Recently, the subject of exit interviews seems to be ‘in the air’. This subject can be much bigger than just why employees are leaving. A couple years ago, a major financial services client decided that they were losing too many first year bankers to competitors who offered them significant increases. They were seriously considering a significant increase in starting compensation.
This decision was based on increasing turnover, coupled with results of  internally -conducted exit interviews, which ‘confirmed’ that most people left because they were offered more money.
Before the decision was finalized, as part of a strategic talent project, we conducted a random sampling of high-potentials who had left the company. The result: those who exited were willing to share with us – anonymously – four significant data points that were common among them, and that changed the entire strategy:
1. yes, they had been offered more money, but… the reason they were looking in the first place was that they hated their bosses [branch managers with daily sales pressure and few leadership tools]
2. the $10k was conditional and rarely actually materialized
3. they hadn’t leveled on the internal exit interviews due to fear that the info would leak back to their former boss/ colleagues and would result in negative references
4. some of the high potentials [now older and wiser] were happy to be wooed back into the fold.
NOTE: I have often thought of this situation when thinking about the nosedive the financial services industry experienced shortly thereafter. The original decision would have resulted in millions of dollars being spent with a negative ROI – all based on false assumptions.
Lessons learned: 1. Exit interviews can uncover a wealth of info, but only if you know what you’re looking for – and the process is handled confidentially and professionally. 2. Never assume…anything. 3. [I’ve said this so often I’m tired of it myself, but…] Improving recruiting without examining retention at the same time is equal to INVESTING MORE MONEY TO LOSE BETTER PEOPLE!  3. Beware the ‘obvious’!

Question: What’s the difference between performance feedback and a root canal?

Answer: Anesthesia

Why IS giving and accepting feedback such a challenge?

1.Feedback is not delivered well when:

It isn’t delivered at all . . . . . . . . . .

Example: “I meant to talk to her about the accountability issue, but it seemed to be improving and we had the big retreat; then the moment passed………”

It’s offered with the right hand and taken back with the left . . . . . . . . .

Example: “well, there was a mention about your communication style, but some people are too sensitive. Besides, I know how much is on your plate, and if the rest of the team had half your drive …”

It’s directed at the person instead of the behavior:

Example: “You have a history of bad management decisions and this is just the latest example.”

Is perceived as criticism or a veiled threat:

Example: “Your failure to meet goals is becoming obvious to senior leadership.”

Or is not objective, not supported by facts, and too often – delivered in the heat of battle, without much thought about the hidden message or the possible consequences:

Example: “Your performance has been disappointing and I’m beginning to think your qualifications weren’t exactly what you represented when we hired you.”

2. In addition, feedback is often not heard or is discounted when:

The receiver doesn’t trust the person delivering the feedback, believes they have a hidden agenda or biased point of view

The feedback contradicts previous feedback – perhaps due to a change in culture or direction, new leader, or decision to provide clear feedback when it hasn’t been provided in the past

Expectations, rewards and consequences have been discussed or promised in the past, but have not been implemented [leadership hasn’t ‘walked the talk’]

And in addition… because the receiver does not have a level of self-confidence and self-awareness to accept even the best-intentioned, valid feedback and use it to improve their performance and career opportunities.

Recommendations to improve performance feedback – and results – next time.  Meanwhile, your experiences with giving and receiving performance and leadership feedback are welcome. www.thestage1.com


340 feedback

Leadership Performance Coaching* typically begins with one of three launch points:

  1. on request of the prospective coachee – based on a desire to bridge gaps and increase leadership horsepower – usually in preparation for a desired promotion, career change, or entrepreneurial venture
  2. as part of an organizational or team leadership development initiative – whether on request of the coachee, a supervisor, or as identified by a succession planning or other talent development program.
  3. on request of the prospective coachee’s supervisor – as part of an intervention or performance improvement plan. When coaching begins as an intervention, there is typically a triggering event, such as an emotional meltdown, team failure, leadership change, or frequently – feedback from numerous colleagues. And there is a significant difference in the coach/ coachee relationship. After all, the coachee rarely feels like celebrating the development opportunity – at least in the beginning, while dealing with the defensiveness and hurt feelings that often result when long-standing behavioral tendencies are suddenly and inexplicably confronted. And it’s hard to develop the trust that is integral to a coaching relationship because the coach is perceived to be there to serve the needs of the organization first and the coachee second if at all.

Leadership Performance Coaching begins with a diagnosis and action plan – based on an objective assessment and gap analysis, which typically includes:

    360° feedback survey

    stakeholder interviews

    behavioral profile [and depending on the situation, additional skill-or-cognitive testing]

    skill, performance and behavioral gap analysis

    prioritized recommendations for leadership development

Especially in the case of intervention coaching, there is commonly a significant feedback disconnect:

the common reaction to feedback from the coachee: “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?”

the most common reaction from everyone else:  “How could it possibly be a surprise?”


