
    • Are there particular skills or abilities you have that could have been used more effectively?
    • How long did you intend to stay versus what you actually stayed for?
    • What will be different in the next role that your present position hasn’t been able to provide?
  5. Explore missed opportunities. Discuss the areas where the organisation failed to draw the best out of the person:
    • What was your experience of the role and its responsibilities? Was it what you expected?
    • How clear were the goals and accountabilities associated with your role?
    • Was the induction and training provided sufficient for you to perform the role? How could it be improved?
  6. Perform a clarity check. Clarity of purpose and role is critical to success, and the following questions can help with that:
    • Would you work for us again in the future? Why or why not?
  7. Keep the door open. If the person’s departure is genuinely a loss to the organisation, why not leave open the opportunity of them returning one day. You might ask:


Applying these tips will help you to get the best out your exit interviews, while also making the process more positive for you and the person leaving.


Keeping all of that in mind, wouldn’t it be great if we could gain some of the benefits of an exit interview earlier in the process? Next week we’re exploring entrance interviews - drawing on the experiences and observations of those who are newer to our organisations. 


As you might know I’ve recently launched my three week Boost Your Assertiveness course. I’m offering the course to podcast listeners for 30% off, taking the course cost down from $149 US to the weirdly precise $104.30 . Check the show notes for the link - NOTE - THIS COURSE IS NOW AVAILABLE VIA LEADERSHIP TODAY ON-DEMAND WITH A FREE 30 DAY TRIAL.


Have a great week.