Retention: Forget Exit Interviews
By J. Leslie McKeown
Jun 25, 2002 - 1:25:00 PM

...well..., forget exit interviews ON THEIR OWN, anyway. Grappling with retention issues starts with understanding **why** people are leaving, right? Well, that's what all the books and magazine articles say...And they're **wrong**. Here's why exit interviews ON THEIR OWN don't

1. There's little point spending a lot of time finding out why people leave without an understanding of why they JOINED in the first place. It's important to map what people say when they're LEAVING against what they said when they JOIN, to see what has CHANGED in between.

2. People leaving jobs RATIONALIZE the decision, just as we do when we by a new car or house. We think of all the positive reasons why we made this purchase (or took the new job) to avoid feeling 'buyers remorse'. This makes the responses to the classic exit interview question 'Why are you leaving?' somewhat suspect.

What can you do about this?

A. Conduct ENTRY interviews, as well as exit interviews.

Have an external party consistently interview new hires to find out why they JOINED your company. (You can do this during your orientation program, which you hold at least every month, right...?)

Assure the new hires that information will be kept confidential by the third party, but that you will receive composite summaries of what is being said.

Use that information to track correlations between why people are joining and why they are leaving. For example:

* 5% of your new hires say one of the reasons they join you is because of the company's reputation as a 'fun place to work.'

* At exit interview, 62% say they one of the reasons they are leaving is because of 'a negative atmosphere in their workplace'.

This tells you something crucial about the messages being given out at recruitment time, compared to the reality internally.

B. Don't ask 'Why are you leaving?'

Even if your employees respond by telling the truth, you still won't get the answers you want.

Instead, ask 'Why didn't you stay?'

This is a crucially different question, even though it may seem semantically similar. Here's the difference:

Let's say you ask Joe Leaver 'Why are you leaving?'. He thinks long, gulps and says: 'My supervisor was a bully.' Is that what you really need to know? Let's say you ask instead 'Well, why didn't you stay?' The answer is 'Because you wouldn't do anything about my bullying supervisor when I complained.'

See the difference? 'Why are you leaving?' will uncover the

'Why didn't you stay?' uncovers the CURE you need to

J. Leslie McKeown is the President & CEO of Yellowbrick, which provides employee development solutions for organizations of all sizes, particularly in the areas of retention, orientation and mentoring and coaching.


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