by Donn Carr

Recently, a reader asked me what I thought about exit interviews and did I see any value in this awkward event. There was a quick and easy answer to the question. They are bunk and a colossal waste of time. Now hear me out.

Think about the last time you participated in an exit interview either as the one exiting or the one conducting it. Did anything change? Did the workplace become any better by even the smallest margin? Of course not!

Chances are high the reason the employee is leaving is they feel they were mistreated by a supervisor or wronged in some manner. If the exiting employee is truthful and even documents how ineffective, abusive, condescending, etc., the manager is/was, in the end rarely does anything ever happen to the manager or are changes ever made. After all it is the bad employee who is exiting that is at fault. Or so some would have you believe.

Exit interviews are just one of those feel-good gestures that was created by human resource teams often at the direction of the president to create the illusion that the company actually cares, listens, or gives two beans about the employees. It provides talking points for the hiring managers, the CEO and even the president in front of the board of directors. It is nothing short of a masterful illusion that accomplishes nothing.

If a company truly wants to grow, and if a company truly does care about their employees they would not wait until the employee is out the door to find out what went wrong. If managers were doing their jobs all along, none of this information would come as a surprise because they would know. Effective managers would have been asking questions all along if the employee was receiving the training and support they needed and were they happy. Companies employing exit interviews have the entire process backwards.

Instead of exit interviews, may I suggest those be thrown in the trash and replaced with “Stay Interviews” where each six months all supervisors meet informally with every employee and ask how the employee feels about his/her job? Are the supervisors providing the support and tools to be successful? Ask how are you doing as their manager and what could you do differently to be more effective?

Can you see the difference? One is a waste of time where the disgruntled outgoing employee leaves toxic feedback. By the time this employee is leaving, chances are very high that you have neglected to pay attention to this once valuable employee’s needs and through your own lack of attention to your employees, you have in effect run them off. What respect and admiration they may have once had for you or the organization is now gone. What kind of possible valuable information can you expect to get under these circumstances? It is a fool’s errand.

Much like in a toxic personal relationship where once love and admiration existed, it is now replaced with distrust, distain, and bitterness; there is absolutely nothing of value to come from this painful and ugly exercise. The time for discovering issues has long since pasted and it is not recoverable.

Looking backward in time in hopes of finding some nugget of valuable information is like driving your car while holding onto the rear view mirror instead of the wheel. You know the outcome of that scenario – it will crash. Why go there? Doesn’t make sense.

If you truly care about your people begin now to find the time to talk to them. Find out how they feel. Find out how they want to be managed. HINT – every human has a different set of needs and motivations. Each wants to managed slightly differently that others – your job is to find out how and what.

Managers should be held accountable for their impact on others.

If you are experiencing high employee turnover in any given department, store, or business unit you own or manage, I assure the problem is with the manager and not HR’s personnel selection or a poor work force. People work for people and not for businesses. The people are leaving for one reason and one reason only – the manager is mistreating the team in one form or another. This is 100% accurate – 100% of the time.

Early in my career when I was a Regional Vice President with Banana Republic, we spent four hours with the company psychologist twice a year learning how to be effective listeners and leaders. We were taught to understand that our every move, gesture, and word is exaggerated by those we lead. The old adage of “When the boss sneezes the office catches cold” could not be more accurate.

As an organization, we at Banana Republic at that time were so in tune with the cost of employee turnover and focused on the effectiveness of good leaders that fully one third of the weighting of our annual performance and salary review was titled “Impact on others”. That meant that even if you exceed all sales, shrinkage, and other goals but you were a jerk with a high turnover, your review score was reduced by a full one third! This is one of the most brilliant and effective leadership tools I have ever seen and have never seen since.

Can you imagine if today, all business leaders and managers were held accountable for their impact on other people? The ego driven and often abusive power jerks who seem to be too much of the norm today would be forced to listen to their team, to guide and motivate them rather than yell, belittle, or put them down. The entire quality of the workplace will change overnight. Everyone will suddenly be accountable.

Now, about that exit interview – throw it in the trash where it belongs. Instead put your focus and your energies on your team. Find out their wants and needs. Learn to listen, give feedback, put their ideas to work instead of using your own. It just may amaze you how powerful your team really can be when you in fact treat them with respect and caring.

Miracles will happen.

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