Showing the Exit Interview the Exit Door

Some of my favorite subjects on leadership are the ones that challenge common sense. I don’t like to argue, but I do enjoy the great conversations that come from challenging traditional rules. So after a long Labor Day weekend, I’ve decided to challenge some of my HR friends with the topic of exit interviews.

In short, I don’t get why companies do them.

Now I understand the politics behind them. I get why we do them for HR reasons. After all, I used to be in the staffing industry. I know that an exit interview allows the company to find out why a person is leaving. I know that the hope is that the interview will shed some light on how the company can improve working conditions or help supervisors who could benefit from the exit interview results.

I recognize the theory behind an exit interview is that someone who’s leaving your company will speak more freely about their experience while working there.

But here’s my question and challenge for every leader: Why do we wait until a person leaves to gain valuable insight into what would have made them stay?

Helloooo? Is anyone else with me on this?

Why not ask employees these questions before they leave? If answers to exit interview questions provide valuable insights after employees leave, wouldn’t the insights be more valuable while the employees are still with your organization?

Think about it. If we knew the answers to the exit interview questions before a person exited, it would not only help us lead this person better, but it would also help us create an environment where employees are more engaged and open to sharing their thoughts on how we can improve as a company.

The standard exit interview questions are great questions! I just think they should be asked before the employee exits.

See the table below. The questions on the left are traditional exit interview questions. The questions on the right are the same questions, but tweaked. These questions are appropriate to ask while an employee is still working at your company.

Exit Interview Questions: Employee Engagement Questions:
What is your primary reason for leaving? What would cause you to ever leave our organization?
What was most satisfying about your job? What is most satisfying about your job?
What was least satisfying about your job? What is least satisfying about your job?
What would you have changed about your job? What would you change about your job and why?
Did you receive enough training to do your job effectively? What type of training would you like to receive that would help you be more productive?
Did you receive sufficient feedback about your performance between merit reviews? How can we communicate honest & relevant feedback about your performance more often?
Did this company help you fulfill your career goals? What are your career goals and how can we help you meet those?
Do you have any tips to help us find your replacement? If we were to ever replace you, what type of person should we recruit?
What would you improve to make our workplace better? How can we make our workplace better?
Were you happy with your pay, benefits and other incentives? What are your salary goals?
What was the quality of the supervision you received? How can I be a better leader for you?
What could your immediate supervisor do to improve his or her management style? What do you see as areas of improvement for the leadership of this company?
Did any company policies or procedures (or any other obstacles) make your job more difficult? What company policies or procedures make your job more difficult?
Would you consider working for this company again in the future? Do you see yourself with this company long-term? Why or why not?
Would you recommend working for this company to your family and friends? Would you recommend this company to your family or friends?
What did you like most about this company? What do you like most about our company?
What did you like least about this company? What do you like least about our company?
Can this company do anything to encourage you to stay? Can this company do anything to encourage you to be more committed?

Let’s challenge ourselves to ask these exit interview questions while a person is still an employee. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create a culture that not only cares about an employee’s answers to these questions but also uses them to make necessary improvements.


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  • Linda says:

    I love the simple complexity of culture! Hang tight Dena. I’d love to speak to it.

  • Dena Q. says:

    I would like you to do an entire post on culture and talk about if it is the leader’s voice or the employees living it out!!! I think culture is more about living it out everyday but can the two be different or conflicting and if so which wins out?

  • Linda says:

    Yes, you could create a new level of frustration but if it’s healthy frustration then it can be worked through. Obviously, no one is perfect in this situation. The leader or the employee. It allows (maybe forces) a conversation and open discussion.

    Here’s the deal, if the information is coming from a producer then the information holds more credibility. If not… then it should have a filter. Producers earn the right to get more ear…

    Expectations? It won’t change on a dime, but what does? IF the company desires to bring up leaders then it’s valuable based on the culture. Which brings me to my question I asked today as noted above earlier. Who creates and controls the culture? 🙂

    Thanks Kim, love your challenging comments!!!!!!

  • Kim Smith says:

    Think the idea is wonderful. What happens based on now knowing the information, you can’t move people or adjust based on the new facts presented for whatever reason? Do you think you create a new level of frustration for the employee? How would you manage the expectations of what you do with the new knowledge as their leader with them?

  • Linda says:

    Thanks Tammy, ok since you’re a pollyanna (haha), I’ll agree we need to do an exit interview regardless…. let’s just please not bake a cake and throw a party when someone leaves the company! 🙂

    Seriously, why do we do that?

  • Linda says:

    Chris, I AGREE with your statement!!!!!! You know what’s encouraging to share with those that are following through with this thought?… they are securing the future for their teammates. Career pathing is with the person’s career not necessarily within their current company. Think about that?

    Now if it stays within the company that is great for everyone, and a lot easier! Encourage your leaders, that are playing into their teammates leadership growth, by letting them know their division will be where you turn for the succession solution. I love this thought!!!!!!!!! and it would motivate the heck out of me if I was a leader in your organization.

    Know you get it Chris! Thanks for you feedback and impact!!!

  • Tammy says:

    I love this way of thinking (I’m kind of a pollyanna.) The key is creating an environment where employees and employers can have these valuable conversations without fear. Fear of job loss for the employee and fear of losing face for the employer – which when you think about it is kind of ridiculous.

    At any rate, great thought, but I still say if you’re not going to do the interview before they leave, then for heaven’s sake at least find out why they left. Many companies still do not even do this step.

  • Linda says:

    Julie, great question… here’s what has worked well for me:

    1. Besides the “official HR performance review form” I had an additional sheet of questions called a reflections document that asked these types of questions. I did it a MINIMUM of once a year with the official performance review. We raced through the official HR required document then spent quality time conversing on the reflections document. I can attached the reflections document if it is of interest to anyone.

    2. Instead of Exit Interview why not use it as an “Entrance Interview” ask these questions on your final interview with a candidate that looks like you’ll hire. THEN take this form out once a quarter to reflect on it and meet one on one with the person. I didn’t do this for a new hire but I did do an expectations one for key promotions.

    3. One on One meetings – I have one on one meetings every two weeks with each direct report. We talk about everyday issues, progress, etc… but I love to toss in an intriguing question or two. So use these questions through out the year to add spice to your quality time with teammates. In fact just today, I asked a question about culture… who makes it?… The leaders voice or the employees living it out?

  • Chris Tunstall says:

    Linda, I have found this is a challenge to “persuade” 97% of leaders to do on a consistent basis. The great ones do it and get great results, have high engagement and loyal employees. The leader shows and behaves in a way that demonstrates they care. The other 97% do not see they value – they are more comfortable with believing people come and go and that’s business. The great ones don’t accept that type of thinking.

  • Julie says:

    When are these questions supposed to be asked? In the annual review? When the supervisor notices the employee is not happy?