An Exit Interview

All companies will inevitably walk through the process of relieving someone of their role within the company. Whether this is a part of the natural order of a company being acquired and being streamlined for resources or a breach of contract or simply natural attrition as your staff finds that it’s time to leave for the next adventure, it is inevitable.

I think leaving well (and ending well in the larger scheme) is vitally important for the employee and the organization. The chief motive for an exit interview is simply this as it is an opportunity for the ex-employee and the organization to create one final and explicit moment of critical learning.

The organization’s intent is to candidly learn what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they need to do to improve the working conditions for the existing staff.

The employee has the same intent: To candidly discover some explicit opportunities for professional improvement so that they might make their next employment decision with greater clarity and wisdom (or if they’ve already made a commitment that they do not bring in “bad habits,” sotospeak, into the new role and organization).

The heart of this activity, if you will, is one of humility and service as the organization is seeking to serve the employee and thank them for their time with the company and offer any insights for greater success for that person.

The individual is also seeking to serve not only the organization as a whole but their colleagues and friends who are still at the company and who will appreciate the learnings so that their organizational culture and environment might improve.

Now, there are a lot of “tips” out there for how to conduct an exit interview really well but I think the most important thing is this: The interviewer must practice the fine art of listening 100% of the time. If I were to couple this with a parallel must-do it would also be this: Limit excuses or justifications, just listen and acknowledge and respect the employee who is leaving the company. Heck, if there’s an opportunity to retain this employee then perhaps this could be a moment of breakthrough (it’s happened plenty of times).

I think the organization (and the representative of the org who is giving the exit interview) needs to just humbly listen to the feedback given and take a copious amount of notes.

A few things that I try to always ask when I do my own:

  1. What can the organization do better? What worked, what didn’t?
  2. What can the team do better? What worked, what didn’t?
  3. What can we do to better the role that you had?
  4. What can I do better? What did I do well and what do I need to work on?
  5. What would you tell someone who’s about to be hired for a similar role? What are some of your personal “tips”?

As you can see, I work from the larger scale down to the personal scale. These questions typically help the conversation flow and get everyone on the same page as ease any tension or anxiety that might be felt during this brief encounter.

You might notice that I didn’t ask what the leaving employee could do better but rather what the role could do better. Being objective here I think is critical so that the personal difficulties or challenges might stay on the sideline.

Finally, I think that exit interviews are invaluable. This might be already evident in this post but it’s been rare for even myself to have been given one when I’ve left companies. In fact, I’ve been only given one once as an employee and what happened was that I left with a much better taste in my mouth about that organization than all the others that did not offer an me an exit interview.

I think there’s something powerful that you communicate when you do it well for the employee and I think it puts the relationship in a place of positivity between the org and the employee. I think this is crucial for thriving as any respectable and people-centric business.