The feedback disconnect is typically created by one or perhaps all of the following:

 1. The sender didn’t:

   say it clearly

   say it in a way the receiver could understand and process

   communicate it’s potential career impact

 and . . .

2. The receiver didn’t:

  hear it

   ‘get’ it

   or believe it

More details about how and why this happens – and recommendations for how to improve the feedback process and results – next time.  Meanwhile, your experiences with giving and receiving performance and leadership feedback are welcome.    

 * http://www.thestage1.com/index_files/performancecoaching.htm

According to recent cable buzz, Timothy Geithner, a financial expert with a degree in international economics, is not winning awards and accolades for his charisma, social warmth and inspirational public speaking.


Next they’ll announce that many CPA’s, scientists and others who are deeply technical aren’t change agents and the life of every party! A certain amount of introversion is expected of people who have deep technical capabilities. For people who spend a lot of time ‘in their heads’, being socially outgoing and good with small talk is rarely considered fun – or important.


The flipside: many executives and business owners want to hire ‘entrepreneurial’ people and develop an ‘entrepreneurial’ culture. What it usually boils down to is this: they want people who take action, are accountable for outcomes, innovative and work 20 hours a day. Unfortunately, they’re rarely prepared for the accompanying attributes:


 – People who are action-oriented rarely have patience for unnecessary bureaucracy, and are often intolerant of anything that stands in the way of the stated goal and forward progress.

 – Innovation is often accompanied by a ‘change agent’ approach, impatience for forward movement, extreme dislike of administrivia, and impatience with people who don’t see their vision.

 – Someone who is bright, sees trends and has a bias for action may move too fast – mentally and physically – not realizing that they’re leaving the rest of the team in the dust by the side of the road.

 – People who work hard – and long hours – tend to expect more of the same from the people around them– sometimes including the boss. They may also burn out or melt down at times.


Unfortunately, to-date, there is not a botox equivalent for the introverted personality, and you can’t steal the batteries of an engaged innovator. Sure, there are a few superstars who combine the best of technical depth and EQ; they’re pretty rare. Usually, in life and work, we need to carefully evaluate the strengths we need, and be prepared to accommodate the rest of the personality that comes with it.


Most executives eventually ‘get it’ regarding the need to carefully assess talent, and compare the personality attributes needed with the leadership, culture and team needs and constraints. Many times, this recognition emerges slowly, after hitting the wall a number of times.


Even the best talent is also typically thrown into the deep end of the pool. Onboarding and orientation programs rarely provide the information that’s actually needed to succeed in the company and culture. More on that later.


Reactions to a shrinking economy take many forms. One common reaction is to minimize or halt performance and development programs. The rationale appears to be that they are significant budget line-items, and – notwithstanding the original investment in creating them and communicating their value to the long-term success of the company— they are often considered non-essential when push comes to shove.

A tight economy is the absolute WORST time for leaders to de-emphasize performance management. For one thing, people have very long memories. While top performers are typically team players who will ‘take one for the company’ in tight times, if they see money being wasted while they are foregoing salary increases, bonuses or promotions, their loyalty is likely to plummet.

What about those under-performers who are still hanging-out month-after-month [in too many cases, year-after-year], soaking up resources that are becoming more scarce? Don’t kid yourself: performers always know who the under-performers are, and they always question why nothing is done to either boost their productivity or move them out. When leaders fail to fix known problems, their credibility deteriorates. When the economy turns around and opportunities are more plentiful, the best performers are more likely to be enticed to an organization whose leadership is perceived to be action-oriented and progressive. 

The opportunity-cost of enabling under-performers is monumental — especially in a lean economy. You can’t invest money in sales, marketing, innovation or better talent when you’re investing it in under-performers who aren’t adding to the bottom line. And when it comes to talent, what isn’t additive is clearly subtractive. Under-performers not only don’t provide a return-on-investment; they often—directly and indirectly—undermine morale, culture and eventually the energy and commitment of your top producers. 

One reason under-performers are often not held accountable for meeting expectations is the realization that they may not be totally at fault for their inability to perform. Leaders often feel a sense of responsibility for people they’ve hired or promoted beyond their level of competency. But regardless of how they got there, leaving someone in the deep end of the pool has negative results—for the under-performer, other employees, and the company.


An objective professional reviews the deliverables and performance expectations to succeed in the job, performs an assessment of the individual’s skills, capabilities and personality characteristics, and develops a gap analysis and recommendations. The outcome is typically an action plan which includes communications regarding how to bridge the gap, specific action steps to turnaround, develop or re-assign the underperforming individual, as well as how to coach, measure, and document the process.

Best case: the performance plan is successful and the individual becomes a valuable contributor. Worst case: the process to help the individual find a better future has been managed in an effective, empathetic and legally defensible way. The action plan can be implemented by internal management, or in collaboration with the performance consultant. 

Originally printed in www.TheStage1.com Performance eNews Bulletin 1 2009.