Exit Interviews Are Dead

Would you do something that didn’t add value to your life? Would you keep doing something that had negative long-term effects? Would you do it if it wasn’t enjoyable?

You can probably think of some scenarios where the answer to one of these questions is yes, but it’s difficult to think of a scenario where all three can be answered yes. Basically, people are unwilling to continue doing things that aren’t valuable, aren’t productive, and aren’t fun.

Tradition is a powerful force; so are cultural and business norms. But they don’t have to be overwhelming.”

Yet, in the workplace, we often find ourselves doing exactly this. Why? Because we get so used to the way things are, the way things have been, the way things should be, that we can’t get away from it. Tradition is a powerful force; so are cultural and business norms. One really great example of this is the time old tradition of the exit interview.

The exit interview: someone decides to leave a company. Happens all the time. And so? What do we do? On their last day, or somewhere around then, we sit down with them, ostensibly to gain some feedback about their experience at the company. What results is too often a giant bitch session with very little hard information coming out of it -- maybe a few notes taken by an HR person who has to endure this onslaught of negative feedback. All too often the end result is very little action and a bad feeling all around -- everyone leaves with a bad taste in their mouth.

shutterstock_289436939.jpg

But that's what we do, right? So we keep trying. But here’s the deal: exit interviews are over. They are a relic of yesteryear, they are a reflection of a bygone era in business. Tradition is simply not reason enough to keep doing something. If there was never an exit interview ever again, the world would keep spinning and everything would be fine.

That’s not to say there’s no value to be gained from a departing employee -- there absolutely is. But it has to be collected in the right way. At Holistic, we are focused on using data to improve the employee experience, and so we encourage our partners and clients to eschew exit interviews in favor of what we call an exit analysis, which is a technology that we have developed that allows your company to take a quick snapshot of how an employee feels at the moment they are leaving the company and compare it to the way that all other employees felt when they were leaving.

This is a really unique data set. Unlike most data sets in business, which are collected at the same time and reflect everyone's feeling at that moment in human history, this one is collected over time and reflects everyone's feelings at a certain point in their history with the company (i.e. their last day). Very few people are collecting data in this fashion; fewer still have the mechanisms to use this data to undergo thoughtful comparison.

This is what you really need. Each employee’s data becomes one row in an ongoing data set -- which is effectively a litmus test of employee sentiment at the point of departure. Holistic then monitors this data set for you on an ongoing basis and mixes it with your other survey data -- especially your employee and your alumni survey data -- to create a narrative that you can understand, react to, and improve upon.

shutterstock_779541451.jpg

This is the key difference between an exit analysis methodology and the traditional exit interview. The traditional exit interview is focused on one employee, in a silo, with a deep dive into their feeling and emotion, their recommendations, their viewpoints. As such, the employee is encouraged to go deeper into their past at the company and to reflect on what the company might look like in the future after they are gone. Neither is particularly productive. Instead, what you are looking to do is to compare apples to apples -- to compare the circumstances and emotions surrounding the departures of whatever employees are departing, at that moment. The past and the future should be measured as well, and they will be; just in different ways.

We ask a series of questions from the employee that allow us to accurately measure their sentiment at that moment. Then, because an exit analysis (or interview, for that matter) is by definition not anonymous, we add to that some key data about the employee at that moment in time. What results is a strain of data that exists at the intersection between employees and alumni, a set of data that by its very nature helps define a transition, a period of change. Not a lot of data exists like this in the workplace in any fashion, let alone in such a key area.

Now, you might be saying, “I don’t have historical data.” So what? Virtually every new technology that you introduce means that you start at that point and then move forward. And capturing data in this fashion will be useful, regardless.

You might also be saying, “Sometimes employees provide valuable feedback or suggestions in their exit interviews.” Truth. Which is why we give them an opportunity to reflect on these things as part of the survey. And then their feedback is codified and implemented (or not); there is even a mechanism to provide feedback.

The result? A whole new potential dynamic. Now, instead of sending someone out the door with a bitch fest and a see you later, you give them a chance to provide actionable feedback, and a mechanism for future interaction. We think that the results of this new dynamic will be profound over time, and are looking forward to exploring them.

To see a sample result and learn more about the Holistic Exit Analysis concept, click here and open the PDF below.

Tom Alexander