It was a little challenging to attribute credit on this one so I’m getting as close as possible to the main source since this is more of a synthesis (NOBL academy article) of a synthesis (Quartz at Work article) of a talk given by Dean Carter, Patagonia’s CHRO.
I used to have a pretty negative opinion of exit interviews in the past because they seemed like a bureaucratic waste of time. The person/company has already made their decision and they’re not going to change it now, then what’s the point? In more recent years, I learned that similar to other organizational practices, my “hating” on them is not because the practices are inherently bad or evil, but because I’ve only seen poor/ineffective execution of them.
Since I strongly believe that language matters, the “branding” here is problematic as well, “exit interview” sounds cold and mechanical to me, so I’m also proposing a rebranding focusing on the aspirational purpose of those interactions: “closure and learning conversation”.
So below is a little cheat sheet, to help me, and maybe also you, run better exit interviews going forward.
How to run effective closure and learning conversations?
Purpose: A learning opportunity for the company and positive closure for the person leaving. This is a meaningful touch-point, one of the final impressions that the company/manager will be leaving in the person's memory of their time with the company. Make it count.
Timing: Roughly half-way in between when the person/company had given notice and the person’s last day. Far enough from the notification that everyone involved had enough time to emotionally process the decision, but not too close to the last day when the person’s already 100% focused on the next thing.
Who? I see value in giving the person leaving choice here. The goal is for them to have the conversation with someone they feel they can be candid and vulnerable with. Sometimes it’ll be their manager, sometimes a peer and sometime someone outside of their org. Regardless of who it is, notes from the conversation should be captured in a centralized place so broader organizational learning based on patterns and trends can take place.
How? This is a good starting list of discussion questions:
- Why did you join? What compelled you to come here and make the required trade-offs and compromises that it required?
- How did your experience live up to your expectations?
- What should change here to make up for the gap? What would you do differently to make up for it?
- What advice would you give a new hire here?
- What advice would you give us when hiring for your replacement?
- Who here has been a mentor or supported for you?
- What did you manager/team/company/HR do well? Is there any feedback that you haven’t already shared?
- What is your best memory from your time here?
- What are you hoping for in your next opportunity?
Follow-up: 3–6 month later. With a bit more time to process, reflect and gain perspective, is there anything else you’d like to share?