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Blue Skies and Exit Interviews

One of the most important and most avoided aspects of the employment cycle is the exit interview. Perhaps this is because most of us look at employment as a linear experience instead of a cycle. When someone leaves, we tend to want to accept their surface reason and in the case of termination, we really don’t want to prolong the process. We see leaving often as a defeat or loss, and no one likes to dwell on the losses. Employment and turnover go together as much as rain and sunshine. We don’t consider rain a defeat of blue skies, so why should turnover be any different? The employment cycle starts with recruitment, moves to hiring, then on-boarding, job training, performance reviews, and finally, job exiting. Exiting moves the cycle back to recruitment. Ground heat leads to evaporation which leads to condensation and then rain. Rain cools the ground and slows the evaporation. Skies turn blue and, the heat rises and starts another cycle. With weather we always ask what caused the rain. We look for patterns to predict its coming and avoid making plans that will be ruined by rain. The same process should apply to employment. Exit interviews, when done properly, provide the basis for avoiding future turnover. By discovering the root cause of the problem, we can avoid making plans that are ruined by turnover. Most employees leave for reasons other than money. These include lack of autonomy, lack of connection to management, and bad fit with the culture. A good exit interview allows these reasons to surface. The best exit interviews are those that never happen. They are avoided by increased focus on the step of the cycle preceding an exit. For example, research now suggests that Gen Y employees make their mind up the first day as to whether the new job is a keeper. Crazy but true. One solution would be to make their on-boarding experience unforgettable, thus avoiding a shortsighted conclusion by your new Gen Y’er. Also, extra time invested in the interviewing process and/or job training geared toward increasing decision making, can keep employees off of job search engines and networking phone calls. Finally, 360 performance reviews let employees know their opinion matters. Even with all these steps, some resignations leave you wondering why. The best way to answer this is to ask the person who rained on your personnel parade by leaving. The exit interview serves as the barometer on your people strategy. Just as with lost customers, asking for honest feedback as to the real reason for leaving can be the start of a new more successful employment cycle. And each cycle will bring more blue skies into those cubicles and work benches.

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