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Exit interviews – a checklist for HR

Article by Mike Bergen - Kingsley Gate Partners.

The Great Resignation has cast a spotlight on the retention polices of organisations. Research* highlights that in organisations of more than 250 staff, 4 in 10 HR Directors say they’ve changed or are looking at alternatives to reward staff in addition to more flexible working pattens.

But whilst employers are doing what they can to retain their people in those cases where they do move on, it’s more important than ever not to neglect the exit interview. As part of a well-planned offboarding process, exit interviews are a valuable HR tool which can provide far more than means of discovering why someone left the organisation.

A successfully executed exit interview is also intrinsic to knowledge transfer and organisational memory. Feedback can help to fine tune an organisation’s talent management strategy from learning and development to performance management and leadership. Moreover, an exit interview can reveal information critical to the future operation and success of the business.

In order to implement an effective offboarding strategy and capitalize on the potential of an exit interview here are some key points for HR to consider:

The basics
A well-defined approach to exit interviews is best. This framework should cover ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’. Who should conduct the interview? Sometimes external consultants are used or if conducted internally it should be a manager at least one step removed from the employee’s immediate supervisor. When will exit interview be held? Here it’s common practice to conduct exit interviews on the final day or shortly before. Where will the interview be conducted? Whilst in the past exit interviews would normally have been a face-to-face, with new home-based working patterns, video conferencing is also used now.

What’s the best interview style?
The person conducting the exit interview needs to understand what the organisation wants to achieve through its offboarding process and commit to delivering on these objectives. A good exit interviewer will ask the appropriate questions and clarify points as the interview progresses, but spend most of the interview listening and obtaining feedback. It’s best to avoid too much structure and be prepared to explore the points the employee raises. Informal and conversational is a good style where possible.

Treat with care
One of the main things to emerge from the interview will be the reasons why the individual is leaving. It’s an area that needs to be handled sensitively. The decision to move on can be a difficult one and discussing the reasons can be uncomfortable for the employee, especially if it touches on emotional or personal matters. People are often unwilling to give the real reason, particularly if this involves issues with managers or colleagues.

Capitalise on the feedback
The exit interview also provides a valuable opportunity to gather feedback on issues such as the company culture and work environment, as well as the departing person’s experience of working with their team, department and manager.  This useful information can be incorporated into knowledge transfer and transition planning. How can the organisation be improved? If they had to suggest a couple of changes that would improve the organisation, what would they be?

A powerful ally
It’s not uncommon for people to return to a former employer. There’s nothing to lose by letting high-performing or valued members of staff know that they’d be welcomed back in the future. Remember too that corporate alumni can make a very positive contribution to an organisation’s brand. That’s why many organisations operate alumni networks to help maintain positive relationships post-exit.  Ideally, former employee can become goodwill ambassadors for the business, and share their good work experience with others.

Insights from the top
Exit interviews for the most senior executives can bring top-level insight. In these cases, one or more members of the board should conduct the interview which can include strategic issues such as the organisation’s strategy, capabilities and priorities. Senior level in-put like this can help to inform thinking on succession planning, the direction of the business and how it is run.

Information capture
The information obtained in the interview must be recorded, collated and acted upon. Increasingly, organisations are combing this type of data with insights from the existing workforce. In addition to the key take-aways from the interview in respect to the person leaving it’s also important to join the dots across the organisation?

If several high-flyers leave the business at the same time, is there something amiss with the culture or the development of high-potential people? It’s also important not to forget to make a note of positive feedback – for example, a manager who’s really good at motivating their team or always gives great feedback.

Research commissioned by Prezzee

    Mike Bergen is a senior partner and expert in the HR talent market at Kingsley Gate Partners. Mike has over 20 years experience in executive search and an additional decade as a corporate human resources professional. Kingsley Gate Partners operate globally with expertise in all major industries and markets with clients in over 30 countries.

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