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Strategic Exit Interviews

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’!

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